500 Words At A Time: A Tale Of Two Offices

It was the best of offices.

It was the worst of offices.

There was little middle ground because the two offices were built to remain separate and interact as little as possible. A favorite saying or example or parable of mine about Ferris goes like this, “There is an Office of Pencils and there is an Office of Pencil Sharpeners. They do not interact on their own. To get your pencil sharpened, you have to figure a way to get the two offices to talk to each other long enough to get a sharp pencil.”

I was lucky. I met a few people who could walk between the various departments and get some things done. Without those people, mostly in advisory and administrative departments, I would not have been able to enroll in the wide variety of classes as I did. There are not a lot of those people. I have had Ferris’s organizational scheme explained to my by several people and it boils down to this:

There is a reason why the departments do not appear to interact at the student level. There is a reason why the bureaucratic departments do not appear to interact at the student level. The reason is not to fuck with me, despite appearances. What the exact reason varies, from a long history, interdepartmental fighting over resources, and a top down decision to organize Ferris in such a compartmentalized way. I imagine that the truth lay somewhere between.

What does an Office of Pencils and Office of Pencil Sharpeners look like?

In general, once in a program a student is expected to stay in their program and not stray. Straying, meaning attempting to enroll in classes that are under the umbrella of another major. “But, you are not in this major,” has been said to me a lot when talking to professors about classes that I might be interested in. And they are being serious and honest; there is a mentality that students are enrolled in a major. A major has a list of “approved” classes. Students should not go off list. Thus, why would I, a student, be inquiring about a class that is surely not on my list. That being said, the Technical Professional Communications program has a lot of stray built into it, because students are expected to develop one or more specializations to go with their training. In my case, human sexuality and printing…among other things. 🙂

In my head, I should have been able to register for any class that I wanted, as long as I met the prerequisites, typically reserved for higher level courses. Unfortunately, as I have written before, this was not the case. Most of the time the reason I was not allowed to register for a course was because the course was part of another program. For example, I wanted to learn more about layout design, printing, and the software related to that. At first there was some pushback, in the form of “but you are not part of our major.” But…I was lucky, I knew Sandy and she was able and willing to make the effort to move between programs. I know plenty of people who were not as lucky as I.

When I was actively involved with the Summer Research Fellowship (SRF, and a whole bunch of other 500 Words) I got to see another version of the Two Offices. The SRF was one Office. They handled oversight, handing out grant checks (not pay checks), and guidelines on amount of hours of work. Human Resources (HR) was the Office that actually handled how to register hours and cutting the grant checks. SRF and HR did not talk to each other. SRF said use this software to register hours. When the software did not work that was a HR issue. Except at first, HR did not seem to be aware of SRF.

Another version of the Two Offices, was having to shuttle between multiple departments to deal with one issue. This is a red tape issue and not unique to Ferris, but when you take into account the compartmentalized nature of Ferris stands out, where in other situations would be “oh, that is expected.” This ranges from having to go to one office to get a form to have another office fill out the form to finding someone who knows the information, but is unable to act upon information and may or may not know who can. I got used to blocking off two plus hours for any issue and put on my best running shoes.

As bad as the above may sound, most students will never have to deal with the Two Offices more than once or twice (most likely financial aid). I, as an outlier, and someone who wanted to go everywhere…well, I broke the system rules. Thankfully and I will keep saying this, I got lucky because I met and befriended people who were more than willing to help me get where I wanted.


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