Re: Put Your Heads Together For Acephalous

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I guess it's good that SEK is able to write humorously about his life. My head would have exploded near about seekrit cancer.

Sadly, I have no advice except to wear them down by calling every thirty minutes. That worked for me when my health club accidentally turned my fully paid up membership over to a collection agency.


Posted by: sam k | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:13 AM
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Since the finance office messed up, surely they are the ones who ought to sort it out?


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:14 AM
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Jesus, Scott. I've got no good advice what with not being a lawyer and all, but you sure do have my sympathy. You sure nobody's burying roots on you?


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:19 AM
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All I've got is bad news. In the event that this drags on, grad students who aren't being employees tend not to be eligible for COBRA.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:24 AM
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When he handed over his payment to the teller, that teller must have given him a receipt?

Anyway, phone calls every thirty minutes won't won't. He needs to bother them in person. He should bring in whatever documentation he has (the receipt, if he has it; the letter from the library thanking him for his donation; whatever proof of payment he has) and not leave the building until someone has agreed to sort this out.


Posted by: Invisible Adjunct | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:25 AM
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"won't work" is what I mean.


Posted by: Invisible Adjunct | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:25 AM
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If dealing with the university doesn't pan out soon, would going to the press be a viable option or would that forever screw up his relationship with the school? Because, man, I can just imagine a local reporter salivating over that story and humiliation getting the university to fix it up pretty quickly.

I'm surprised the school isn't straightening this out sooner for that fact alone. (As an old boss used to say: "When trying to figure out how urgent something is, always ask yourself: how would this look if it ended up on Fox News at 10?")


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:30 AM
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Call up the chain of the Graduate Division and Library Administration. If you run out of chain (two or three people on the board of regents, I guess), call the LA Times or OC Register and ask if they want to do a human interest story.


Posted by: Zippy | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:31 AM
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Couldn't the ombudsman help, regardless of whether malfeasance is involved?

IA: Your pleonasms just won't won't.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:33 AM
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I agree with 5. Unless he's taking license with the conversation between the teller and him, consider me outraged by her lack of sympathy.


Posted by: sam k | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:33 AM
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I think that in cases like this where your health insurance is incorrectly removed, when they set it right again they retroactively cover (& charge) you for the months you missed. So if he goes to the hospital as a self-pay it will probably all work out in the end. They certainly shouldn't expect a down payment or anything.


Posted by: mano negra | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:35 AM
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The visit with the teller suggests that SEK should apply a lesson that I'm still trying to internalize myself: when somebody says she can't help you, ask for her supervisor (politely, because the person pleading impotence is almost certainly telling the truth). Rinse, repeat. I agree that this is better done in person than on the phone.


Posted by: Mother's Younger Brother | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:37 AM
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There is, somewhere on that campus, an administrator whose job is specifically to sort this type of thing out. Their job title is almost certainly Vice Provost, though institutions vary. Head over to the Provost's office and bother people until you figure out who it is and can get some time with them.


Posted by: xyzzy | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:39 AM
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Since it's a public university, maybe try contacting your various state representatives as well, this sounds like a constituent service kind of thing where a few phone calls from important people might motivate the right admins.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:41 AM
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Or for that matter, what about a call to his assemblyman? I'm not sure if state-level reps do constituent services like national ones, or if UC is too independent to care, but a little phone call might hit some reflexes.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:42 AM
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SPwned.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:43 AM
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Wow.

SEK, I don't know if you've gotten your department involved, but that would be where I would start. Your director of graduate studies, your chair, and your advisor probably have bigger buttons to push than you can manage. Make it as many other people's problems as you can.

In the meantime, go in person to the teller's office. Take whatever documentation you have that shows you paid. And make noise until someone figures this out.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:44 AM
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Cala's advice is wise. There are other people who know how and where to fight this.
The humanities grad school dean would be the go-to guy at my institution.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:49 AM
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Um, wow. So sorry. Hope your health is good and that the utter hilarity and ludicrosity of the situation is reducing the stress a bit.

Oh, and follow Cala's advice. And call your local news affiliate with the best looking "On Your Side" consumer reporter.


Posted by: NCProsecutor | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:52 AM
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Ooh, yeah, the dean. This is what deans are there for (and is probably who your department will talk to.)


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:52 AM
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Gosh, you'd think they'd treat a big donor to the library more respectfully.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:54 AM
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Dean, yes. Deans have the power to fix this kind of shit. You might ask your advisor, your chair, or your graduate director if he or she would be willing to meet with you and the dean together to get this fixed.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 7:55 AM
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Get your receipts and canceled checks together and go to a dean. If you don't know which one, ask your department chair or advisor (and tell them what's happened in any case). You want this to end not just with the funds properly applied, but with a letter from the dean that explains that you are and have been paid up. University databases are a big, ugly mess and I'd be amazed if in six months when you go to sign up for something, you don't get someone telling you that since you were expelled, etc.

