Dan Bernick | Penn should sweat the small stuff
Little problems have big consequences for student happiness
September 13, 2011, 12:17 am·
Getting school-related emails during the summer can be annoying (unless you are into that sort of thing), but this one from a fraternity brother really ticked me off:
“My adviser ****ed me. She put me on hold 2 months into summer, which canceled my housing (the staff at housing were similarly confused as to how the **** this can happen). Awesome right?! But due to some asinine university policy not only does it cancel my confirmation but also my application — I’m one of 7 others who was similarly screwed, and now its looking like i’m SOL for living on campus at all, much less not in hill.”
Ignoring the rude Hill College House comment (even though the Quad now has a dining hall…), this letter made me furious. Why should your academic adviser, whom you have likely met just once, be able to not only keep you on academic hold all summer but also destroy your housing plans — without informing the Department of Housing Services?
Barring the ridiculousness that is your adviser’s ability to unknowingly affect your housing application, this story dredged up issues striking similarly ludicrous tones — things like the annual Insurance Waiver, the loss of your Penn email address after graduation and requirements that make it difficult to miss class for illness, enroll in higher-level courses and use older editions of textbooks. How can Penn strive to be the best university in the world and suffer from fixable problems like this? Goliath was slain by a tiny pebble.
Hold on — I’m not saying glitches in the housing application are destroying Penn. The argument is this: Penn should sweat the small stuff. Minor issues affect student happiness and create inefficiencies for the University. The Student Health Service Insurance Waiver is another great example.
Remember the five to 10 emails you got from SHS this summer reminding you to enroll in or waive your Penn Student Insurance Plan? Did they remind you of the five to 10 emails you got from SHS last summer to do the same exact thing? I understand the importance of insuring students, and SHS does an amazing job. What bothers me is there is no “use same insurance information provided last year” button. There is no way to avoid entering in the same details you spent hours digging up from some old, dusty file cabinet in your house the previous summer.
Perhaps this doesn’t bother you, but saving a few precious vacation minutes is only the tip of the iceberg. Consider how many students are unable, because they are interning in a foreign country all summer or because their houses are disorganized, to thoroughly complete the insurance waiver in time. Moreover, students may enter inaccurate information; consequently, they are automatically enrolled in the Penn Student Insurance Plan (with an attendant fee) on August 31. When you finally enter the correct information, your name remains on the “reminder email” list. Scared your information wasn’t received, you waste time trying again.
It is highly likely any potential benefits of this policy are overshadowed by the amount of incorrectly entered insurance information, the number of students who delay submitting their waiver and the verification resources needed to screen the additional (but redundant) information. Small problems like these are at best a distraction from more serious concerns and at worst a drain on wider school improvements.
Part of the issue is fixing these problems, but the other part is hearing about them. If my brother had not sent me his housing email, I would have no idea the advising/housing connection has turned summer into stress for seven of my peers. So if you do have problems, let someone know.
Sweating the small stuff by acting quickly on minor issues with major impacts on student life is a smart first step to improve our school. The investment is minimal and the payoff is huge. Here’s hoping my fraternity brother successfully forages for a home — and no other Quaker ever has to.
Dan Bernick is a College sophomore from Mendota Heights, Minn. He is a College representative on the Undergraduate Assembly. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Straight appears every other Tuesday.