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In my opinion

Ode to bureaucratic mayhem

The last memo she ever wrote.

BY MOIRA FARR | FEB 06 2013

There isn’t much time. Please know I did everything I could to stop the madness. I admit I should have acted sooner, when I first heard what sounded like a cry of agony from a colleague’s office, hours ago – I knew it had to be someone trying to align the new Mandatory Learning Outcomes and Objectives Provincial Online Directive with their own syllabus, using the updated Blackboard learning resources system. But I had no idea that a mass tipping point had been reached.

I have tried to inform the authorities, but the phone in my classroom does not allow outgoing calls, the Internet is down and, according to the recorded message from security, my emergency protocol PIN code is invalid. I thought it was the same as my employee number, but apparently not. I also tried my own secure network login password but that did not work either. I hear shouts and running now – I think security knows we have a problem.

I have evacuated my students, though many had questions: Will the assignment instructions be posted online? Did you get my special accommodations form? Could you write me a reference letter? Can I opt out of my sports-centre fees? Where do I go for a tuition refund?

And of course, why are our professors turning into flesh-eating zombies?

For that, I have no answer. Soon, I may be one of them.

I am in the faculty office and have blocked the entry with a stack of boxes containing the new Privacy Act forms to be filled out by each student in each course, then recorded by faculty via the new online student tracking system (there’s no way to lock the door as the key I was issued for this office at the beginning of term does not appear to be the right one). Oh dear god, I can hear my undead colleagues on the other side, moaning, rattling the knob, shoving against the door. I don’t know why; after all, they must know the office printer has a paper jam and the photocopier is out of ink.

Speaking of keys, I am leaving the console key for the classroom computers here, so you can pass it on to the computing systems department. Last year, I received 37 email reminders to return it in the three days after the semester ended, so I know they want it back, badly.

Also, should you be using Classroom 172A in N Building (Note: not 172N in A Building – a mistake you will regret on the first blizzardy day of class – you know that N is on the exact opposite end of campus from A), the screen may cause injury if you try to pull it all the way down. Don’t bother, as the projector is not working anyway, unless you bring a special hook-up extension cord – you can sign one out at computing systems, but make sure it’s both Mac and PC compatible. (I didn’t and had to make several trips back and forth.) You then need to make sure the input and output modes on the console are set properly. It may involve HTML. Or something. One of the students figured it out for me. I ask that you return this cord, along with the console key.

Finally, please inform parking services that I did try to pay that ticket. Ah, that blizzardy January afternoon, I remember it well. The parking-lot machine kept saying my credit card was un-readable. Luckily I had toonies, though it took some time to get them all down the machine’s gullet, for it seemed not to like toonies. I almost said “F*%# it”, but at last a receipt ground its way out of the slot. Late as I was (little knowing the fun was just beginning, as I confused N and A buildings), I threw the ticket onto the dashboard – so I thought! Apparently, as I sprinted away the tiny tag of paper fluttered fatefully to the floor, invisible to roaming attendants …

Alas, when I called to pay up (do you think I would put myself through the hours of bureaucratic mayhem it would take to convince someone I’d actually paid? No sir, I judge it worth $35 to avoid all that!), my “violation” hadn’t yet been recorded on the system. The clerk said, Call next week. I did. But the system wouldn’t recognize my employee number – I was put on hold for, oh, quite some time, before being informed that it wasn’t my employee number I needed, but a parking account number, which the clerk then issued to me. Sadly, that number didn’t work either. I was told to call a week later.

It may not happen now. Though it was never on my bucket list.

They have breached the boxes, I must …

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  1. aaron fenton / February 6, 2013 at 11:30

    Kudo to Moira Farr. She must be nom de plume of my colleague down the hall. Hilarious, yet there are so many kernels of reality present. Nolite dolere. All such challenges will disappear when we go ‘paperless’. Dilbert and Robertson Davies will be proud of the author.

  2. Sean Lawrence / February 6, 2013 at 21:46

    Yes, this is brilliant. It also seems to illustrate the grand failure of university administrations to make our jobs easier, not harder.

  3. Rachel / February 20, 2013 at 14:30

    As someone that works in University administration, and has to deal with a lot of other departments administration run-arounds, it’s my goal in life to reduce the number forms and phone calls people have to make to get things done. Some people in my department hate me because I frequently ask of a useless yet inherited form/system “do we really need them to fill this out?”.

    It takes a long time and a lot of effort to convince life-long administration employees (and more so their managers) that sometimes the answer isn’t another form, or that old systems are sometimes just that, old and outdated.

    That being said, sometimes what seems like a waste of a faculty members time, taking 5 minutes to fill out a form, can really save administrators HOURS of time. When my department is processing 100+ awards, payments, etc. in a week, having a summary form, that seems like a waste of your 5 minutes, saves me from flipping through an entire file folder of documents, so your 5 minutes saves me 15 minutes x 100. I know it seems like a lot to ask sometimes, but I process things for YOU. Do me a favour and take 5 minutes to help me HELP YOU.

    I think we all have to remember we work for the same team. We are all employees at the same institutions trying our best to do our jobs the best way possible.