Sunday, April 1, 2007

Much Ado About Zero Credits

My all-time favorite tale about the world's fat-stupid-jerkitude comes from my undergrad years, when I was a music major at a small state university. All music majors were required to take a zero-credit course called "Recital Class" every quarter. This meant that, several times a quarter, you had to attend a "general recital" during which faculty members and/or students performed excerpts from their upcoming recitals. Plus, you had to turn in about five programs for art-music performances you attended each quarter. What it basically amounted to was a way of making sure music majors spent at least some time taking in live performances of music.

The class cost nothing, because tuition is billed as a dollar amount per credit, and this one had zero credits. It was a pass/no-credit class; you either passed or you didn't. But you had to have a pass for each quarter during which you were a music major.

The problem: it's hard to remember to register for a zero-credit class, even (indeed, especially) one you have registered for every quarter since you declared your major. One quarter, I did forget to register for Recital Class. I kept turning in programs and attending General Recitals. I fulfilled all the requirements to pass the class. Then, early in the next quarter, the secretary of the department told me that she couldn't give me a grade because I wasn't registered for the last quarter's class. Oops. I would just have to register for the class retroactively...somehow.

I went to the Registars' Office to ask what I should do about this. The receptionist told me that I needed to speak to Mr. __, one of the registrars. (His name is omitted to protect a fat, stupid jerk--me.) I asked when I could speak to him. The receptionist said Mr. __ was out of town for a week or two, but she penciled me in for an appointment soon after his expected return.

A week or two later, I visited with Mr. __. He listened to my story with evident skepticism. Finally he declared that, before he could register me for a class that took place the previous quarter, I needed to bring him a letter from the chair of the music department, assuring him that I had fulfilled the requirements for a passing grade.

So I went back to the Department Chair's office, where the secretary told me the Chair had gone out of town for a week or two. She penciled me into the schedule for some time soon after the chair's return.

A week or two later, I visited with the Chair of the Department. It took a while to convince her that she, personally, needed to write a letter regarding a matter she knew nothing about, so that I could register for a class that had already ended. Finally she agreed to have the department secretary write it, and then she would sign it.

Eventually (I don't know whether another week or two went by) I collected this letter and took it back to the Registrars' Office. But Mr. __ was out of town again. The receptionist penciled me in for another appointment. A week or two later, when I spoke to Mr. __ for the second time, he acted as if he had never met me and had no recollection of our previous discussion. He seemed even more skeptical than before, even after carefully reading every word of the department chair's memo.

Finally, Mr. __ said he would register me for the previous quarter's Recital Class; but first I must go to the Cashiers' Window and pay the tuition. I asked him if he realized, as a college registrar, that there was no tuition for a zero-credit class. Mr. __ said he knew that, and he had meant to say I would have to pay a late-registration fee. Tactfully mentioning that late-registration fees were reckoned as a percentage of tuition, I asked him how much money he had in mind. For some reason Mr. __ seemed a little impatient as he named a figure (maybe $15), told me to bring him a receipt from the cashier, and ejected me from his office.

I went to the Cashiers' Window and explained that I need to pay a late-registration fee for such-and-such class. The cashier looked up my student account in her computer and said, "This doesn't show that you owe any fees." I said it was for a class the registrar, Mr. __, was going to register me for, but only after I had paid the fee. The cashier said, "Honey, we can't charge you for a fee that isn't in our system. You have to be registered for the class before we can charge you for late registration."

I made a big, silent O with my mouth, and went straight back to the Registrars' Office. By some miracle, I got right into see Mr. __ without having to wait. I said, "Here's the problem. You said you won't register me for the class until I pay a late-registration fee. The cashier says I can't pay a late-registration fee until I'm registered for the class. Is there some way around this Catch-22?"

Mr. __, who by now was positively snippy, said, "Just give me the damn money." I gave him the damn money, and stood by patiently while he scribbled a handwritten receipt. And so I saved my college transcript from the horrible want of a zero-credit course.


Cuda said...

You have captured the bureaucratic essence!

You may now progress to the next level.

Marie N. said...

And they say there is a quality difference between the big schools and the little ones. Sounds pretty much the same by your account!

Anonymous said...

OMG!!! And I thought I had a hard time at the U of MN.....

I knew there was a reason that I never wanted to go to MSU.