written by Hung V. Le

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

Michael had just returned from Christmas vacation. He had been struggling with the adjustment of being a freshman during the Fall semester. There were a lot of ups and downs, but he was determined to make it work. He tried to make the best of the new situation. He even applied for and was accepted to attend the international program in Florence, Italy for his Sophomore year. Two of his suite mates were also accepted. They were thrilled! Michael was mildly pleased...

A serious medical condition developed which made it extremely difficult for Michael to attend classes. After almost two weeks of trying to still make things work, Michael finally called his mother to inform her of his condition. By 9:00am the next morning, his Mom was in his dorm room to take him home for immediate medical attention.

Together, Michael and his mother went to the Office of the Registrar to withdraw from school. "My son would like to withdraw from school," his Mom told the clerk at the front desk. "Can you tell us what we need to do?"

The gentleman handed her a thick NCR form and said, "Here, have him fill out this form. Make sure he presses hard because it has to go through four copies of the form. He'll have to get the signatures from all the offices listed on the form and then bring the form back to me. I will then withdraw him from his classes."

"Do we have to do all that today?" she asked, "I would really like to get him home right away."

"If he wants to withdraw from school, he's going to have to get all those signatures before I can withdraw him from his classes," replied the man behind the counter, "It's university policy."

So, for the next four hours, the two of them traversed the campus, going in and out of office, collecting the signatures that the form required them to collect. Most of those who were signing these forms signed on the proverbial dotted lines perfunctorily. Some expressed concerns over Michael's withdrawal, but none of them explained to Michael and his mother why they were required to appear before them in order to withdraw from school.

The last signature they had to collect was from the Office of Student Accounts. "Can I help you?" perfunctorily asked the staff member, peering over her computer monitor. "Yes," his Mom answered... and explained again the need for signature... The lady came from behind her computer and walked to the counter and took the form from Michael. She took it back to her desk, and her fingers began to fly across the keyboard... and then to the adding machine... back to the keyboard... The flurry of activities resulted in her signature on the form.

"You'll need to just step next door to the Cashier's Office and pay your phone bill, which is $21.67, before leaving today," she told Michael as she handed the form back to him. "If you have taken out any Pepperdine or Perkins loans, you'll need to go see the Account Resolution Office back here to sign some papers, too."

"But their office is not on this form," said Michael's Mom, "Where would they sign?"

"I don't know, Ma'am," asnwered the lady, "I just know they have a process they go through with students who withdraw."

Just wanting to end this process, Michael urged his Mom to just go to the back of the office to talk to someone. He didn't know what this Account Resolution Office did. He had never been back here before, but he didn't care. He just needed a signature. When they finally reached the area with the sign "Account Resolution," Michael's Mom once more shared their story.

"Hmmmm," said the man sitting behind the desk. "I can't do anything for you yet. I don't have your exit file yet. Financial aid has to process it and then send it over to me before I can do anything for you. Let me have your address, and I can send you the paperwork in a few weeks."

Exasperated and tired, Michael and his mother walked slowly back to the Registrar's Office. It had been almost three hours since they started out at this same office. The man with whom they had spoken earlier in the day walked in the same time they did. "Hi!" he said cheerfully. "Are you folks ready now? I just got back from lunch, so let me sign on again."

It took the gentleman only a few minutes to withdraw Michael from all of his classes. He handed the goldenrod copy back to Michael and said, "Keep this copy for your records... and good luck!""So is this all we have to do? Is there anything else?" asked Michael's Mom.

"I think so," said the nice gentleman. "I suppose you should let the Residential Life Office know," said the gentleman, a bit unsure of himself.

"Nevermind," said Michael exasperately, "Let's go Mom. The RLO is on the way back to my dorm. We'll stop by there and let them know."

After another visit to yet another office, Michael was finally directed to find his RA to check out. "Your check-out will not be official until your RA can sign off that you did check out properly," said one of the RLO staff members. "Make sure you do not leave without seeing him first."

"Michael, you go find your RA. I will start packing and loading the car," said his Mom.

It was dark by the time Michael and his mother pulled away from the campus of Michael's dream. That whole process had been a nightmare, and Michael could not leave all that behind him too soon.

For the next seven months, Michael would undergo treatment for his medical condition. By the beginning of October, he felt like his health was getting back to a healthy place, so Michael called the Registrar's Office to inquire about returning to school in January. "Hmmm," said the voice at the other end of the phone line, "You can't register because you have a hold... looks like it's a Student Accounts hold."

"What?!" asked Michael increduously, "When I withdrew in January, they told me to just pay for my phone bill, and that was all. They even sent me a refund check for the 50% tuition refund because I withdrew. How could I have a hold?"

"I don't know, sir," said the voice, "I'm just telling you what I see here on the system. Let me transfer you to Student Accounts and you can talk to them."

Before Michael could say anything else, the call was transferred and a new voice sounded at the other end of the line. After Michael explained his situation, the lady who answered the phone told him, "Yes, I see here that you have an outstanding balance of over $18,000.00. Wow!!! Oh, it looks like it is from the International Programs Office... It's a penalty fee."

"Penalty? For what?" asked Michael. He could feel his blood pressure rising.

"I don't know," said the lady. "It just says International Programs penalty. Let me transfer you there so you can find out."

Once again, he was passed to yet another office. At least this time he didn't have to walk all over the place!

"Ah, Michael... Yes, you broke your contract with us. You were supposed to have attended the program in Florence, but you never showed. By the time we found out, it was already in the 100% penalty phase," said the office manager of International Programs.

"But I withdrew from Pepperdine last January. I have all the paperwork," argued Michael.

"Yes, but you were supposed to have informed us by March if you weren't going. You signed a contract saying that you would," answered the office manager.

"I know," said Michael. "But if I officially withdraw from the University, wouldn't that automatically keep me from attending any international program that is part of the University?"

"But Michael," said the office manager, "we didn't know that you had withdrawn. And you didn't officially notify us. You notified the Registrar, not us."

"I notified the University, and aren't you part of the University?" asked Michael, who was now beyond frustrated....

"You'll have to appeal to the Dean," said the office manager...

Visions of more signature seeking and being transferred danced in Michael's head...

"My dream school," thought Michael, "turned into a nightmare that keeps haunting me!!!"

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