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The joy of administrative processes

The other day, the CS SEPC [1] told me that they had run out of their budget for activities. That’s problematic because (a) they had already spent more money and needed to be reimbursed, (b) they still have another eight weeks of study breaks to hold, and (c) they probably have other events that will cost money, too. I think it’s good that we have an active SEPC, so I regularly allow them to use the department’s Restricted Fund [2]. But I thought it was useful to ask: How much money do they get?

Amazingly, my SEPC [3] had no idea what their budget is. They told me that Student Affairs handles the budget. So I visited with the person in Student Affairs and asked how much they got. I was told $275, $5 per major. I said We currently have 89 majors, and I’m pretty sure we had about 75 majors at the start of the school year. That sounds like less than $5 per major. They said We have you down as having 55 majors. We got that information from the Student Government Association Vice President for Academic Affairs [4,5].

Since the Registrar’s office maintains the database of majors and other student data, I asked the Registrar. Here’s my message.

I was discussing some issues with student affairs, and they said that we had only 55 majors at the start of this academic year. That seems wrong to me, given that we currently have 89 majors, and we graduated 4 in the middle of the year. I know that we have fifteen students in the class of ’19. Is it easy to find out how many majors we had as of August 2016?

The friendly folks in the Registrar’s office confirmed my expectation.

It looks like we have had 18 declare since August. I’m not sure where they got the number 55.

So I did the sensible thing, I wrote back to ask for more money.

Hi [Name]. I checked with the registrar. We currently have 89 majors. We had 18 declare since August. We had 4 graduate. That suggests that we had 75 majors at the start of the year. I wonder if someone mistyped the 75.

Is there any way my SEPC [6] can get the additional $100 that should have been budgeted to them?

The response was as follows.

I checked with [Name] (SGA VPAA) and [they] verified with me that [the Dean’s Office] gave [them] the number of 55 majors at the beginning of the school year.

They also told me that I the CS SEPC would not receive any additional money because all of the SEPC money had been budgeted.

I wasn’t happy about the CS SEPC and CS students having to suffer because of someone else’s screwups [7], but I accepted that I had no power to change things and that it probably wasn’t worth my time. But it worried me that the Dean’s office had the wrong number of majors. So, as you’d expect, I wrote to the Dean’s office.

My SEPC [8] tells me that their budget was set as if we had 55 majors at the start of the year, when we actually had 75 majors. [Student Affairs Staff Member] tells me that [they] got the number from [SGA VPAA], and that [SGA VPAA] got the number from you. (I’m not sure why [SGA VPAA] didn’t get the number from the Registrar’s office, but that’s a different issue.)

Could you confirm with me how many majors you have listed for CS? According to my records, we had 75 at the start of the year, we’ve had 18 declare, and we’ve had 4 graduate, so we now have 89.

You can guess what happened. The Dean’s office passed the buck again (although not to the Registrar’s office).

These numbers were figured very early on, before classes began and the numbers were obtained through IR [9]. SGA sets these budgets, so [SGA VPAA] is really the person to work with and to make corrections for next year.

I should have given up at that point. But I really wanted to know where the number came from. So I wrote to someone in OASIR [10]. Here’s what they responded.

I talked to [person in the Registrar’s office], as it is rare that I would give out information on current student majors. I shy away from this because I don’t like how the information can change on a daily basis. This is the first I am hearing of funding, student affairs/sga, SEPC, or anything like this.

[Person in the Registrar’s office] said that they (the registrar’s office) produces major reports for the faculty review process in August and January, and that the August report indicated there were 76 CS majors. Going back 3 semesters, we could not find anything close to 55 majors. This morning when I looked, there were 89.

The last time I produced current student majors for computer science was for the information I gave to you in December.

I won’t guarantee I (or the office) didn’t produce something, but would need to see the actual document given to [The Dean’s Office] or SGA/Student Affairs.

As it is, officially, according to both [Person in the Registrar’s office] and I with our separate ways of accessing the information, CS has 89 declared majors today.

As far as I can tell, no one who actually keeps official track of these data thinks (or thought) that we had 55 majors. No one really seems to know where the data came from [11].
Do I think the whole chain of command is stupid and that the SGA VPAA [12] should get the data directly from the Registrar? Yes. Can I tell why they don’t? Nope. I should give up. But I’m OFTG [14], so I’ve pressed on.

Dear SGA VPAA: Since everyone agrees that we had 76 majors at the start of the year, can you please increase the CS SEPC’s budget by $105?

Dear Dean’s Office: I am concerned that your office has provided incorrect information about the number of majors in CS. Can you please assure me that you are not using this incorrect information in another place?

I’m not optimistic [15].

[1] I will often refer to the CS SEPC as my SEPC. I should probably change that habit.

[2] Some alums donate explicitly to support department social activities, so I’m happy to use some of our Restricted Fund for that purpose.

[3] See?

[4] Doesn’t that sound like a scintillating conversation?

[5] It takes too much effort to type Student Government Association Vice President for Academic Affairs, so I’ll probably just type SGA/VPAA.

[6] There it is again. I may need to write or say CS SEPC a few hundred times so that I remember that that’s what I should call them.

[7] Okay, they don’t really suffer, since I’m just grabbing money from my department’s Restricted Fund.

[8] Bad Sam!

[9] Institutional Research. Their official title is Office of Analytic Support and Institutional Research, or OASIR, which I think is pronounced Oh, Sir.

[10] You don’t need to see what I wrote. It’s surprisingly similar to the previous messages I sent. Also, by eliding that message, I probably avoid another mis-attribution of the CS SEPC.

[11] There’s an impolite phrase for where the data came from, but I would never use such a phrase.

[12] Or the Student Affairs office.

[14] Given experiences like this, is there any wonder that I’m OFTG, or at least that last letter?

[15] Ooh! That could be the new answer to How are you, Sam?

Version 1.0 of 2017-03-07.