written by Hung V. Le

This is an adaptation of a true story as recounted by a student services staff member...

The month of March is a difficult month for our students. It is the middle of a long semester. Despite an abundance of sunshine, there exists a cloud which hangs over the students' lives. As if mid-term exams, anticipation for Spring break, a plethora of service projects, and the loading up of work to make up for the missed week of classes due to Spring break were not enough to make a student feel overburdened, the complexities and competition inherent in the registration for Fall classes has the potential to push the students over the edge.

The advances in technology have made it possible for students to register via the internet or over the phone, using the automated registration system. University requirements make it necessary for students to engage in a series of cross-checking their academic and financial records to prepare for the privilege of registering online. In order to register, the student's financial account must be current. She must have met with her advisor for academic advising and get approval for the classes she has chosen. This is to ensure that she is indeed on the right track according to her chosen academic plan. In the old days, the student would meet with her advisor for advising. After the meeting, the student would walk away with a registration form signed by the advisor. The signature is proof that she has met the advising requirement. She would hand the form to the registration staff member who would key in the classes listed on the form. If one or more classes were closed, the student would have to choose other classes that were in the same divisional requirements as the previously approved classes. To go outside the approved boundaries would require the student to hunt down her advisor for yet another advising session and another signature.

With the online registration process, the inefficiencies of running back and forth between the advisor and the registration staff have been all but eliminated. After an advising session, in theory, the advisor would electronically flag the student's record with the advising flag which would denote systemmatically that the student has indeed fulfilled this advising requirement. It was a "blanket clearance." Once the advisor had given that clearance, the student can very well register for any class that is available. Trust has been imparted to the student. It is based on the notion that the student is ultimately reponsible and most interested in her own academic progress. It is not the advisor's function to police the progress. It is the advisor's job to advise, to guide. But the ultimate decision belongs to the student.

The order of registration is assigned based on the number of units a student has completed. For example, seniors may begin to register on Monday, juniors on Tuesday, Sophomores on Wednesday, and Freshmen would bring up the rear and begin to register on Thursday. The limited number of space in all of the classes means that there is ample competition for the classes of choice. Ultimately, all students will be able to register for classes that they need for graduation. The competition comes in for the classes that both meet the graduation requirements as well as the desired timing and professor(s) of choice. So the sooner you can register, the better your chances of getting in the classses that you want. It is a timeless phenomenon not uncommon among colleges across the country.

To prepare the way for registration day, Marcy has studied the published schedule of classes being offered for the Fall semester. She builds the ideal schedule! No classes on Mondays and only one class on Fridays, which would end by 10am. Four out of five classes she has chosen are taught by professors with a high degree of praise from her peers. In order to stay on schedule to finish within four years, she needs to get all of these classes. She tries to come up with some alternate classes just in case some of these are closed by the time her turn to register comes, but none of the alternative schedules were as attractive as her original schedule. "It is imperative then," Marcy thought, "that I get into these classes. I will get up early in the morning and be one of the first people from my class to register." Registration for her group begins at 7:00am. She would be on her computer no later than 6:30am, with her fingers poised on her keyboard, ready to type at the speed of light once that system opens up for her.

She does all the right things and followed the prescribed course of preparatory steps. She meets with her advisor, not just once but twice, each time confirming with her advisor that indeed he has granted her permission to register online. He assures her that indeed she is clear! She visits the Registrar's Office in person to confirm her registration time, and indeed she is correct in her understanding. Two days before registration, she visits the Office of Student Accounts and confirmed that there are no holds standing in her way of registration. Her account is clear, and the Student Accounts staff person assures her that she is clear for registration.

Marcy leaves the administration building with a spring in her steps. She is all set.

Registration morning... 6:30am... Marcy slowly crawls out of bed and quietly turns on her computer. Her roommate, who is a junior, is already registered, so she is soundly asleep. "I will be back in bed two minutes after 7am," thought Marcy. "I am so set!!!"

She logs on to the system, follows a series of non-intuitive steps to get to the registration page. After about fifteen minutes, she is where she is supposed to be. She enters all the necessary information for authentication, and waits for the clock to chime seven when she will click the "ENTER" button, which will launch her into the registration process!

The last few minutes pass slowly... and then the computer's clock rolled over to 7:00am. Marcy clicks ENTER. It is as if time stands still... The computer screen appears to be frozen... And after what seems to be an eternity, a bleep sounds, follows by a message on her screen, "YOU ARE NOT AUTHORIZED TO REGISTER AT THIS TIME!"