And I wouldn't get the press involved on the general principle that grad students who rock the boat will suffer.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:02 AM
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Did he fill out a 27B/6?


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:03 AM
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This is obviously a case where you ask for help from your DGS and Department Chair. We has a not-entirely-dissimilar situation a couple of years ago. A school who interviewed one of our grad students tried to reimburse him for only $500 of a flight that had ended up costing $1500, even though he'd cleared the purchase with them in advance. The student was at a loss, not least because a job was on the line. Our Dept Chair was told and he called up his counterpart and told him to get a fucking grip.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:04 AM
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21: Yes, they could probably go along to some sort of pompous donor love-in event and puke the whole thing in front of the assembled merchants. Satisfying, but probably unwise.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:07 AM
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SEK, this is God's way of telling you to drop out of grad school.

Come on, join the club with me and parsimon. You know you want to!


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:10 AM
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And I wouldn't get the press involved on the general principle that grad students who rock the boat will suffer.

It's more that, at a large university, administrative fuckups happen every day. So he just needs to find his way to someone with the authority to call the relevant person and tell them to fix it.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:11 AM
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You're getting lots of good advice here. The next step is to arrange it all into a strategy. Here's my thought

First go to the dean
If that doesn't work, go do an elected official
If that doesn't work, go to the press.

Keep your paperwork in order at all times. Get your story straight and stick to it.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:18 AM
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When identities were being tabulated yesterday, lawyers, academics, geeks etc., I was thinking how much more grad-school dropout I am than lawyer, even after all these years.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:19 AM
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I wouldn't get the press involved yet if only because when the press calls for a quote, they'll hear 'Oh, we had no idea. If Kaufmann had talked to his dean, this would have been resolved' and you'll look like a goose.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:20 AM
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31: Right. Calling the press is the atom bomb here. You don't want to use that weapon if you can possibly avoid it.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:22 AM
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Well, on the plus side, I bet that large donation to the library will make it easy to get tickets to the football games.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:23 AM
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I read this yesterday at Acephalous. Just the fact that he isn't curled into a fetal position, whispering "OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD ..." makes him a better man than I am.

The "Dean. Provost. President." advice seems wise.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:23 AM
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I'm not too shocked by all of this. Something similar (but, fortunatley, in the good direction) happened to me. I had a full tuition scholarship in college. I only took 8 credits my second semester senior year so, since I wasn't a full time student, the university refunded my mother the difference between full-time and part-time tuition. It was a check for something like $10,000. An unscrupulous person might have taken the money and run but she'd never defraud the scholarship fund that had been so nice as to pay for her child's education. You wouldn't believe how hard it was to get them to take the money back and prove she wasn't owed it! She didn't want to donate it, for risk they'd come calling for it later and they wouldn't see the donation as giving it back (sounds like a smart move after reading this) but they just wouldn't take the check!


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:24 AM
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Once in grad school I spent a solid week trying to convince the IRS that I actually owed them more money. (I had been given conflicting information about whether my government scholarship was taxable income.) Then one morning I just said to myself "what the hell am I doing?"


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:27 AM
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36: you're trying to prevent them from discovering 25 years later that you owe them that money plus interest and fees that amount to 400,000% of the original amount, that's what.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:31 AM
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I forgot to apply for my dissertation scholarship. In my defense, no one has mentioned a damned thing about applying for anything; all other scholarships just came automatically. So I get to mid-summer to get a statement of income letter so I can get shivbunny a green card, and find out that the deadline was May 1. Mild panic.

Turns out it's a soft deadline, and is only May 1 because students need the DGS' signature and academics tend to fuck off over the summer. But dealing with it basically meant e-mailing the department chair, the DGS, and the dean.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:32 AM
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I do wonder at why SEK's advisors, DGS, department chair aren't already heavily involved in this case. I just kind of assumed he'd asked them to be. If he hasn't, he must. If he has tried to get them involved and they're not doing anything, that's one kind of bad. If he has and they've tried to do something and been rebuffed, that's a different kind of bad. The second kind of bad is where I think you start thinking about more extreme kinds of tactics. The first kind of bad...let's not talk about it here.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:37 AM
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37: No one has mentioned it yet. I think I'm clear.

OT: I have now received three (3) student papers that discuss Iraq's attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11. All three papers mention it as an aside to another point. I've had two papers on the virtue of forgiveness that argue that if we had just forgiven Iraq for the 9/11 attacks, we wouldn't be at war right now. I just read a paper on the problem of evil which asked why God allowed "the Iraq's" to attack us on 9/11.

The thing that upsets me most here is that the the students don't just believe that that Iraq was behind 9/11. This is a big fact in their minds, that leaps out at them, whenever they think about the state of the world.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:38 AM
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But on the plus side, even though they believe Iraq was controlled by Osama bin Laden and/or the Taliban, they still think the war was a mistake.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:45 AM
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(Every time I see the title of this post, I read it as analogous to "Put your hands together for THE SEX PISTOLS [or whatever]!" I keep imagining a room full of people paired off and banging the sides of their heads against one another as applause. tunktunktunktunktunk.)


