Students and the Bureaucracy

Tamara Keith

"What did the Cal student do when he saw a line?"

"Stood in it."


"Because Cal students are always standing in lines. He figured that if everyone else was lined up he should join them."

Lines, busy signals, voice mail and people who never seem to say what you want to hear all seem to be part of the Berkeley experience. These encounters with the campus bureaucracy are not all that our campus has to offer, but they tend to cause more frustration and make for better personal horror stories.

When I called Tele-BEARS, Berkeley's telephone registration system, for the first time it was during Cal Student Orientation, and I was really excited. Unfortunately, every time I entered in a course control number, the friendly voice on the other end chimed: "The class you desire to enroll in is currently full. To add yourself to the wait-list, go back to the main menu and press 8." Last semester I started using Tele-BEARS on the web just so that when I got rejected I wouldn't have to listen to the cotton-candy tones of the well meaning Tele-BEARS lady.

Last semester I spent what seemed like a whole lot of time filling out forms, writing letters and reassessing my financial status, only to discover that I still wasn't eligible for any financial aid. After the whole process was complete, my parents and I didn't have any more money, but at least we had certification that we were supposed to be able to pay the semester's fees.

I understand that in a system as large as ours it is impossible to avoid a little red tape. In sum, I have probably had no more than an hour's worth of negative dealings with campus bureaucracy in the past two years. But those few frowns and rejections have still slightly tainted my overall view of Berkeley.

Of course, even the most negative experiences have a positive side. With 30,000 students on campus, there is little that holds us together. However, we are unified by a common bond of bureaucratic experiences. Students who don't even know each other have little difficulty joining in a Tele-BEARS bashing session or conversation about financial aid frustrations.

One of my friends actually wrote a movie about taking a bazooka up to the top of the Campanile, aiming it at Sproul Hall and pulling the trigger. His script was obviously satirical, but I imagine that every student on campus has at some point felt a mild version of those emotions.

Although I have spent a lot of time complaining about the bureaucracy, my positive experiences have greatly outweighed the negative. I have fond memories of the surprisingly nice person on the other end of the financial aid help line, the people at L&S Advising who seemed to go out of their way to help me, and the one time that Tele-BEARS actually allowed me to schedule all the classes I wanted. There are many professors and campus staff who make a daily effort to improve the student experience here. Maybe we should spend more time focusing on the good people and experiences than the few sour apples in the bunch.


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