Editorial Pages


FROM MY PERSPECTIVE – Student Unions. Debbie Jabbour reveals a disturbing new trend in the selection of student union representatives at the high-school level

OLD DOG MIGHT JUST LEARN SOME NEW TRICKS – New writer Bill Phillips shares his thoughts about going back to school, the AU way.

HOW THE LAW HAS CHANGED: – Wayne’s long hours in the law library sometimes lead to some humour discoveries. This week he shares two of the more bizarre cases from the annals of historical case law.

THE CASE OF THE MURDERED MURDERER- Shannon Maguire’s first fiction contribution is an unconventional detective thriller. Enjoy.

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Disrespect for the distance learner/worker

Do people ever treat you like your schoolwork is less important because you do it at home? If so, you are not alone. I think every DE student has experienced this. But did you know that the situation is not much better for those who work at home, or who choose to access services by phone?

I don’t know if it’s because some people are resentful of those who work at home, or if businesses tend to shun people who don’t show up in person because it’s hard to high-pressure them.

I think that the latter might be the reason I’ve had a lot of trouble with my bank lately. You see, I’m shopping for a new mortgage, and I wanted to get information from a number of sources before deciding. I started by contacting the bank where I have my accounts and had the receptionist set up a phone meeting with a mortgage rep. I didn’t think that would be a problem.

On the day and time of my appointment (actually about five minutes past that time), I got a phone call from the mortgage rep, who said: “Hi, I was calling to find out if you’re going to be coming in, because I have a walk-in standing here and I’ll take him instead if you can’t make it.”

I replied that I had not intended to come in, because I’d set up a phone appointment, but I was all ready with my information. The woman replied that she had not realized it was a phone appointment, because the person who booked it had not indicated that in the book.

Fair enough. I didn’t see how it made any difference.

To my surprise, she said: “Oh, well I have a walk-in here that I really should take.”

Oh? I asked: “I’m ready to go over my mortgage requirements, can’t we do this now?”

“No,” she said apologetically, “I can’t really do that now since there is someone here. Can I call you next week at this time?” I was annoyed, but said ok. She never did call back, and it’s been about three weeks.

I’m kicking myself now, for not letting this women know how I felt about her attitude. I had a legitimate appointment, and had prepared myself for it. She chose to take a walk-in and cancel my appointment, without any notice. And she felt that this was a reasonable thing to do! Why was my appointment so much less important than the request of someone who walked in with no appointment? I mean, you make an appointment to ensure you will be served, right? Everyone knows you take your chances when you just walk in.

The funny thing is, I hadn’t even considered going in. I planned to get information from more than one company if necessary, and I have no intention of taking hours out of my week to drive around and sit down with every representative. Applying for a mortgage is quite straightforward, after all, unless you are new to the process. Anyway, many companies that offer mortgages don’t even have branches in every city (some, like ING Direct, have no branches). The result is that I gave up on dealing with that bank for my mortgage. If I have to drive over there to ask a few questions, then they really don’t need my business.

It is interesting to me, though, that people feel that comfortable with brushing off anyone who they don’t see face to face. Increasingly business is done over the phone, and more businesses – like ING – are setting up virtual offices to reduce office costs. Of course all AU students are aware of the benefits of attending a virtual university, and we also know that the quality of service has nothing to do with whether or not a company has a physical infrastructure. My car insurance company does primarily phone and internet business and their rates and service are top notch, while the major bank that holds my student loans is so inept that I’m pretty sure Jerry Louis and Lucille Ball could run a tighter ship (I’m betting a few hundred readers know exactly which big bank I’m talking about here).

So what does this mean for the distance student, or for the person who chooses to deal with old-fashioned physical offices over the phone? I’m not sure, but I know that we do have great power to advocate for the distance student/worker by making appropriate consumer choices. I put in a complaint to my bank about that woman who brushed me off, and the management was very unhappy about it. I’ve also made it clear that I will no longer deal with her. I refused to feel like a less important customer because I don’t want to waste twenty minutes driving both ways to ask ten minutes worth of questions.

I sometimes wonder if the new breed of distance workers and students are getting a taste of what it is like to be physically disabled. We all know that the disabled must sometimes face prejudice in person, when their physical handicaps can be seen, but I wonder if they also suffer discrimination over the phone and the internet from narrow-minded individuals who deem their virtual clients to be less important.

Keep this in mind if you sometimes deal with folks over the phone. I was ready to agree to a mortgage that day, if they offered me a good deal. I wonder if that unprepared walk-in appointment ended up choosing any of the bank’s services? With hundreds of mortgage companies to choose from, it’s not really my loss. In fact, I find this experience a great way to test the customer service of a company before I decide to do business with them!

Tamra Ross Low – Editor in Chief