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:47 AM
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Its a really weird combination of Christian universal love and Republican disinformation.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:47 AM
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After first trying to get help through his department, SEK has two deans offices available to approach: the grad dean and the dean of the school of humanities. Either one could apply the necessary pressure to make this problem go away, and I'd bet that both would be willing to help. His campus isn't my campus, but screw-ups happen everywhere, and those of us who work in deans offices have lots of experience cleaning up other's mess. An email to the dean, copied to the appropriate associate or assistant dean if possible and to the department chair, will likely work better than a phone call. Best of all is to ask his department chair or graduate advisor to contact the dean, since otherwise the dean's office will waste time checking that the department agrees on the facts and has already tried to fix the problem.


Posted by: JFK | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:49 AM
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40: I just left a comment at the edge of the west—it's already been hit by tumbleweed—musing about what the young think they know about the recent past. Ignorance might be a welcome relief compared with the just-so stories; for someone of my vintage it's an alienating experience. At least yours has an obvious malignant source, I would guess.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:51 AM
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I don't know if anyone's mentioned it here already, but another possibility here is to find the right person (that is, administrative assistant or somesuch) in the department office, and ask them for advice on who to talk to and how to proceed.

My experience in grad school has been that the secretaries for the department tend to be the ones who get things done. I would have been kicked out of grad school three times over already, if it wasn't for a woman (we'll call her "Marilyn") who saved my ass each time. Marilyn would register for me when I forgot. Marilyn would let me know when I'd missed a deadline that I needed to make. Marilyn would help, when I'd gotten into hot water and needed to talk to the dean of graduate students, by talking to him first for me. Marilyn would know people in the office of the registrar, and the financial aid office (other assistants) who she could iron things out with for me, even when "the rules" seemed to suggest that I was beyond hope.

This is how universities work -- the deans and the faculty think that they are in control, but actually your advisor's secretary knows your dean's assistant, and they are the ones who actually run the show.

Start by talking to them. SEK needs to find his "Marilyn," and throw himself on his/her mercy. (They're also sometimes more sympathetic than the administrators themselves, since they don't need to think that they're the 'face of the institution.')


Posted by: arthegall | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:55 AM
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27. I agree that being a grad-school dropout is fun (after the depression and feelings of inadequacy and impotence wear off, that is) but I can't recommend it when the dis is nigh finished. Now, being expelled when the dis is nigh finished is a wholly different matter.

40. A friend in Korea just wrote to say he watched several students argue in a debate that 9/11 happened because of U.S. aggression in Iraq.


Posted by: hermit greg | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:57 AM
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40: So how do you grade shit like that? Whether or not Mr. Hussein attacked us does not affect the problem of evil/the virtues of forgiveness. Do you assume that Hussein did, and then assess their arguments based on that? I think this is what I'd do; I assume you're not teaching Recent History 103.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:58 AM
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47: at least there's some kind of causal arrow there, even if it's pointing in the wrong direction.


Posted by: arthegall | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 8:59 AM
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re: 47/48/49

There's at least one plausible story according to which their argument is true. That pre-9/11 aggression in Iraq -- no fly zones, bombing campaigns, sanctions hitting ordinary Iraqis, etc -- were among the factors that radicalised the people who carried out 9/11.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:01 AM
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I agree that being a grad-school dropout is fun (after the depression and feelings of inadequacy and impotence wear off, that is)

Oh, I hope this is true; when can I expect it?


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:02 AM
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Recent History 103? More like Introduction to the Bleeding Obvious.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:03 AM
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47: True. The ideal time to drop out is after futzing around for a year "working on your dissertation," and getting absolutely nothing accomplished. The sunk costs are not so painful.

51: I find it most enjoyable when reading A Philosophy Job Market Blog. There but for the grace of Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time go I.


Posted by: zadfrack | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:10 AM
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47: Well, it was the first Iraq war that was the impetus for the U.S. building and maintaining bases in Saudi Arabia, which is a primary reason identified by Bin Laden for his attacks on the U.S., so...


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:12 AM
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54: I did not know that.

Having never gotten farther than the Korean War in any history class, I just sort of presume that all of our bases everywhere have been there since the beginning of the Cold War.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:17 AM
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46 gets it right. Though I quibble with the advice that SEK shouldn't go to the press because the academy will say that SEK should have tried to talk to someone. Presumably the story is not, in fact, that these snafus came up but that they were seemingly irresolvable despite the many people that SEK talked to. Also that he was expelled over problems that weren't his own doing—how does the school look talk its way into a sympathetic light? Also, this is a good story. Also, it's the holidays, and journalists have famblies too who need presents.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:18 AM
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I have been pitching all morning for one more good story before the 20th so that I can treat the fambly to a true Christmas goose.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:19 AM
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30- I missed an age/sex check thread yesterday? Where did that happen?


