Campus mail handling may break postal laws

The University’s system of mail delivery to on-campus residents is marked by a lack of communication between departments that may have led to illegal handling of mail this summer.

One of the most often-cited student complaints about campus mail is the University’s failure to forward magazines addressed to students who have moved or left campus for the summer.

“Mail deliveries to an institution like a university should be forwarded,” said John Brugger, a U.S. Postal Service inspector. “Periodicals should have been forwarded or returned to the sender.”

But one summer administrative assistant who asked not to be identified said the student office staff in his residence hall specifically was told not to forward magazines this summer.

Brugger said if residence halls followed that policy this summer, the University violated federal law in its handling of periodicals.

According to the U.S. Postal Operations Manual, “periodical publications are forwarded without charge for 60 days when postage is fully prepaid by the sender.”

GW Mail Services separates mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service to the University ZIP code – 20052 – and distributes it to each residence hall office. Mail addressed to campus residents using D.C. ZIP codes like 20037 and 20006 is delivered directly to residence hall offices for distribution and does not go through GW Mail Services first.

But many staff members who handle mail on campus are unclear about the correct procedures for distributing campus mail. In fact, many officials placed blame on other University offices for errors and contradicted each other in explanations of the origin of mail distribution policies.

“Whatever we are doing, it is under the direction of University Mail Services,” said Christina Huczca, coordinator of summer programs for the Community Living and Learning Center.

“Nobody has gotten any kinds of rules from me,” said Jim Miller, site manager for GW Mail Services.

In fact, Miller said the University has no written procedures for mail handling, distribution and forwarding.

Miller said the University’s mail service works as the right arm of the U.S. Postal Service and is responsible for providing to campus residents the same services as the Postal Service, which includes forwarding mail.

Students are asked to leave a forwarding address when they move out for the summer, but one housing official said that is no guarantee mail will be forwarded.

This summer, residence hall office staffers filled bins with magazines addressed to former residents and left them for summer residents to take. Paul Barkett, assistant director of CLLC, said the magazines were put in bins instead of being forwarded to students at home, even though forwarding addresses were on file.

“Lots of people have other people’s Sports Illustrated, Time and Newsweek,” said Justin Lavella, Residence Hall Association president, who lived in Munson Hall this summer. “I know I have a few.”

Miller said paid subscriptions should not have been placed in bins for anyone to take and should have been forwarded.

But Miller said his office is not to blame. Miller said University Mail Services is not responsible for mail once it has been delivered to the residence halls, just as the U.S. Postal Service relinquishes responsibility when mail is delivered to the campus mailroom.

Little communication exists among GW Mail Services, CLLC and the U.S. Postal Service. Miller said he has met with CLLC officials once to discuss the handling and distribution of mail in residence halls.

“I just called a meeting a few months ago because things were getting pretty crazy,” Miller said.

With all the confusion among University offices about mail procedures, correct information rarely is given to the people physically distributing student mail – student employees in the residence halls.

Summer administrative assistants, who staffed the hall offices this summer, also were told to throw away all third-class bulk mail, regardless of whether the sender had paid for return postage or forwarding postage, designated in the top right-hand portion of the envelope, the administrative assistant said.

First-class mail was forwarded to the addresses students gave at the end of the summer, the source said.

University officials said they cannot remember when they told summer administrative assistants how to sort and forward mail, or who gave the instructions. Mike Walker, senior assistant dean of students, said he was unsure whether students were trained by summer housing officials, summer resident directors or the previous office staffers.

But the administrative assistant said he sometimes sorted the bulk mail and forwarded it on his own if he felt it was important.

“If I was in their shoes, I would have wanted it to be sent,” he said.

Lavella said he is concerned student workers may be violating federal laws because of poor training.

“Perhaps students shouldn’t be in charge of the mailrooms,” he said. “There are a lot of federal statutes I’m not sure the workers are even informed of.”

The U.S. Postal Service does not clarify the issue. Several Postal Service spokespeople had different interpretations of forwarding and sorting rules for universities.

“Forwarding mail for former students and for current students during the summer and vacation periods is the responsibility of the building owner,” according to the section on colleges and universities in the Postal Operations Manual.

But Sandra Harding, spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service, said a university can develop its own policy for forwarding mail.

Brugger, who works for the enforcement wing of the Postal Service, said the regulations are “pretty clear” that mail addressed to students at a university should be forwarded.

“Universities do bring up a unique problem because of the transient nature of students,” Brugger said.

Deborah Yackley, spokesperson for the Capitol District Postal Services, said GW mail is sorted at D.C.’s Friendship Post Office and sent to Hoyer Contract Service, a private contractor, for delivery.

But Miller has never heard of Hoyer Contract Service and no one answered at the phone number Yackley provided for the company. Miller said the U.S. Postal Service delivers GW’s mail to the Ward Place Contract Station at 21st and M streets.

Walker said CLLC is interested in rectifying problems in campus mail service and has been in communication with Miller.

“I don’t think this is a practice we want to employ in the future and I will emphasize that,” he said. “It’s a concern to me that any students or visitor to this University would not receive his or her mail in a legal fashion.”

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