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Inviting the Consumer Into Governance Discourse
My World on May 29, 2005

Conflicting welcome for customers; may I help you? unruly customer, unruly customerr

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: May 29, 2005
Latest Update: May 30, 2005

E-Mail Icon jeannecurran@habermas.org
takata@uwp.edu

Index of Topics on Site The Customer Speaks of Graduation: My World on May 29, 2005.

Does anybody know where our customer service department is? And what if the customer service department isn't nice to you? Where's the person who values your service and will listen in good faith to what happened to you? Where's the person who will advocate for you, like the Better Business Bureau and the County Offices that help consumers? If you didn't study for your exam and you got a bad grade, is that a service problem? What if you did study hard, and did everything you were told, but you still got a bad grade, is that a service problem?

What about getting to see a teacher when you want to. If the teacher's only in on certain days, and you work on those days, is that a service problem? If you need financial aid, but the office closes at 5:30, and you have a supervisor who won't let you off until 6:00, is that a service problem? When graduation sucks because of crowding, rushing, unbearably hot sun, lack of water and access to restroom, is that a service problem?

I guess you know what I'm about to say. A college is not a corporation designed to deliver goods or services that may or may not meet standards we all pretty much agree on. If the product or service is faulty, the corporation can be forced, not easily, it's true, but with persistence and good luck, the corporation can be forced to refund your money and/or make up for any harm that came from its transaction with you.

That doesn't work except in the most superficial ways as an analogy to education. The college agrees to sell you a degree if you pay certain fees, and then perform certain learning tasks to your teachers's satisfaction. But there's no Consumer Service Department where you can go to say the graduation ceremony sucked. They can't return your money, it's all been used over years and years with every other student's money to maintain the institution, some of which has been maintained by the State, so it isn't by any means just your money that produced an unsatisfactory result. Is that a service problem?

You bet it is. It's just one that's been poorly analogized to the business model. Students are our very reason for existence at a university. To produce students who do not meet our expectations of educated self-interest and participation in their own society is a serious service problem. But often the student can't go elsewhere with his/her business. Many of us are bound by cost and geography to certain schools. California, although it does little about its service department, keeps erecting more such schools. That's because more and more people keep coming to California and need the universitites. Time to find a better model than the business model.

Graduation 2005 presents a great example. The college couldn't do much about the weather, about how many students there are, about the location. The Home Depot has adopted us, and to snub our noses at that adoption is to not want to listen to the college in good faith. Budgets are deeply cut, and will so continue to be for a long time. The Home Depot draws crowds and attention, and gives us some of the money it makes in exchange. Many of us disagree with the fairness of the contract, but that doesn't change that the contract is something we have to live with, and probably for a long time. Trust me, graduation at the Forum wasn't any better, and probably cost the school a lot more.

So if we couldn't change the place, couldn't change the number of students, and couldn't control the sun, how could we handle the service problem that resulted? Notice that I'm asking you to do a kind of interrogatory, the way lawyers do. List each of the issues, and then decide whether they're on the table right now or not. If not, let's clear them out of the way and get to what we can do something about. The sun, the large numbers of people, and the Home Depot stadium are off the table, and we can get on to other issues.

There was someone screaming at you over a megaphone, and you were annoyed by that. That same thing happened at the Forum. No one was paying any attention, and some person kept shouting orders at everyone while all he did was make it hard for us to hear each other think, let alone talk. And we were standing in the hot sun while he was doing it. Or maybe you had a she. We had a he. Assuming that our forum, Transform_dom, is where we can bring our validity claims, let's consider this. What could be done by a customer service department with this person with the megaphone? Well, for starters, complain that they should take the megaphone away from him/her.

If they tell us they needed him/her to give instructions, point out that we are graduates of a university and that we can read instructions. Given the chaos caused by numbers, print the instructions, distribute them well before graduation day, and have extras on hand for those who lost or fogot them. After all, everybody's excited that day, and it wouldn't be hard to lose something. I'll offer my testimony that absolutely No instructions were understood at the Forum that day by whatever the guy with the megaphone was yelling about. It would also help to make sure that the faculty have instructions.