Marcy panics! Surely there has to be a mistake. She flips quickly through the registration pamphlet and checks her clocks. She looks at her calendar. "This is a cruel joke," Marcy says out loud. She picks up the phone to call the registration office. Voice mail picks up. It's only 7am! Staff doesn't arrive until 8am. She calls the operator searching for help. No help! The operator only can transfer her call to empty offices. It is now 7:15am. With each tick of the clock, Marcy knows that the reality of her ideal schedule slips further from her grip. She tries to log on again. Maybe it is her computer. Maybe she signed in with the wrong name or the wrong password. Maybe the moon is up too high... Maybe....

Nothing works. That ugly and cold message "YOU ARE NOT AUTHORIZED TO REGISTER AT THIS TIME!" seems to taunt her over and over again.

She pulls on her sweats and runs down to the administration building. Maybe someone is there early and will help!

She is in luck. A staff person is opening the office door to the registration office. Out of breath, Marcy tries to quickly explain her dilemma, "I can't register. The system is locking me out. Please help me!"

The staff person tries to remain calm. Marcy wants to see more immediate action, but the computer takes a little while to boot up. It is now 7:43am! She should be asleep in her warm bed by now! It seems like an eternity before the staff person's computer is ready. "OK, tell me your name," the staff person calmly says.

"Marcy Mendez, M-E-N-D-E-Z," replies Marcy.

"OK... let me see what the problem is here," says the nice calm lady behind the counter. "OK, yes, you are scheduled to register at this time. I don't see any holds... Hmmm... did you meet with your advisor?"

"Yes, twice!" answers Marcy, almost exasperated.

"Well, there is no advising flag here... not in your records!"

"What?!?!? I met with him twice, and he told me he had cleared it! I promise! I am not lying! Can you clear me? I really need to register or I will not graduate on time," Marcy pleaded, almost on the verge of tears.

"No, I am sorry! I am not authorized to grant advising clearance. That is not my job!" was the response from behind the counter.

Marcy could feel her blood pressure rising. She wants to scream, but she knows it would not help anything except to alleviate her frustration. The lady behind the counter stares at Marcy with a helpless stare. "Perhaps you can talk to your advisor again," said the lady.

"I talked to him... TWICE... and I thought... oh, never mind!" responds Marcy curtly as she storms out of the office into the dark hallway.

"All that work... for nothing," thought Marcy, "Why would I lie? Why do I need advising anyway? I know more about what I need to take than that man! He basically just looked at my paper, asked a few questions, and told me I'm clear! I went to three offices, and they all told me I was cleared for registration. And now all they can tell me is that I need to go see my advisor again! If she could see this morning that I wasn't cleared to register, why couldn't they tell me that two days ago?"

Marcy is right! Someone, anyone, who has looked at her records in the last week should have been able to tell her that she was NOT cleared to register. No one intentionally did anything wrong. The Office of Student Accounts told her that she was "cleared" to register, because she was cleared... from a financial perspective. The registration office confirmed that indeed she can register at the time she inquired about. Her advisor saw that her record was "cleared" of any advising flag, and so he told her what he saw. What he didn't realize was that an advising "clearance" required that he put a "Y" in the advising field to denote "Yes, I advised her!" Clearance meant adding a flag not removing a flag!

The misunderstanding of procedure by the advisor, the tunnelled-vision answer to a question, the lack of authority for the staff to act on behalf of the student, the lack of trust in the student's word, the fear of stepping outside one's job description all contribute to a system unable to meet Marcy's needs.

Marcy does not complain about going to three different offices to prepare for registration. She does not mind engaging in the complex web of activities in order to assure her ability to register. She fulfills her obligations as prescribed by the University systems, and yet she now stands alone.

By the time she is able to reach her advisor, it is almost past noon. It takes her advisor another half an hour to reach the division office manager to determine why Marcy is not cleared to register. He appears to be embarassed by his error. He places the flag on the system and tells Marcy she is now cleared... really cleared to register.

She logs on to a public computer and begin to register. All of her classes that she had chosen are now closed. Even her alternate classes are closed. She is in tears!

"This system sucks!" she mutters.

After three more hours on the computer, Marcy builds a new schedule. She has classes 5 days a week. Her first class meets at 8am on Monday, and the last class for the week will be from 3-5pm on Fridays. At least these classes meet her graduation requirements.

"What a waste! All that preparation for nothing!" grumbles Marcy as she dejectedly walks back to her dorm room. She missed all of her classes for the day!

At least Spring break is around the corner!

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