Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Is This How You Treat Your Students?

Columbia University has been in the national spotlight lately, whether for better or for worse. However, one thing that the media and the public do not see is the interaction of the students with the administration on a daily basis. While there have been many times I have cursed this school under my breath and I have gone so far as to write letters of complaint to top administrators, I know that my concerns have not been taken seriously and, even if they have, one single complaint from a student with no political ties to the University will not change anything. However, yesterday really pissed me off because of the laundry room in my building, Wien Hall. I put my clothes into a washer that had had a sticker on it for the past semester that had the Mac Grey logo and said "Out of Order." While this may seem stupid, there is a website for Columbia's laundry rooms called Laundry View, whose mission, according to its website, is to "help you save time by providing information about the current state of laundry room equipment wherever you have access to a browser or e-mail messages." So the website said that the machine was in working order and it is not uncommon for "Out of Order" stickers to remain on perfectly functioning machines here at Columbia after maintenance. Thus, I came to the conclusion that there is no way that Columbia would allow a problem like this to fester, especially since many facilities administrators' offices are housed in the basement of Wien, where the laundry machines are. Well, they did. They have obviously known about the problem because the sticker is on it. So then I tried to put my clothes into a dryer to dry them, after they had just sat in the machine soaking, without being washed. The electronic machine that draws money from our student account for things like using the laundry machines charged me the dollar it costs to dry my clothes, but then never credited the machine I had chosen to use. So I had to pay another dollar for another machine to get my clothes properly washed. This particular situation is not unique to me, as it has happened to many of my friends here at Columbia.

While the laundry story can be seen as minor and not that big a deal, it is a regular thing here at the school. As another example, every week the Dodge Fitness Center website posts a schedule of the gyms here for recreation and sports and everything like that. Because the gym is across campus from me, I rely on this schedule to be accurate to plan my time to go to the gym to play basketball. Well, the schedule is not always right and many sports teams outright ignore the schedule to fit practices in, leaving the large number of people who want to play basketball (which, on some nights can number around 30 or 40 with only one gym out of four open) with nowhere to play. One particular episode of these schedule mistakes prompted me to write a letter to the associate athletic director, Dr. Bill Ebner, which was responded to weeks later with a generic "We understand that there is limited space and we do the best we can, it's unfortunate that this happened to you, student satisfaction is our top priority, etc., etc.", and it is doubtful that he even had a chance to look at it. Again, not that big of a deal when it happens once or twice, but when it happens on a weekly, or even a bi-weekly basis, it is very frustrating.

But laundry and the gym aren't the only things bungled by Columbia. While we may have just received a $400 million financial aid gift, the Office of Financial Aid here is very, very slow. For the past two semesters I have been locked out of registering for classes on time because the financial aid office did not process the check that my loan company sent to them months earlier. When asked about why my account had a large balance that would not allow me to sign up for classes, the office told me that my loan company had not sent the check yet, which, of course, was a lie. So I was told to go to a different office on campus and get the hold on my registration temporarily lifted. So I went over there and was told that I could not do that, so I went back to the financial aid office (the two buildings are about 3 blocks apart) and was told that the people in the office from which I had just come were lying and that the hold could be lifted. At this point I employed the help of my father who somehow got the hold lifted after about an hour and a half of debating with an administrator here. That story happened last semester, while the semester before it came down to the wire, but the hold was lifted before we had to involve a second administrative office. Again, I am not the only person to whom this has happened at a "global university," (what Columbia calls itself).

One more tidbit before ending this post. A friend of mine recently had to go through the disciplinary process for an innocent oversight in a paper that resulted in unintentional plagiarism of a sentence or two (failure to cite a source). The dean who held the hearing was the one and only David Charlow - yes, that David Charlow. So my friend shows up to the hearing, having prepared extensively for it, as it would be the one and only time to defend himself of the charges being brought before him. Charlow showed up to the hearing having not even looked at the paper, and adjourned it without going over the specific charges. The next day my friend was handed down a punishment for the unintentional plagiarism (it was above a disciplinary warning and that is as far as I will go) by Charlow, a couple of weeks before he would be brought up on charges of being sleazy. So this is a man who was a senior administrator in an Ivy League school notorious for having a horribly inefficient bureaucracy (ask any alum what the worst part of the school is, chances are it's the massive amount of red tape and the administration), and this is how he is acting. To clarify, while all of these stories can be interpreted as relatively mundane and small inconveniences, when grouped together and the frequency of these annoyances is brought into consideration, it is obvious that the way that this school is run does not befit its reputation for academic excellence. Peace.

1 comment:

  1. On Friday, April 13th, Columbia hosted a conference titled "The Future of Undergraduate Education," from 8am - 4:30pm. Fellow professors, university presidents, and professionals in the educational field were all present to discuss the growing concerns facing current higher education - topics included financial aid, admissions, internal and external pressures on students, etc. The panels were made up of some of the most distinguished professionals in the field. President Bollinger made the opening remarks - a speech consisting of Columbia's role as a global university, discussing issues related to affirmative action, social responsibility, and, of course, Kluge's 400 million dollar donation (which completely coincidentally arrived in the wake of Dean Charlow's disgraceful scandal). He went on for 15 minutes, and apparently thought that was a sufficient time to devote to "The Future of Undergraduate Education" because when he was done... he left.