Sunday, January 22, 2006


I finished classes for the semester at one of the universities on Friday. I was incredibly efficient and also finished all the grading. (Yes, I marked homework in class.) After work a friend and I went out to dinner to celebrate.

We left a little later than we'd planned, though, because I had to hand in the grades. This university has an extraordinary number of office staff, as well as an extraordinary number of offices on campus. This is (partly, at least) because each department insists on having its own staff, its own equipment, its own office, its own EVERYTHING. They are jealous of sharing, and every year, it seems, everything becomes a little more decentralized. (The year the copying and lithograph services was decentralized was a black one in the lives of part-time teachers, since we get identical copies for classes from several different departments. Under the old system we got it done at one place, filling in a form saying how many were for which department. The new system means that we have to to traipse all over campus visiting all the offices and requesting copies for one class at a time. IN THEORY. In practice, we cheat like mad and get one department making copies for all departments, thus completely demolishing the reason for them taking over control in the first place. They thought other departments were using their photocopy budgets, and now they are.)

What was I saying? Oh, yes, the grades.

I went over to the law faculty offices to hand in the grades for the law students I'd had this semester, and when I walked in there was a ... bustle. That's the only word for it. Glances were shot my way, whispers were exchanged, and I heard my name mentioned. I waited until they'd finished their silent contest to see who was going to deal with the tricky gaijin, and told the woman who lost that I was just here to turn in my grades. She fluttered at me and told me there was something else, just wait a minute please, and hurried away again to the filing cupboards, where she was joined by two or three other staff members. They flung open the cupboards and started hunting, and I sighed inwardly. What had I done now?

The whole office had stopped work to watch the excitement, and I wondered again about what they actually DID all day. There are so many of them, and they seem to make everything so complicated. As I watched them hunting through the filing cupboards I got a clue, but it wasn't much of one. It is a chicken and egg sort of situation. I mean, do they have such a large number of staff because their filing system is so dreadful, or do they have a dreadful filing system because they have such a large number of staff and can't agree on something more efficient? I simply cannot imagine any good reason for this filing system. It BOGGLES MY MIND.

It goes like this:

The cupboards are full of boxes. The boxes contain grading sheets and so on, and I assume other paperwork relating to students, but the boxes I've seen inside have only been grading information. The grading information is sorted, if you can call it that, by keeping it in boxes according to when it was handed in. (You hand in your grades; they dump them in a box.) This means that if you have a query about the grades you need to tell them when you handed them in, because if you don't they'll have to go through ALL THE BOXES. And there are a lot of them. I don't know how many students are in each department (and they all use this system), but considering that each student has about fifteen classes a semester, and each different teacher hands in separate grading sheets, well, there are a LOT. Several cupboards full.

They didn't ask me about dates, so I assumed they didn't expect me to know. Instead, they started going through all the boxes, looking for whatever it was that I'd done that had caused them all this excitement. There were opened boxes all over the place, and it took a while.

(One amazing thing I discovered, when they finally located the bit of paper they were looking for, was that it was something from LAST semester. In other words, the chuck-things-in-a-box filing system is PERMANENT. I'd assumed they put them in boxes for sorting later, but they don't. The grades get entered in a computer, but then the papers go BACK INTO THE BOXES.)

The woman came back waving the bit of paper.

I looked at the paper, and saw that it was a grade correction I'd had to do last semester, when I made a mistake. I'd fixed it, and the student said all his records had been corrected. In the bit where it said Reason for change I'd written:

Grading error. (Oops. Sorry.) in English.

What was the problem? It had all been fixed, hadn't it? Was it the Oops? Did they want to know what it meant?

"We need your signature," she said.

I had signed the paper. I pointed this out to her.

"You need to sign the bottom copy," she said.

I lifted the top copy, and there was a carbon copy of my signature, perfectly clear, identical (of course) with the top copy. I pointed at it wonderingly.

"Isn't it clear enough?" I asked. It was, but I didn't know what else to say. "Are you blind?" didn't seem diplomatic.

"Oh, that's just a copy. We need an ORIGINAL signature," she said.

"But... but... Oh, never mind," I said. "Can I borrow your pen?"

As I signed I wondered at the fact that everybody in the office knew who I was, and knew about the paper I hadn't signed (which I had signed, but never mind), and at the general air of suppressed excitement at my appearance. What do they DO all day, that something like this could be so thrilling for them? Watch paint dry?

After I'd signed it, the bit of paper went back into the box, where it will no doubt languish forever.

They acted all forgiving, as though I'd made a mistake but never mind, all fixed now. But I didn't make a mistake, did I? It didn't make sense to sign it again, did it? It was absurd, wasn't it?

I think I've been here too long. I can't tell anymore.


Pkchukiss said...

At least they bothered to chuck the papers into neat little boxes, like the little house troll you featured some time back (if I still recall).

I have my room full of my stuff, and they are definitely not found in their boxes.

kenju said...

Yes, it was absurd. And so is their filing system. Do they have a complaint box? I'd tell them what I thought about it (and it wouldn't be pretty).

Faerunner said...

A complaint box would probably look like all the others: full of papers that had never been sorted. They might enter the complaints into the computer, too, and then put the papers back into the box... :P

Yes, a complaint might be in order. That is a bit absurd.

tinyhands said...

I wish you had refused, perhaps on the grounds that your Visa status does not allow you to sign official documentation more than once.

Badaunt said...

To everybody: The following scenario is why I signed.

I complain that I should not have had to sign the paper twice, and that their filing system is ridiculous. They get agitated when I refuse to sign the paper, and insulted by the filing system comment. They tell me it has 'always been done this way' and so that's the way it has to be done. I tell them this is not a reason. We go around in circles for a while. They complain to my boss, who reprimands me for upsetting the office staff, whom we need on our side as our situation is precarious enough as it is. I am jeopardizing the entire English program. (This would be true. The English program in the last few years has grown enormously, and a lot of people resent it and want our number of classes halved, AT LEAST, and are looking for any excuse to get rid of us.)

I continue to keep my foot down, refusing to sign, and hey, whoops, my contract isn't renewed. No no, I haven't been fired. There just aren't enough classes for me. Bye bye!

You do not piss off office staff. They have too much power.

Robert said...

You're right about that. I suck up to the office staff. Administrators I'm willing to tangle with, but the secretary who handles my paycheck and all crucial requests? She gets treated like royalty!