South Park Self

I'll be there for you as the world falls down

My nice therapist defines my job as one in which I have to take the stereotypical maternal (nurturing) and paternal (disciplinary) roles simultaneously, which actually goes a long way towards explaining why the work I do sometimes feels as though it's pulling me in half. Not so much butter spread too thin, as stretchy strings of cheese on separated pizza slices. Yesterday's little dilemma was horribly characteristic, sparked by a student who wants the faculty to intervene and grant her a DP the department has refused. (DP is Duly Performed - acknowledgement that attendance and coursework are sufficient that the student is permitted to write the exam. And dear sweet FSM but DP appeals have been stratospherically high this year, student denial levels seem to be on the rise. The faculty won't intervene, DP is departmental business, but the gazelles desperately want us to wave a magic wand and make it all better, did I mention maternal role? because helicopter parenting is apparently a thing these days. I saw one appeal, cced to me by a HoD, in which said HoD patiently explained to the student that the appeal was being turned down because she'd written one test out of three, achieving a mark of 18%, and attended one tutorial out of four, and how the hell the student ever thought she had any grounds whatsoever to appeal beats me. Because, apparently, "desperate" overrides "reality".) Anyway, yesterday's particular child is desperate for the DP because it's for a course she needs to graduate.

So I check her record, and in fact she can't graduate even if she strong-arms the dept. into granting this particular DP, because back in her first year she's incautiously taken and passed two versions of the same course, and only one can count towards her degree. This is clearly an error that's slipped through several levels of checking; it's a small, fiddly, not-often-relevant rule, and advisors and office staff don't always remember it. I remember it, because it's my job to do so: I am in fact the repository of exactly this sort of technical knowledge of our degrees, and I pick up a lot of errors that other checkers miss.

So, if I don't notice, it's highly likely that no-one will. Because I have noticed and annotated her record accordingly, the student will be unable to graduate in December even if she achieves the disputed DP and passes the course; she'll have to pay several thousand rand for an additional course, which she'll have to do in summer term (expensive extra residence fees) because she can't come back next year, her study permit has expired. She has no legal grounds for complaint; students take responsibility for their own course choices every time they sign a form, and the exclusion of the dual credit is clearly specified on the course description in our handbook. Someone should have caught it, and I'll (once again, wearily) add it to my list of things to emphasise in training advisors and admin staff, but she should have caught it herself.

If I pretended I haven't noticed the error, and supposing she was granted the currently disputed DP and actually passed the damned thing, she could be saved all of the above. She'd graduate with the right number of credits; it's not such a huge solecism that two of her first-year courses have overlapping content. I have enormous power in this particular instance, in that if I kept quiet it's unlikely anyone else would spot it, and even if they did it's not unreasonable that I occasionally miss things, so I wouldn't be blamed. She's distraught, facing enormous implications in time and money. It would be kind to let it slide.

But I can't do that. Half my job is to facilitate the success and happiness of students; the other half is to protect the quality and integrity and logic of our degree structures, and the even-handedness with which the rules are applied. It's perfectly clear where my duty lies in this instance, and if nothing else my own Lawful Good would utterly prevent me from that kind of fuzzy dishonesty. Her degree is only worth anything at all because gatekeepers such as I are continually protecting its integrity. But because of the absolutely dual nature of my working identity, in that moment of decision I cannot win. I defend the quality of the degree with stern paternalistic self-righteousness, and the maternal empathy half of me feels horribly guilty because of what it'll put the student through. It's a bugger. Stringy cheese, I tell you. Stretched. (Also, it leaves me with a strong need to play that one computer game stv was describing, where you're a bureaucrat at a border and have to make increasingly grey-area calls. I can't work out if it'll be cathartic or redundant. It has to be tried.)

At any rate, student angst levels are materially assisted by my current ongoing alphabetical trek, by album title, through the endless vistas of David Bowie. Right now we're into late middle-period, which is the much-decried 80s pop outbreak, by virtue of Labyrinth (hence my subject line) and Let's Dance in quick succession. You can say what you like about 80s pop, my cheesy metaphor from earlier may well be relevant, but I was a teenager in the 80s and can't help responding. That shit is hard-wired.
of such existential angsts is my working life composed... Fortunately there's the therapy space in which to unwrap all the implications, which helps a great deal.
Re: Papers Please
I've downloaded Papers Please, but haven't yet played more than about ten minutes, during which I screwed up continuously :>. Clearly my admin skillz are not as l33t as I think they are, I keep missing important dates.

And you're quite right, the student is extremely unlikely to pass everything, so the dilemma is much more abstract than practical. But still chewy.
Re: Papers Please
Yes, it takes a while to get your head around all the dates, and the cities of the various countries.

I also liked the way the various bits of paper you have to hold and track keeps increasing, just like a real job. :-)

Yes, still quite a painful decision, sadly, having real influence over somebody's future. :|
If its any conciliation, I had a not entirely dissimilar snafu in my third year at UCT.

However, I had actually received some not particularly stellar advice from a curriculum advisor, and being a startled gazelle dealing with the teething issues of "youth" and unsure of the actual mechanisms of obtaining the degree hadn't a chance of picking it up myself. I asked twice…are you sure that I don't actually require this course, I'm pretty sure I'm going to fail…I really don't actually need it to graduate…right? Turns out I did need it, I really, really needed it…but of course I had signed the form.

Long story short…I went to summer school, picked up a couple of extra credits in history…then (thanks to a crash course in "the rules") realised I was only one first year credit away from a double major…stayed an extra six months for it…and it turned out to be the secret ingredient in me getting my first ever "proper" job.

Sometimes life teaches us very, very expensive lessons…
…but you also can't know that opening up the easy road won't cause her to miss out on other better opportunities.