Nightmare at the Registrar: Broken Links, Long Waits

    ON CAMPUS ­­— With a bureaucracy as large and multifaceted
    as UCSD’s, it’s often hard to single out the individual elements that are in
    the most need of fixing. That is different, of course, for the 300 students who
    were abruptly dropped from classes for nonpayment of fees on April 15, who can
    easily cite the overly mechanical, error-ridden Office of the Registrar as the
    squeaky arm that should have been greased a long time ago.

    At around 2 a.m.
    last Tuesday, students who had not yet paid their Spring Quarter e-bills in
    full received a thoughtful, 100-word e-mail beginning with “Dear Student.” It
    proceeded to inform them that they had already been dropped from their classes,
    would need to pay a $100 late fee to re-enroll, and linked them to a PDF file
    with the reinstatement form that would allegedly help them solve their problems
    without issue.

    Of course, what would otherwise be a simple process when
    performed by humans tends to become complicated when handled by computers —
    especially when the small amount of human participation integral to the
    procedure is frustratingly bungled.

    To get reinstated, the form required signatures from all of
    the students’ professors “and/or” the stamp of each department. At the bottom,
    it instructed undergraduates to obtain departmental approval if filing after
    fourth week. Only after the form was fully signed would the student be allowed
    to pay his or her bill and officially re-enroll in classes.

    Now, it’s unclear whether the registrar’s office has any
    idea how difficult some professors can be to track down, but based on its
    bizarrely stringent policies, that does not appear to be the case. Seeing as
    the office oversees when courses are offered, and therefore plays a key role in
    professors’ general availability, it would seem like those in charge should
    understand a bit better the hurdle this creates. While three-hour classes on
    one day of the week are convenient for some professors with other jobs or busy
    schedules, they certainly make it challenging to locate them on short notice —
    and that is only the beginning of this ordeal.

    Assistant Vice Chancellor of Admissions and Enrollment Mae
    W. Brown said students need to add themselves back into their classes prior to
    paying fees because third-week enrollment is considered late and thus requires
    department approval. While that makes sense on its own, it contradicts the
    “and/or” on the form e-mailed out to the desperately scrambling students taking
    laps around campus from office hour to office hour.

    Many, including this reporter, did not find out about this
    discrepancy until arriving at the registrar’s office with four hard-earned
    signatures and a checkbook, only to be told by a cashier that the form online
    was incorrect and “too vague.” The real form, she said, specified that
    departmental approval was necessary in all cases.

    After a grudging second trip around campus, I was then
    redirected back to the Student Services Complex to pay the bogus $100 late fee
    — $50 of which is for late enrollment and $50 is for late registration,
    according to Brown.

    “Registration in a quarter is a two-step process; students
    enroll in classes, but they are not officially registered until they pay fees,” she
    said.

    So, by that logic, students pay a fee in order to pay a fee.
    Apparently, they also pay a fee for forgetting to pay a fee on the original
    fee. Somewhere in northern California,
    the UC Board of Regents is laughing manically while its bank account becomes
    engorged with unnecessary taxes and students’ tears.

    While it is not clear what the fee is actually for, any
    attempt to label it “processing” would certainly be a gross exaggeration:
    Re-enrollment in classes took approximately five minutes, while the amount of
    time it took to ready the correct form bordered on hours. I sincerely hope at
    least some of the $10/minute fee made it back to the friendly gentleman who did
    the actual work of typing my course codes back into the computer system.

    The problem appears to lie less in the details and more in
    the automated system as a whole. Why is the automatic drop even necessary in
    the first place? The university has any number of ways to twist students’ arms
    to pay their fees, including withholding degrees and putting a freeze on their
    campus spending. It’s clear that the one automated warning sent on April 7 —
    which can very easily be buried under all of the university’s spam — didn’t
    alert enough students to the problem in time, since Brown admitted the number
    of auto-dropped students rose 15 percent from Spring Quarter 2007.

    If UCSD entrusts the powerful responsibility of coordinating
    enrollment to a computer, administrators must ensure that the tasks delegated
    to humans are actually done correctly. While the re-enrollment form has been
    updated online since the original e-mail, no apology or even notice was sent to
    those still trying to locate their elusive professors.

    Technological streamlining of menial work has its benefits,
    especially for such a large university — but it’s something that needs to be
    done carefully and thoughtfully, without policies that gouge students
    unnecessarily and kick them while they’re down.

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