I’ve been avoiding this topic for almost a year now, without really knowing why. Maybe it’s because I feel sorry for these people, or maybe it’s because it used to be my job and I feel responsible somehow. It could even be because it’s too cheap of a laugh; the kind you get when you share stories at a party or on twitter. (Which I have, on several occasions) Still, I’ve had some time to think about it, so I’ll try to mold this into something a bit deeper than just laughing at stupid people and their ridiculous understanding of the world.
For all intents and purposes, this is not just a rant regarding stupid people; this is a note of worry and of concern.
I used to work at a university college, where I spent most of my time at the student service desk. (I guess you could call it an information desk, but that’s only a small part of the job). This particular institution housed health and social education, meaning it lectured the physical and occupational therapists, social workers, child service workers and nurses of tomorrow. As some of you no doubt have experienced, an information desk attract a whole slew of stupid questions, with the added bonus of some very confused people. I realize that this is somewhat the point of an information desk, and while I am quite familiar with the phrase there’s no such thing as a stupid question, I find it to be extremely untrue. Let’s look at a few of them, and then you’ll see what I mean.
Can anyone help you?
The most recent occurrence I recall was when someone entered my office, mouth agape and head askew, saying nothing! After a few seconds of silence, she finally asked whether or not we printed paper there. Not a specific kind of paper, or even papers, plural. The question was just, “do you guys print paper here?”
Was she asking me to print her a blank paper? Wouldn’t it be easier to just take it from the printer without running it through? Was she asking about our capacity to print paper? “Yes, we can print it, we have the technology!” Sometimes my job made me feel like Sherlock Holmes, only with less money and more clients…
Naturally, I tilted my head and gave her the I have no clue what you’re talking about whatsoever stare (patent pending). After a while, she stuttered that the papers she was looking for concerned her internship somehow. We went back and forth for a few minutes, before I eventually managed to guess my way to what she needed. (And even then she wasn’t quite sure.)
On a daily basis, people used to come into my office, asking for that thing, or some kind of paper. There’s also the infinitely popular; “my teacher told me to come here, but I don’t know why … something with a paper, I think.” These would often be papers needing to be signed and sent within a specific time-limit, and they were casually thrown on my desk, weeks overdue. Students kept losing important information, or claiming they weren’t aware of the dates, even though they were hanging on my wall! Almost every day, someone asked me to bend the rules, because they had forgotten their ID.
One time I had a visitor who wanted me to send a message to the department handling student loans. (All of their affairs needed to be in order on our end, or they won’t get their loan, obviously.) This is all automated, human hands don’t go near the process. Once the students pay their tuition, sign their papers and actually show up for school, the money flows. It’s not hard, it’s not complicated, and we can’t do anything to affect the process. Still he wanted me to send them a message, stating he was in fact a student with us. He needed the money to pay his tuition, which needed to be paid before he received the money… (See the problem?) The tuition was not expensive, and after paying it, he would’ve received his loan within days. I told him time and time again, that we had no way of sending his message. The only solution would be to pay the tuition, and he would have his student loan. The next day, he came back asking me to send them a message once more. “Have you paid?” I asked. “No, but I will tonight.” He answered. “Then the message will go tonight, as soon as you pay!” I tried explaining once again. He responded in anger and stomped out of my office. He came back three more times, asking for his money. He’d finally paid the tuition, but now he wanted me to send them a message so he’d receive them quicker.
Then there’s the complaints and the appeals… Everyone reserves the right to complain about their grade, and make an appeal to have it graded again (which is perfectly fine). Should they retain their original grade, they can still take the whole exam again (still perfectly reasonable).The problems begin when they fail three times, which I personally think is a whole darn lot. Now, they have to apply for a fourth attempt, and they also need to have some semblance of reason for their three fails. What happens if they’re not allowed to take that fourth exam? They run to the media, sputtering all manners of nonsense about the institution; all because they can’t pass an exam in three tries.
A few years back, the institution had to weather a media shitstorm because someone ran to the papers when she found out she had to take one semester over again. (All because she had failed on three consecutive exams.) Journalists kept calling, trying to make a case out of it, calling the whole thing unfair, and pushing the institution to make an exception. In the end, this whole thing actually blew up in the student’s face because of a heavy handed comment section underneath the article. Not only was she was ripped to shreds by her fellow students, but if someone Google her, they’ll know that she’s a person who like to cause trouble when given the opportunity.
As a result of this live and let live policy, a lot of students are going on their fourth, fifth or even sixth year, working towards a bachelor that’s only supposed to take three! If they’d just spend an ounce of the energy they’re using to complain and bend the rules on actual studying, they would’ve passed with flying colors a long time ago!
Cause for concern
During the start of every semester, I would be asked by dozens of students to help them apply for a paper from the police, stating they have no criminal record. This is covered in their admission letter, which they receive two months prior to the beginning of the school year. The letter clearly states that they, themselves, need to apply for this paper as soon as possible, and before a specified date. The only thing they need to do is send their admission letter and a request, and they’ll have it within two weeks. I had the glorious task of sending out reminders for these papers, (a month after the due date, four months after they received the first letter). 15% had yet to hand in their paper, not counting those who had quit. There is no excuse for not having this document on time, and loafing into my office, asking for help to apply for it with all manner of excuses a month late is not acceptable.
Only it is! It is acceptable it seems. The students kept ‘getting away’ with behavior like this year after year; because they were protected by safety blanket upon safety blanket upon safety blanket. Students who came into to my office not even knowing why they were there, or what the important papers they needed were called, pass on their exams if they complain enough, or make enough noise! If you’re studying to become a movie critic, political commentator or a sociologist, that’s fine by me, maybe you can become the next president or something, but these people are tomorrow’s caretakers! Would you leave your disabled child in the care of someone who slithered through a bachelor’s degree in six years, with grades teetering on the edge of an F? Would you want a physical therapist, who never delivered anything on time and only got through school because the institution accepted all of her papers anyway? What’s the point of even having limited time if there’s not going to be repercussions? The medicinal exams (calculating dosage, learning how to administer and so forth), are the ones students fail the most. It’s usual to take it both two and three times, and you need to study hard for it. But when people start taking these five times, after cheating the rules and applying at various campuses (yes, this is possible), how can you trust them to administer the right dosage? Worst case scenario, they kill someone! It’s true everyone deserves a chance, maybe even two, but there needs to be some sort of quality control somewhere along the way. I’m writing this because I have a strong suspicion that institution isn’t the only place people keep ‘getting away with things’. Every single example I’ve used in this post is true, and they’re not even close to being the most harrowing ones.Sincerely – Bishop (I also wrote a book) (And a few short stories)