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:22 AM
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58: Not a/s/l, which everyone has to learn by faulty inference and missed signal, but profession, which no one around here really has anyway.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:23 AM
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51: I hear that it is approximately 10 years after leaving academia (perhaps longer if you graduate grad school) or approximately 15 minutes after realized you are now earning 2x (or more) your plausible maximum academic salary, whichever comes first.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:24 AM
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56: For the same reason that when you have a problem with HR misdirecting your paycheck, you don't run to the local paper before you've done more than talk to the assistant staff representative. It's an option to go to the press, but it's way too early in the process to have that be the most effective option. If he's talked to many people with the actual authority to do things, sure, but so far, we have talking to one person in the teller's office and presumably some people over at the library.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:24 AM
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61: That makes some sense. A casual sense, bordering on remorselessness, having no pity for the pathetic soul pecking away in his fingerless gloves at his laptop, who has neither giblets for his gravy nor coal lumps for his space heater.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:31 AM
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I second 61 -- going to the press (!) as step 2, when step 1 only involved talking to a teller who probably resented having to deal with a walk-in for more than five straight minutes, is ridiculous.

The ordering here is:
(1) talk to the teller
(2) talk to someone in the library
(3) talk to the secretary of your department (or your dean's secretary)
(4) talk to your advisor
(5) talk to your dean
(6) talk to people with titles like "provost"
(7) talk to your representative (if it's a state school)
(8) talk to the press, and consider lawyering up

As I read it, SEK's done (1) and (2), right? Five more to go, before he talks to the press, despite journalist's famblies.

(Who knew, that 'smasher was a Grandaddy fan?)


Posted by: arthegall | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:34 AM
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Since the consensus seems to be that going to the press at this stage would be a bad thing, I think it is worthwhile to ponder the fact that all the relevant details of this story are right here on the internets, and it is not implausible (especially given all the other seemingly-implausible things that have happened to SEK) that some reporter would come across this and spread it to non-internet media.

Just sayin'.


Posted by: My Alter Ego | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:36 AM
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Also, whoever said about talking to the department secretary is 10000000% right. They often know more about this than the faculty. They usually know more about this than the faculty. And if the secretary has been there a while, she (or he) has probably seen this or something like this back in '73 when it was all paper and knows who you need to talk to.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:37 AM
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Can I just reiterate my 25 and 28? Talking to the press is fucking ridiculous. Get the Chair to ask the Dept Manager to call the relevant person and sort it out.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:38 AM
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"My Alter Ego" s/b "My Redacted-Thread Suggestion".

Surely any journalist who wrote a story about this would first want to call up SEK for quotes/verification? And if SEK didn't want a story written, he'd refuse to talk to such a reporter, right? Which doesn't mean that someone couldn't write a story -- just that the story would read like, "here is something I found on the interwebs the other day."

And anyway, I think people overestimate how likely it would be for a journalist to find the story in the next couple of days-to-a-week -- which is how long it will take to iron this out, if there is any sanity on this Green Earth.


Posted by: arthegall | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:40 AM
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To reiterate 39, the presumption here is that SEK knows and has explored the option of talking to the people who are in a position to help him—isn't it? And that he is being rebuffed? Or is he just telling a colorful yarn about a snafu that will be resolved in a day or two?


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:42 AM
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I think people also overestimate the likelihood that this would turn into a nice little story about the plight of graduate students. Instead of the waste of the liberal academy, or how long it takes these lazy asses to get a degree, or anything else.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:43 AM
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68: Going by what he posted, he hasn't said anything more than to a teller. As to whether he has, even money either way. This is a guy who didn't tell his wife he had cancer, so I'm guessing he tends to try to solve things on his own. And that would have been my reaction a couple years ago until I realized how much easier it is to get someone bigger to deal with the problem on my behalf.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:46 AM
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Start by talking to them. SEK needs to find his "Marilyn," and throw himself on his/her mercy. (They're also sometimes more sympathetic than the administrators themselves, since they don't need to think that they're the 'face of the institution.')

arthegall is very smart.

The Deans and SEK's elected officials can also be fabulous resources if you present yourself as sane, correct, and persistent.

They do not want you on their next opponent's youtube video talking about how the official wouldnt help them.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:47 AM
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68: As far as I can tell, he's posted two (clearly auto-generated) letters -- one from the library, and one from the office of graduate studies (which is to say: not his department) -- and then this comment suggests that he's talked to some low-level bureaucratic underlings when it still wasn't clear where his money had gone.

But the person he should start with (I'll say it again) is the dean's secretary. Or the secretary for his department. Whoever the head administrator is for his department (the people who are interested in his academic studies, necessarily). Probably his advisor too.

But I don't see any indication that he's done that yet -- maybe he has, and just hasn't written about it?

