Sunday, September 24, 2006

Even sneakier

I took on the bureaucracy on Friday, and and now I'm feeling smug.

Remember in April I wrote about how I tricked two departments into changing the classrooms I'd been assigned? At that time it was a victory, but in the case of the arts department it was only a partial victory. They insisted that I could only change the room for the first semester, and then only because I had already checked that my students would not be inconvenienced. (The law department didn’t mention the second semester.) The arts department informed me sternly that I would have to use the original classroom for the second semester, or if I wanted to change I would have to again go through the process of finding out first whether or not it was convenient for the students, then booking the room, and then requesting official permission.

At the time I was feeling so pleased with myself for getting this 'impossible' concession out of them for the first semester that I didn't worry about the second semester. It seemed a long way off.

But on Friday, at lunchtime, I suddenly realized that I didn't know where my two afternoon classes were going to be. Would the students be waiting for me in the classrooms we used all first semester, or would they have changed back to the original rooms? I didn't know. Would I have to do the whole running all over two campuses thing again, to get it all sorted out? Would anybody remember that it was supposed to be for only one semester?

I talked about it with my boss, and he didn't know either. I was pretty sure the law class would be fine, but didn't even want to take that one for granted. How annoying would it be if I had to spend the afternoon running around the place looking for my students and trying to herd them into one place?

My boss suggested that I go to the little office beside the lifts in the building with the inconveniently placed 11th and 12th floor classrooms. They had all the classroom allocation information for the entire campus, he said, and they might know what the students had been told.

I tried to think which office he meant.

"Do you mean the office on the ground floor where they keep the keys for the classroom cabinets?" I said, and didn't add, The place where nobody ever, ever smiles?

"Yes. That one," said my boss.

I went.

In the office, one guy was sitting at his desk staring into space, another was inspecting the bottom of his coffee cup, one was reading a newspaper on his desk and digging out his ear with his little finger, and the only woman was talking on the phone. Nobody smiled back when I smiled and said, "Good afternoon." Nobody seemed inclined to find out what I wanted, either, so I looked at the nearest guy (staring into space, now staring blankly at me) and talked to him. I began by apologizing for disturbing them when they were so busy. (I was not in the least bit sarcastic. I am never sarcastic with office people. I said the words you are supposed to say, that’s all.) Then I explained that although the two classrooms I had been allocated for that afternoon had already been changed to the same one classroom at the beginning of the year, I was a little worried that in the second semester the students might have been told to go back to the original classrooms. Could he please tell me what the students had been informed? I did not want to cause trouble for the students, so wanted to make sure we all ended up in the same place.

I had uttered the magic words. Nobody wants to cause problems for students. Students are to be given as little trouble as possible. They are paying big money in order to have a good time in their four years of freedom, and everybody knows that it is very, very important not to cause them trouble. The guy I was speaking to interrupted the woman on the phone and told her to get onto it immediately. Then he sat down and stared at a bit of paper.

The woman checked her own records first, and said that both classes were in the same classroom they’d been in last semester. But, worried about whether the students had been informed by their own departments, she called the law department. They confirmed that the students had already been told that the classroom was the same as first semester.

Next she called the arts department. This was the one I was worried about. After all, they had told me in the first semester that I had to go back to the original classroom in the second semester. If anybody over there was actually thinking, and remembered how the situation had been worked out the first time, they might not be very pleased with me for consulting somebody else.

My helper, however, phrased the question just right.

"Do the students know that they're to use the same classroom as the one they used last semester?" she asked.

There was a protracted pause while the woman at the other end of the line looked things up. Then she got back on the line and said that no, the students had not been informed. This caused a minor panic. Oh dear, how could this possibly have happened? There seemed to be some intricate but polite blame-allocation going on for the next five minutes or so, while the two of them tried to figure out where the information chain had broken down. I decided not to tell my helper that her office had made the mistake, and that permission for the change was supposed to be only for the first semester and her records were wrong. I didn’t think that it was information she would be happy to hear, and I am a considerate person. I don’t like to make people unhappy.

In the end, the woman in the arts department said she would put a notice up in the original classroom on their campus, directing students to the classroom on the main campus.

You see, somehow, and I can't IMAGINE how, the arts department managed to get the idea that they themselves had been the ones to change the classroom, to inform the office in charge of classroom allocations, and then forget to tell the students. Heavens, they forgot to tell themselves! How embarrassing.

The very best bit came at the end, when the person in the arts department passed on an apology to me for the inconvenience they’d caused me.

I forgave them, of course. “No problem at all,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.”

I wasn’t lying, either. I really don’t want them to worry about it. If they worry about it too much they might figure out what really happened.


Cheryl said...

Just to upset an English teacher and restore the balance -


Grammatical thuggery aside; wonderful news! Jolly good for you! :-)

Kay said...

Badaunt made my day with a wish-dream I used to have often and never reached the end of....RIGHT ON Badaunt!!!!!

Andy N. said...

There are few things more satisfying than bamboozeling a befuddled bureaucracy. Brilliant (as usual), BadAunt. :D