The Collegian
Saturday, June 25, 2022

Stop the signature safari; keep blazing the paperless trail

With technology and "going green" paradoxically taking over the world, it's surprising that the paper trail hasn't vanished from the University of Richmond. Registering for classes last week for the first time without paper pin cards, showed - as intended - another crucial step in the right direction. But sometimes it's the unintended consequences of a change that demand attention too: Why haven't we gone paperless elsewhere?

The elimination of pin cards marked the end of students turning their backpacks and bedrooms upside down searching for that pesky little white rectangle rife with wanderlust, missing spots in classes after realizing the card they found was from last semester and stalking advisers after hours to try to arrange clandestine 6 a.m. card hand-offs when it dawns on them the night before the 7 a.m. registration that they forgot to meet with their advisers to get their pins.

The development adds to the paperless trail across campus with housing selections, employee timesheets, tuition payments, etc., all moving online during recent years. Not that lining up outside Whitehurst for five hours with 400 other girls to select our rooms from a posterboard wasn't a wonderfully efficient use of time, but the online housing selection enacted for last year exposed just how foolish past practices were and forces us to wonder where else we can improve.

Exhibit A: Seniors recently received e-mails from the Registrar's Office notifying us that the staff had sent important graduation documents to our real mailboxes. Mail to let us know we had mail, the first sign that there were some steps we could be skipping. The big white envelopes enclosed "important dated information": audit forms required to prove we had taken all the classes we needed to graduate.

My first inclination was a subtle, nerdy kind of excitement. I don't know what it is about clean papers with neat lines, but I've always loved filling out forms - minus the time my sixth-grade teacher made me fill out my own detention slip for "thinking about bad words," which to me just signified his inability to prove I had violated any actual school policies.

But dread quickly replaced the excitement when I read among the fine print that the completion of the forms was not something I could do on my own. Rather, it would require tracking down signatures from my adviser and three department chairmen/women. Lucky for me, two of those are one and the same. But others might not have the same good fortune, especially with multiple majors, minors and concentrations being the overachieving Richmond norm.

The nightmare of having to jump through the same hoops as we did to get abroad classes approved for university credit flooded back over me. And it's probably just as annoying for professors as it is for us, maybe even more so. At least for approving classes from abroad, I'm sure the head of Latin American and Iberian Studies enjoyed the repetition of approving the same exact course for seven different students in my abroad program. One massive check on some official registrar list or online approval system surely would have sufficed.

The same is true for these audit forms. I know a secure online system is possible simply by the way BannerWeb barred me from registering for a class last Tuesday because I hadn't completed the prerequisites. It knows what we have and haven't taken, so I'm not sure what running around to get these signatures is going to add.

GradTracker has also been a God-sent online planning tool for clearly showing which requirements we have and haven't completed. I'm not the tech-iest tool in the shed, but I would imagine that something could be tweaked to use it to prove the legitimacy of our academic records without the song and dance of the audit forms. And I'm not just talking about 700 of us printing out copies of our GradTracker reports, which we are supposed to attach to our audit forms.

We've talked in different sociology classes about how we've come to live in a risk society in which a glitch somewhere can wreak havoc elsewhere, so I guess there's a security in paper records in case of some sort of system crash. But if that's the case, I think the 700 GradTracker reports would do instead of the signature safari. GradTracker must have some kind of authority if it can check off requirements in the first place.

Don't get me wrong - I'm usually on paper's side. When the content of the paper has substance, I will always prefer it to the virtual world. I prefer getting handouts in class to looking them up on Blackboard. I prefer birthday cards to birthday texts. A handwritten letter will always outshine an e-mail. As fabulous as The Collegian online is, I would never want those paper stacks that pepper campus come Thursday to be taken away.

But when it comes to purely administrative tasks, when the paper is a means to an end instead of an end in itself, we should keep blazing the paperless trail. I even tend to mistrust technology, wary of it erasing everything that's real in the world, but it's damn good when it helps.

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Fortunate enough to find myself in the 1 percent of the world that receives a college degree - especially one from Richmond - I realize I should be celebrating the privilege of filling out these audit forms. But as Conductor Ayers urged on last week's front-page ride, we need to "keep the momentum going." Sometimes we don't realize how foolish some of our ways of doing things are until we're not doing them anymore.

Contact opinion editor Maura Bogue at maura.bogue@richmond.edu

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