When freshman Alex Riley did not get the sophomore housing arrangement she had hoped for in early March, her mother called the Office of Parent Services. The office directed her to a Community Living and Learning Center representative who told Riley that her problem would likely be solved within a few weeks.
One month later she is still waiting for a housing change, but she said that her CLLC contact has e-mailed her regularly to keep her up to date.
“I think the school has tried to handle it,” she said. “They’re letting us speak with the people we need to speak with, but it’s irritating.”
In the wake of a yearly housing selection process that typically frustrates many students and deluges University staff with phone calls and e-mails, GW customer service representatives said they are committed to responding to student concerns efficiently and effectively. Some students said they doubt that.
At the end of last semester, the University named a director of customer service initiatives to work with the office of Student Academic and Support Services. Andrew Sonn, the former CLLC housing director who holds the position, said that in all cases the school’s first priority is responding to students and parents quickly.
“We want to reply within a business day, if not sooner,” he said. “If we can, we want to supply information on the spot. If it’s going to take a little bit longer to handle an issue, we try to give the person a realistic time-frame.”
Sonn said that this year, his office began using a computer tracking system to process problems and complaints and better communicate with other departments.
Ethan Helfand, a freshman who is on a leave of absence from GW, said that when he was hospitalized for personal health reasons in February, University offices failed to talk to each other. As a result of the breakdown in communication, Helfand said he was not allowed to re-enter his dorm the evening he was released from GW Hospital.
He added that his father’s call to CLLC went unanswered.
“The University was unable to explain what happened. Not only did they screw up, but they were unable to explain why they screwed up,” he said. “There’s so much red tape, you’re always 10,000 people away from the person who can give you an answer.”
Rodney Johnson, director of parent services, said his office prides itself on returning phone calls and checking up on the issues it forwards to other departments.
“We never leave here without making sure every phone call has been returned,” said Johnson, who estimated that his office deals with about 40 parents a day. “We’re not the ones who make the decision in housing, we’re not the ones who make the decision in financial aid, we’re not the ones who make the decisions in the registrar’s office, but we know people in all those offices and our job is to get the parents, and ultimately the students, to someone who can help them.”
He said complaints are given the same attention, regardless of whether they come from parents or from students directly. He also acknowledged that some students think concerns raised by parents are taken more seriously than issues brought by students, but called that notion false.
Sonn said problems are usually solved most effectively when he can speak with students directly, so his office does not take problems brought by students and parents together more seriously.
“We’re happy to explain policies to a parent, but when it comes to a specific issue, the preference is to deal directly with the student,” he said. “I think it’s important to look at every constituent of the University on equal footing and have the same standards of excellence and response time.”
Sonn added, “I think it’s important for us to have consistency when it comes to customer service delivery and that means having the same standards for everyone who calls.”
Riley, a freshman, said she thinks the University listens to complaints, but she questioned how effectively its staff solves problems.
“Like a lot of people, I wish they were more responsive,” she said. “When it comes to billing they have no problem collecting money right away. When it comes to following through on a housing issue, they say they’re working on it but then don’t produce results.”
Johnson, who has worked at GW for 19 years, said parents today are more involved than they were when he started. He added that with the advent of technology, students communicate with their parents more often than they once did because so many students and parents carry cell phones.
This article appeared in the April 21, 2005 issue of the Hatchet.