Tuesday October 26
Gather round children, and listen to my story...
Getting hired at Argonne this summer required some complicated paperwork. I am not employed by Argonne directly; although Gregor controls my money (he likes to point out that he can cut it off anytime), my paychecks actually come through the University, Physical Sciences division. Before I signed the contracts with them, back in August, I made sure to ask whether the position comes with any financial aid or tuition assistance. The secretaries told me that during the summer I would be classified as "Research assistant Type A", but that as soon as I started taking classes again, I could turn into an "R.A. type B", a position which is eligible for a full tuition waiver.
All my tuition paid! Nothing to worry about! Huzzah! This is good, because I'm already in a lot of debt from my first two quarters. If I take three classes in a quarter, that's about $10,000 right there, for three months. But I didn't have to worry about that. I could go ahead and register for all the classes I wanted for the fall quarter.
Well, after I registered for three classes, I went back to the secretary and asked to become "R.A. type B". I made a few phone calls, sent a few e-mails, answered a few questions, and everything seemed OK. The final result was I got an e-mail saying "You're all set; if you get a bill by mistake, take it to the Dean and he'll make it go away."
...followed two days later by an e-mail saying "Jonathan. I just found out you are a Master's student, not a PhD student. Therefore you are not eligible for the R.A. type B position. Regards."
Well, I could have told you I was a master's student in the first place, if anybody had asked! I didn't know it made a difference! But apparently Master's students are chopped liver, and exist to suck money out of to give to the PhD students. This is all the more reason I want to become a PhD student as soon as possible.
So, shoot, now I had a bill for $11,000, due on Friday, October 22. Where was I going to come up with that kind of money that fast? I called and e-mailed everyone I could think of -- advisor, chairman of department, boss at Argonne, bursar, financial aid department, student loan department, bank loan people, all the secretaries within swinging distance.
Gregor told me that he had called up the people at the university and "lit some fires behind some asses". "I am already having to pay this much money for this student, and you are not giving it to him? If it is not for tuition, I demand accountability for where that money is going." Gregor is a good guy, but he can be awfully intimidating when he's not happy about something. He told me to get ahold of someone named Stephanie Endy, who I guess is sort of a liason between Argonne and U. of C., and ask whether she had any ideas for resolving the situation.
So all last week I was trying to get ahold of Stephanie. She never answered my e-mail, she was never in her office at Argonne, and when I called her extension at the university I got a message saying the number was out of service. Finally Friday, the deadline, came and went, with the problem still unresolved. I didn't know what my status was, or whether I was going to be charged an extra late fee on top of the already huge bill.
Today I found Stephanie's office at U. of C. And she was in! (Turns out her phone number had been changed -- I got it from an out-of-date web site.) She was right on top of things. Even though she hadn't spoken to me in person before, she had been working on the problem the whole time. She made another phone call while I waited, and when it was over she told me that my tuition should be waived now. All the proper rituals had been observed, the animal sacrifices made, and the bad old bill should magically disappear. If I get another bill, she said, talk to the dean and he'll make it go away.
So this story has a happy ending. I can stay in school without selling my kidneys. At least, until the next stupid beaurocratic phantom monster pops up.