It's a crazy story, but things like this happen all the time in academia. Universities are giant, poorly-run bureaucracies, that mainly function because people take their automatically-generated form-letters are face value.


Posted by: arthegall | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:48 AM
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Ah, in comments he says he's talked to his DGS and she 'has things under control.' To the press!


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:51 AM
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I have been pitching all morning for one more good story before the 20th so that I can treat the fambly to a true Christmas goose

well it's out in the blogosphere, so in my opinion the "don't go public" boat sailed a few hours ago. Shortly it will be on the Guardian blog, and I, not you, will be tucking into a juicy Gressingham duck[1], courtesy of Big Media. Bwahahahaha! Those foolish scruples will be the death of you, Armsmasher!

[1] unless they still have that horrible bird flu thing, in which case, substitute "a really large sausage".


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:51 AM
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Wow, thanks for the link, Becks. That's really nice of you.

Sorry I'm late to this thread---West Coast time + laziness = I don't know how we are not a drag on the nation's economy.

A couple of "real lawyers" commented on my blog that Scott does have a real claim under contract law. What say you, Lizardbreath and Will?

I am not a real lawyer. I am a nancy-pants anti-discrimination law PhD student and so the only useful thing I'm doing right now is making Scott a mix CD. I went to UCI for undergrad, and it is true: the bureaucracy is this inept, and the library wants to steal your money. I almost didn't graduate because they misplaced a book I returned. It was for a religious studies class, and I swear, if I didn't graduate because they thought I stole The King James Bible, I would have set something on fire.

But there's a lot of sensible advice in this thread: my first instinct was "don't go to the law! Just get it fixed!" and I think the proper officials would be in the best position to do that. I got my own debacle straigtened out when the associate dean of the law school made a phone call on my behalf. Also, if the law is the last resort, so is the press I think.

I any case, I suggest that Apo and Ben make mixes for Scott as well, just to cheer him up for this holiday season!


Posted by: Belle Lettre | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:52 AM
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Wow, thanks for the link, Becks. That's really nice of you.

Sorry I'm late to this thread---West Coast time + laziness = I don't know how we are not a drag on the nation's economy.

A couple of "real lawyers" commented on my blog that Scott does have a real claim under contract law. What say you, Lizardbreath and Will?

I am not a real lawyer. I am a nancy-pants anti-discrimination law PhD student and so the only useful thing I'm doing right now is making Scott a mix CD. I went to UCI for undergrad, and it is true: the bureaucracy is this inept, and the library wants to steal your money. I almost didn't graduate because they misplaced a book I returned. It was for a religious studies class, and I swear, if I didn't graduate because they thought I stole The King James Bible, I would have set something on fire.

But there's a lot of sensible advice in this thread: my first instinct was "don't go to the law! Just get it fixed!" and I think the proper officials would be in the best position to do that. I got my own debacle straigtened out when the associate dean of the law school made a phone call on my behalf. Also, if the law is the last resort, so is the press I think.

I any case, I suggest that Apo and Ben make mixes for Scott as well, just to cheer him up for this holiday season!


Posted by: Belle Lettre | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:52 AM
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73: Then let this thread be an admonition to all grad-students everywhere: start by talking to the secretaries.


Posted by: arthegall | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:53 AM
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1. English Dept/Cultural studies response: Go to the media and get on TV.

2. Law school response: Establish which rights have been violated and sue.

3. Political science response: Go to the government and secure your healthcare and other minimum benefits.

4. Economics response: I'm sure there's a perfectly good reason all this happened.

5. Sociology response: Find the person who knows how the informal organization behind the bureaucracy really works, and have them fix it.

Reponse (5) is of course the correct one.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:55 AM
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What kind of journalist reads unfogged for scoops? "Local Academic Displeased with Sex Life" doesn't really count as news.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:56 AM
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78: agreed.

It's funny, now I'm in a sociology of law program, and I'm trying to think like #5 but still holding onto #2.


Posted by: Belle Lettre | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:58 AM
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78: Fuck, I'm in the wrong department.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:58 AM
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For god's sake, people, it's a little early in the day to talk of lawyering up or of going to the media. This is an administrative error, and there is somebody in the admin who can and will fix the problem. It's a matter of finding that person (dept secretary is a good place to start, as noted above), which is what SEK needs to do.


Posted by: Invisible Adjunct | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 9:59 AM
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78: Notice the subtle shift from English Dept. and Law School to Economics and Sociology. I know, (Departments) and the point is how people's fields become hobby horses, so that they parody ways of thinking.

Still, while 5. is indeed the right answer, I'd have thought it was the lawyer's answer too. Different kind of lawyer.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 10:02 AM
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He's still going to miss his appointment though, no matter what field he's in.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 10:05 AM
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arthegall, I hope that you baked 'Marilyn' a boatload of cookies over the years.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 10:11 AM
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51, see 60: 51: I hear that it is approximately 10 years after leaving academia (perhaps longer if you graduate grad school) or approximately 15 minutes after realized you are now earning 2x (or more) your plausible maximum academic salary, whichever comes first.