But that's an easy one. Let's turn to the problem with the heat and being in the sun. Sun stroke is real and scary. There are lots of engineering schools attached to CSU, even if not at our school, and in reponse to our complaints about the intolerable heat, it seems to me that engineers could work out some kind of sensible mobile cover that would offer both students and families some protection from the sun. It would take planning, and would have to be prepared well before graduation. But what about all our students who want to go on to engineering school? What a great project for them.

Given the heat problem, water is essential. It's a no brainer that we need adequate water on hand. We have a business school. Managers have access to techniques for assessing how much of a product they need for a given event. Give them the numbers from 2005, which were, according to this, our customer service department, wholly inadequate. Ask them to calculate an adequate supply. Put them in charge of managing the water supply next year, so they can see how their management policies work out, and can be prepared to send for more water if they miscalculated.

Where there is water there must be bathrooms. This is not EST - no points for wetting your pants. That's not an efficient way to learning sensitivity and awareness anyway. Yes, some people are going to bounce up and go to the restroom because they're bored silly and just need to run off their nervous energy. But if you can't supply a more comfortable environment, such distractions are far better than some being mortified when they wet their pants. Women who have experienced childbirth, which includes a large proportion of your students and your audience, have sometimes less control than the men who set up the rules about going to the bathroom. Yes, I'm assuming that any woman would have known this. LET PEOPLE GO TO THE BATHROOM.

Some of this last solution reaches over into adversarial control. If those in control see graduates and their families as herds of out-of-control strangers they must control, they are unlikely to be friendly, aware, and helpful. They are more likely to fuss, scowl, and demand quiet and order. Folks, this isn't a formal, elegant gathering anyway. That was many years ago at small elite colleges. We're in a soccer field. Hot, tired, nerves frayed, families apart, searching for one another. Our marshals, or whatever our guides are called, need to go through the training Kenneth Clark (of Dark Ghetto) offered in a Harlem school. He held a teachers' planning session in which he convinced those teachers that their kids could perform as well as any other kids. And when school opened, THEY DID! Our marshals need to be aware of our excitement, our pride, our nervousness, our distractions, and allow us to look to them for guidance and understanding, not to be fussed at. Pay them for a decent training session. Feed them well, and supervise them with caring, so they can do the same for others.

Because families are of necessity separated, and because this is an event in which they want to see each other, figure out some creative ways for them to recognize each other. I am told that a family sitting as close as possible to the field, still finds it near impossible to locate their family member, even with binoculars. Each department should certainly have a readily recognizable different colored flag, identified in instructions way before the graduation, so families will know approximately where to look. Why couldn't families bring flags to wave, with color and some print maybe recognizable?

Maybe those who sit on the platform giving speeches feel that they should have a perfect audience. We'll be glad to be one if they want to supply the perfect place and the perfect preparations for sitting still while some go on and on and on, when all you really want is for your family to hear your name and see you get your diploma and your picture taken. So now I come to the issue of these things that really matter most.

Several years ago, we all met in the stadium for the President's greeting and the Speaker's moment. Then we adjourned to respective auditoriums and gyms within the university to award degrees with the Dean's of the Schools presiding. At least some of our schools may have grown too large for the pattern to work as once used. But surely good management could create viable alternatives that would allow each graduate to be seen and to have his/her picture taken with a moment to catch his/her breath. It will take most of the day. That's why it was abolished. Faculty and administrators don't want to spend the whole day at graduation. Especially because it was always held on Memorial Day Weekend. But this year it was held the week before Memorial Day Weekend. What a stroke of genius! Now all we have to do is break the schools up again into manageable groups for the actual presentation of degrees.

I think we could ask for these things without being adversarial, realizing that the administration would like to make your graduation day a memorable one, but hasn't quite solved the problems that get in the way. We could help by actively making validity claims and following through with them. It's called governance.

Another thing I'd like to see changed is the number of tickets allowed. Many of our students have large extended families. Some of those families fly across the country to honor the graduate's work. If the stadium is packed full, then let them come to the school presentation of degrees. That's what counts most anyway. Instead of causing so much unhappiness over tickets, why not ask graduates in a survey early on how many tickets they feel they would need. Couldn't that be taken into account in the planning?

These people who come to celebrate graduation with us are the very people who will vote for the budgets we need, especially if Schwarzenegger has his way in taking this all to the people. These are the people.

love and peace, jeanne



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