Bureaucracy is bureaucracy; "let me check" means "no"; customer service has nothing to do with customers or service.

With these three things in mind, I'd ask you to transport yourself to the registrar's office of a private east coast university world-renowned for their research and med school. For the next few moments of your otherwise dull--or for all I know endlessly thrilling--life, you'll be me. Me, as I was, an undergraduate, a senior at this school. The registrar's office is where the papers move around, and where 120,000 small green pieces of paper get traded on a regular basis for add/drop forms, syllabi, and of course, a large sheepskin or paper facsimile thereof. The words on this piece of paper, while written in Latin, convey to English-speaking people the gravitas of the place the paper was obtained. The people who were working on the day which I am about to relate had no idea what gravitas was, but assumed it had something to do with saying "no" an awful lot.

Let's rewind. My father, when he was in local politics, taught me to smile and treat the secretaries and file clerks of the world with respect. "Learn their names," he said, "because they can save you hours of torment, or bend the rules in your favor on a whim." And I did. I was friendly with Tess, and she with me, because I made eye contact and treated her like a human being. From my first day at college, I had never had a problem getting any paperwork handled, because Tess was on my side. It was glorious.

It should have been simple: I needed to get my ROTC credits, earned at University of Maryland, to show up on my transcript. I had the transcript from UMCP, the signed note from Kelly at the UMCP registrar's office, and a smile on my face. I needed it done that day, and had not been notified that today was the last day for such things; I just happened to have the afternoon free. Lucky me. On that day, however, Tess was not in.

Do I need to tell you what happened? Let me try to compress the two hours into a few sentences:

  1. "You need to have this done today."
  2. "I can't accept a photocopy of this from you, I need to have it mailed."
  3. "They could fax it, but we'd still need to see a photocopy to cross-check."
  4. "I'm going to need your advisor or department chair's signature on this. They're out today."

I persevered. I don't want to get into how we finagled the credits onto my transcript, but a very nice lady from the faculty of the school of arts and sciences signed off as a witness, and I got a Dean to sign something, too. All in all, an ordeal I don't care to repeat. Which brings me to my solution, which I worked out in detail as my girlfriend soothed my nerves with a warm and well-earned mocha:

Labrador retrievers in burlap sacks.

Maybe there was too much caffeine in the mocha, but it should be apparent to anyone who's attended a university that their number one priority is the bottom line, and the only person to whom one passes a buck is the treasurer. Money is God at a private university. So my plan is this: we replace all of the workers in the registrar's office (except Tess, bless her heart) with labrador retrievers in burlap sacks. The cost savings is enormous, and the benefit to student morale almost equal in magnitude! Let me explain a little further.

When you go into the registrar's office currently, one of two things happens: you either

  • get to see Tess; or you
  • spend as much time as you're willing to sacrifice getting angry, and watch, simmering, as the drone ineffectually makes the computer screen change from one "name, date of birth, SSN" menu to another, and you come away with nothing but a frown.
For this privilege, you pay their salary. Under my scheme, one of two things would happen: you either
  • get to see Tess; or you
  • spend as much time as you're willing to sacrifice giggling at the dog in the bag, and watch, snickering, as the dog ineffectually barks and prods his nose at the computer screen, and you come away with nothing but a smile.
For this privilege, you pay for dog food, pooper scoopers, burlap bags... the computer monitor wouldn't even have to be real! And instead of droning, dejected whispers of "This doesn't look good," and "Let me look up the rules on that," and "I think you're past the deadline," you'd hear nothing but Tess' helpful, cheery voice, backed up by an unceasing and eager chorus of WOOFing, and placid, ineffectual bonks of Labrador retriever noses on monitor glass.