That sounds about right, although moving from the halls of academia to the shantytown of nonprofits (as my house did) will certainly delay most of that satisfaction.


Posted by: hermit greg | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 10:12 AM
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85 wuz me.


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 10:12 AM
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My advice would be: find some secretary either in the department or in the dean's office and have a massive crying breakdown. Make a big old scene and make it very clear that you're not going to leave.

This is the only way to get anything done in France, the land of bureaucratic snafus. There you have to rage a bit before you cry, but American university staff don't respond as well to rage.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 10:16 AM
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American university staff don't respond as well to rage.

Yeah, they lock down the campus and you get shot by a police marksman.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 10:18 AM
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Oy. Can't think now -- just got out of court, must now go to post-hearing lunch -- but all the "Go patiently up the chain, explaining that this is a mistake, until someone fixes it," seems like the right advice. Haven't thought about the lawyering type issues, but that seems premature.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 10:32 AM
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Thanks for the advice, all. For the record, I've completed steps 1-5:

(1) talk to the teller
(2) talk to someone in the library
(3) talk to the secretary of your department (or your dean's secretary)
(4) talk to your advisor
(5) talk to your dean

The problem is the snafu has reproduced and lodged itself in many a database, which is why I'm a donor to the library, &c. I've also talked to a lawyer -- the same grad-school drop out who represented me when Casper started shit -- about getting recompense for the unnecessary bills that have cropped up because of this. As for my appointment today, I talked to the grad rep for insurance, and she told me: "Go to your appointment. Pay your co-pay. Give them the finger."

Sounds like good advice to me. (Basically, I'm working on the presumption that this will all work out and that my insurance will backdate to Sept. 24, when my coverage was supposed to start.)

As for going to the press, were I to do that, I'd just go to one of the people I worked with: Barry Siegel or Mike Sager. Both have reputation enough (esp. in SoCal) that a few inquiring phone calls would grease the wheels. (Both have offered to help.)


Posted by: SEK | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 10:33 AM
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Oy. Can't think now -- just got out of court, must now go to post-hearing lunch -- but all the "Go patiently up the chain, explaining that this is a mistake, until someone fixes it," seems like the right advice. Haven't thought about the lawyering type issues, but that seems premature.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 10:37 AM
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For the record, I've completed steps 1-5.

Rinse and repeat.

That really does seem, to me, like it should be enough. It will work itself out, man. Good luck. [Concentrating on sending cross-country vibes of good-luck and best-wishes.]


Posted by: arthegall | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 10:56 AM
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Yay! I gave good advice! Now let's all quietly ignore my huge outstanding account with an American hospital. (I know that I am.)


Posted by: mano negra | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 11:10 AM
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Having been a grad student at UCI in my misspent youth, I can attest to the "it's in too many databases to be easily fixed" response. I worked as a TA and as a tutor, causing the payroll database to have a hissy-fit and issue my [small] tutoring cheque twice and my [somewhat larger] TA cheque not at all. Attempting to get it unscrambled took patience, fortitude and, eventually, a screaming fit during which my voice reached registers commonly heard only by bats.


Posted by: DominEditrix | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 12:04 PM
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DominEditrix, you've read my mind. The problem is that the initial mistake's propagated through the system, and any time someone in on office corrects it, a red flag goes up in another, then another, then another, then another. Fifty years from now, I'll have a chest pains in Maine and be informed that they can't admit me because I'm not a grad student anymore.


Posted by: SEK | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 1:45 PM
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To clarify -- please don't think my initial response was "go to the press". I'm not insane. I was just more surprised that people weren't more responsive because if nobody pays attention to this, that would be a nuclear option I could see Scott invoking and, man, there's no contest given how this would play in the press.


Posted by: Becks | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 2:15 PM
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Fuck it, go on a hunger strike.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 2:19 PM
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Fuck it, go on a hunger strike.

To prove that he's a grad student, you mean?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 2:22 PM
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Hack the system, SEK! Becoming a part of the machine, propagate your cackling presence throughout every campus network in the world! Who's the grad student now, diseased academic mainframes?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 2:23 PM
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Fuck it, go on a hunger strike.

I'm eating Top Ramen right now, which is pretty much the same thing.


Posted by: SEK | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 2:23 PM
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97: One reason I'm skeptical of the nuclear option, even given your caveats, is that I've seen too many immigration stories that will be sure to garner sympathy from the American public for the poor families separated for years backfire when what the person thinks is an interesting story ("My fiancee has been held up for a year due to the backlog in FBI namechecks") turns into an interesting story that's really not what they had in mind ("Foreign women being taken advantage of by young men who might be terrorists!" "All men who petition for foreign spouses are looking for sex slaves!") once run through the press. And the resulting public reaction doesn't turn out to be the galvanizing force that spurs the government to action. ("So maybe we'll go on Oprah!")

