Thursday, August 16, 2007

An Open Letter to Columbia University

Dear Columbia:

My parents and I pay over $40,000 so that I can attend one of the most esteemed universities in the world. A lot of that money is validated by the degree I will receive at the end of my time here due to a lot of hard work and late nights studying and writing papers. To be honest with you, however, I would like a little more bang for my buck.

Don’t get me wrong, I truly love it here. The campus is beautiful and the location is spectacular. One problem that really irks me and numerous alumni who I have spoken with is the way that simple, everyday matters are handled here at the school. Just a quick recap from a previous post about the bureaucracy here: you have in the past bungled my financial aid loans, had a corrupt administrator steering kids to a certain loan program preside over a student’s disciplinary hearing and give a harsher decision than warranted (proven by the fact that an upper-level dean completely overturned the ruling), messed up the posted gym schedule numerous times, and just overall screwed up routine facilities issues. Here, however, you may have outdone yourself.

To begin, I am working for the university this semester in a department I will not name here. I have given free housing for the summer and a small salary. This has turned out to be pretty good, despite having to deal with the leviathan that is Barnard Residential Life and the occasional grumpy-ass door guard. But that’s neither here nor there, because I am enrolled in Columbia College which, despite the administration’s best attempts to keep the relationship between Barnard and Columbia a complete enigma, appears to be completely separate from the women’s school.

So, to begin with my grievances (not as long as the Declaration of Independence, so bear with me): Dodge Fitness Center, again. First of all, looking at our athletic facilities I now know why our football team nearly wet their pants in enjoyment when they went .500 for the season. Outdated equipment, along with a smelly atmosphere (hard to control, but it is quite smelly), the occasional creepy old man and a worthless track make the gym rather sub-par. Being a full-time student, and thus paying the above-mentioned $40,000+, I thought to myself, “Wow, I will get to use the gym for the summer and there won’t be as many frat boys running around with their Creatine shakes talking about their nights banging hos, bro.” Ah, but alas, 40 grand is not enough for you. You would like an extra $112 to allow me to use the gym. But the Barnard girls? No need to charge them, at least according to you. But I beg you not to give me the university employee discount. You won’t? OK, thanks.

The best part of this summer, I think, would have to be moving from Barnard to Columbia housing. Because I had planned to go back to Boston for the weekend that we were told to move, I planned to use my lunch hour from work to move across the street. My boss, who has advocated for us when it comes to administrators who tend to treat students as if they asked to move into the president’s office, was told by housing that more than likely I would be able to move into the room that I would be assigned in the fall. Great, so I would not have to move twice. So I called the day of to confirm everything and I’m told I cannot move into the building I was assigned, never mind the room. So they put me in Wien, not only the worst dorm on campus but also the one second-furthest away from my fall dorm. So begrudgingly, after trying to just have them put me in any room in my fall building, I took my belongings in the rain across campus in one of the shitboxes that housing calls a bin, and go to Wien. When I get there, I learn that there is no ramp into the building because it is currently a construction site. So I walk in asking how to get in and am told by the desk attendant (a student) that there is no way to get into the building via ramps. Then the Executive Director of Undergraduate Housing Herman Matte walked in with some other administrators and asked what the problem was. I explained my situation to him and he told me that I could not move in, despite the fact that I had permissions from the Manager of Student & Guest Accommodations Mark Chatoor (who was trying to do a nice thing). Herman then got onto his BlackBerry, called the housing office and (more than likely) bitched out Mark and got me reassigned.

My new assignment? My fall dorm, the one I had pleaded to get into to begin with. So I had to trek back to the housing office to get my key and placard for my door so that they don’t throw out all of my belongings (which has happened to someone I know). I was told that the room had not been cleaned but I would be allowed to stay in it. So I walked over to my fall dorm and got to my room and dumped all of my stuff there, putting a sign on the garbage bag of my belongings instructing anyone who would happen upon it not to throw it out, just to be safe.

So after the hellish day I spent walking all over campus and getting the run around from housing, I figured that my housing woes would be over. How na├»ve of me! I went back to my room to get something yesterday only to find that my key did not work. I tried it multiple times and still nothing. Weird. I walked over to the hospitality desk in Hartley to ask what was going on. The girl responded to my statements of “My key does not work,” and “Yes, I’m sure that my key does not work,” with “Fo’ real? Pssh, fo’ real?” It was for real. So finally someone who was not more interested in reading about Lindsay Lohan in Star Magazine (the literature of choice for this particular hospitality desk worker) than figuring something out sauntered into the hospitality desk area. I re-explained my story to her and she calmly informed me that my key did not work because the locks on my door were being changed for routine maintenance. I told her that I would have like to been informed of it before it happened, but all I got was a “Well, we don’t tell the students on purpose,” without getting any eye contact or further explanation. So I asked for my new key, but was told that they did not have them yet. I asked how I could get it and she said there was no way to get it until they were dropped off at a time she was not aware of. She got on the phone and got someone with a set of the master keys to let me into my room. So he let me in and immediately left.

Two minutes after being let into my room, I left because all I needed was to pack a bag real quick for Long Island, where I was staying with a friend (I was not going to unpack all of my belongings only to move again in 10 days). The doors in this particular dorm, however, require the key to lock them. So now the man who had let me into my room with the master key was long gone. I walked over to the hospitality desk which I had left not ten minutes prior, and was surprised to find that not one person was there from when I came with my original problem. Not even “Fo’ real” girl. So I explained my problem to the student attendant behind the desk who told me that he could not help me because he did not know what/who I was talking about. Not only that, but he had a fuckin’ attitude that I did not appreciate. Luckily I remembered the name of one of the women (who I coincidentally have had to work with over the summer) and asked for her. The attitude-laden student pointed me to an office, where I was told that the person was not there.

I explained my predicament for the umpteenth time to the secretary who walked back with me to the hospitality desk and got me some answers. Not to be outdone in the department of irony, the secretary handed me a memo (pictured below) that was supposed to be put on the doors which locks were changed. The person who had the set of master keys (which I learned was the emergency set called the “fire keys”) was the Assistant Manager of Operations Wally Rivera. They called his cell phone, which went straight to voice mail. One of the women exclaimed, “Wow, he’s not supposed to do that with the fire keys.” I was promised that my door would be locked and I left, pissed off as all hell.

So when I came into work this morning I had to stop by the hospitality desk to get my new key. In a final moment that I can only laugh at now due to its pathetic nature, when I arrived at my door to open it, the same memo that the secretary had given me the day before was taped to my door alerting me to the fact that my locks had been changed and I needed to stop by the hospitality desk to get me new key.

So where does this leave me, a senior who will graduate in a year? Am I just going to bitch about the administration and not offer a way to improve it? While tempting, I will give a brief suggestion because I am not an expert in the nature of fixing bureaucracies, only navigating them (right, Blue Cross Blue Shield?). Anyway, the most important thing that should be done is to combine Housing and Facilities. Give them the same damn office so that the heads of both have a good working relationship and miscommunications such as my Wien experience will not happen. While you’re at it, combined CCIT and CUIT (the technology departments here at Columbia). One group caters to administrators and staff and the other to students. Combine the two and if you feel the overwhelming need to separate students and administrators, then do that within the department, but try to keep things as centralized as possible. The overall theme here (and my most pressing request) is for you to centralize your administrative offices. Without doing that you will get very little done in terms of improving relations with students here and we all know what happens when students resent their university.



1 comment:

  1. great post. I've heard similar complaints from others. at many different other expensive schools.

    i couldn't help but send you this link to some pictures of the Clipse concert at Columbia. the name of your blog was too perfect haha