It's not a reason not to seek it out, especially if it's run through a reporter you can trust, but even if it does go to the press, and it runs very soon, at best you get some people hemming and hawing about UCI's outdated databases and maybe getting some funding five years down the line, but more likely you get some hemming and hawing about paying for humanities degrees on the public dime and how in their day they had no health insurance so they pulled out their cancer with tweezers.

And none of this is going to make SEK get his situation reversed quickly, especially since it seems that the problem is with the technology rather than with people stonewalling him.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 2:34 PM
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And none of this is going to make SEK get his situation reversed quickly, especially since it seems that the problem is with the technology rather than with people stonewalling him.

That's just the excuse people make, when they want to stonewall you. "Oh, the database won't let me do it." Whatever, learn the SQL and leave poor SEK alone with your auto-generated letters and your nasty-grams of death.


Posted by: arthegall | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 4:05 PM
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42: The post title keeps reminding me of this song.


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 4:09 PM
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103: Not necessarily. The woman who finally pushed the library thing through was on the phone telling someone I'd visited earlier in the day to open this, erase this, edit this, &c. They kept on having to go back and forth because my file couldn't be pulled up in two places at one time, and they had different administration privileges. I can only imagine how long this would've taken were I not standing there harassing them. They had to do fifty little things, each of which required one to log out so the other could log in. If that had been handled by email, it would've taken years.

(But yes, I feel quite favorable toward the "LEAVE SEK ALONE YOU FUCKERS" policy.)


Posted by: SEK | Link to this comment | 12-12-07 4:35 PM
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Without detracting from the general gladness that SEK's individual poblem has been fixed, I'm curious whether there's a way to encourage a fix for the larger problem: the system is screwed up. It's screwed up in that it's apparently too easy to make this sort of error, and it's too difficult to fix such errors.

It looks like a classic case of externalizing costs. The problems created by the bad system fall on powerless outsiders: grad students and secretaries, who are outside whatever system designs and maintains the database. I'd bet that even deans are powerless to affect the source of the problem.

Shifting costs back to those responsible is a goal of the legal system, but it seems to rarely work. Even if SEK won damages, or even class action punitives in the millions, I don't think that UC would do a thing to change.

The market has no answer as long as we want to have government subsidized public education.

I can't see how the problem is amenable to political action. If the legislature passed a law saying "all UC databases should be well designed" everyone would just giggle.

So, assuming that SEK has the time, energy, and desire to try to fix the bigger problem, is there anything he can do?


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:19 PM
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government subsidized public education.

You know, this story seems like the sort of thing that could easily have happened at the University of Chicago (private, despite the placename). While your question generally is a good one, I don't think it's got much at all to do with the public/private distinction.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:21 PM
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I've also been astonished at how badly designed, let alone implemented, some of the the software is in this market *cough*P/plS/oft*cough*. It's a nightmare for everyone involved, and particularly lower level admin people are justifiably leery of poking around at it.

There really isn't any excuse for this, but the exernalized costs issue is probably key to why it (vaguely) flies at all.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:23 PM
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From the penalty box, he shouts: "Exit, Voice, and Loyalty!"

And gets another penalty.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:24 PM
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The market has no answer as long as we want to have government subsidized public education.

LB caught this already, but I'll reiterate. This is likely a false inference. Things are not generally better at private institutions, ime.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:24 PM
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106: Or maybe it's the kind of snafu that happens sometimes, and SEK took care of it by physically going to talk to someone and staying there until it was done, and that's just how you have to do things sometimes.

Which isn't to understate how incredibly frustrating this kind of thing can be, having dealt with similar problems as a dissertating grad student, but I mean, it really isn't *that* big a deal. It just drives you batty at the time because you're already an incredible stress case.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:26 PM
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111: A certain number of snafu's are unavoidable. I'm half convinced that a large number of universities have more than their share, though.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:28 PM
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*cough*P/plS/oft*cough*

OH HELL YES. What a pile of shit.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:30 PM
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Private universities don't have inefficient computer databases because the forces of the market mean everyone will go to Harvard if Yale cocks up its information? Ha fucking ha. Maybe if US News & World Report rated snafus.

The sort of small change that would help is someone, not necessarily SEK, writing down what went wrong and what they did to fix it, because the problem wasn't in the cock up as much as it was figuring out who was able to get it fixed.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:32 PM
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113: I know of one large university with absolutely top rate IT staff who discovered to their chagrin it was easier to change some of their course numbering to conform to this p.o.s software than get the software to work with what they had.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:37 PM
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PS certainly has cemented my belief that Larry Ellison is a blight on the earth.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:40 PM
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Sorry, didn't mean to imply that market forces kept such problems at bay in private institutions - I just intended to note tha the market solution (!?) wouldn't apply in this case.

Cala' s solution in 114 would only work if there's some way to get the information to the next person who needs it. That might be problematic, because (often?) these sorts of snafus are the very architype of a system in which information doesn't flow where it should


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:40 PM
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hmm, archetype wasn't the word I wanted. Avatars? Canonical examples?


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:42 PM
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MHS, I think that you overestimate the distinction; I think you'll find public institutions are on average at least as exposed to this sort of market force as private ones -- as initially counterintuitive as that sounds. The impact of an individual students course fees can be far larger in a typical state school than a well endowed private one, for example, particularly in a large urban area with options.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:45 PM
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Fuck it, go on a hunger strike.

You should definitely try this first before immolating yourself on the chancellor's lawn.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:48 PM
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Things are not generally better at private institutions, ime.

Not to pile on, but my first thought when reading what had happened was, "This sounds like the sort of thing that would happen at Brown." In fact, similar things did happen to me at Brown, though not with as dire potential consequences.

I started to write another paragraph about database integration at my workplace but realized exactly how boring that would be. You should thank me.


Posted by: JL | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 12:58 PM
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120: Cut down water intake to minimal too, at least for a few weeks. You'll burn better in the immolation.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 1:02 PM
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Perhaps i've been unduly influenced by the recent New Yorker article about checklists in ERs, but I'd like to try this question again.

I think that SEK's' snafu was the sort of thing which shouldn't happen. Yes, some level of error is unavoidable, but systems can and should be designed to reduce error. This system appears poorly designed.

Systems can be changed. Poor systems should be changed.

1. What makes systems change?

I assume that systems change when it's more costly to sit tight than to change. As long as all; the costs of a poor system are externalized, the system will never change. Thus, I tend to want to shift the costs of bad systems back onto those who can make things change.

2. What, if anything, could SEK do to shift the costs so as to encourage change?

I think that those who can, those with the time and energy and resources, should try to do something about poor systems. No, I'm not saying "first the bad databases came for the graduate students, but because I was not a grad student, I said nothing." Okay, well, maybe I am saying that.

SEK doesn't have the time, energy and resources to do anything, so I don't want to be blaming him, but I'm wondering what he could do. If he were, like, a blog filled with well to do, well educated, clean and articulate people.

The only answer I'm hearing is: 'just wait. Even now people are being born in Bangalore who will do unto the software industry what was done to steel and electronics and automobiles. We will look back with the same nostalgia we now feel for US Steel, Radio Corporation of America, and General Motors.'

I don't like that answer.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 4:33 PM
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The problem in universities is that they serve massive numbers of individuals, and they are (rightly) expected to accomodate their systems to the needs of said individuals rather than the other way around, and they themselves are not single institutions but instead a kind of loose collection of different institutions--the library, undergrad services, the dorms, grad services, different departments, different colleges, etc. etc. etc. They're big bureaucracies. And sometimes bureaucracies are difficult to negotiate or contain internal contradictions. But really, university bureaucracy is probably easier to negotiate than bureaucracy anywhere else, because individual university employees (mostly) like students and faculty and really want to help them deal with (real, as opposed to imagined) problems.

I know I sound Pollyannaish, and I want to reiterate that I've dealt with a lot of really infuriating university bullshit and ranted about it in my time. But I mean, in general, it is not exactly a system in major crisis or need of total overhaul.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 4:41 PM
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On the bureaucratic student services side, I mean, though god knows there are a lot of changes that could be made to improve things. On the faculty funding/hiring side, there are some big problems, but mostly those are the legislatures's faults, not so much the universities themselves. I think.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 4:42 PM
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soon college will be free. and you get a pony.
http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110010985


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 4:52 PM
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124: I agree, for the size & complexity of them, most Universities do quite well.

P/plS/oft, on the other hand, should be taken out behind the barn and shot. Seperate issue.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 4:56 PM
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The link at 126 is quite interesting. I haven't seen that analysis/prediction for college tuition issues before.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 5:03 PM
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I know I agreed before, but I just want to say again that Soup is so, so right. Those of you who have never had to wrestle with that dire enterprise software -- which seems to be taking the higher education world by storm -- can't even imagine.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12-13-07 5:18 PM
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The first thing I thought, reading SEK's sad story: was that I would not have moved from the cashier's office until I got my $2000+ dollars back.

I have found that, faced with the problem of a 5 foot 10 inch and not-inconsiderable-poundage human being who will not go away - who is standing there, at the head of the queue, occupying counterspace, looking damned stubborn, and politely and consistently explaining the problem - if there is anyone available who can deal with the problem, they get fetched.

The way to resolve any such problem is to make sure that it becomes a problem for someone who can resolve it.

In short order: the cashier to whom the check was handed made a mistake: the university has profited from the mistake of its employee by a couple of thousand dollars: this is not going to make the university look good when Scott finally cracks and talks to the mainstream media.

Someone must be able to resolve this mistake. If someone says "There's nothing I can do" do not leave their office until they have arranged an appointment with someone who can do something.


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 12-15-07 4:33 AM
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