First, the background: an MA/MSc/PhD application will come in on paper or online. Paper versions are entered onto the database manually, online versions are transferred from the web system to the database using a background process. Fields from the web system don't always exactly match the database so some things, notably the address, generally need tidying up. There are two addresses: home and correspondence. If only a home address has been entered it's simply copied across to fill the correspondence address too. As the addresses are known to be a problem area the first person to look at the application will check to ensure both addresses are complete. Then the application is processed, a decision is made and an offer letter is printed. When the letter has been checked and stamped it's posted and an email is sent. So, when you look at the database you can generally tell when a letter's been sent as the corresponding email's been sent too.
Fast forward to last week's example of brown stuff meets whirly thing. An email came in saying a particular email hadn't been received (standard emails to applicants are copied to the relevant support staff) which usually means the letter hasn't been sent. I replied saying the letter should have gone out and I would make sure it definitely did later that day as I was about to go into a meeting. The contact (with whom I developed a very good working rapport as I was responsible for her 'area' for an entire academic year when I first started the job over 2.5 years ago) then replied with a complaint and copied in not only my operations manager but also her head of school and two other bigwigs. That meant my department was possibly in line for a ton of shit because it looked like we weren't doing our jobs properly. In turn, that meant I was hauled into the boss's office and given a roasting for sending an 'unprofessional and factually incorrect' email. In fact, my email was forwarded to the entire department as an example of how not to send emails. Nice.
Unprofessional? Quite possibly - I was very casual about the whole thing. I usually am with people who are casual with me, it's what happens when you develop a rapport: there's not so much need for formality.
Factually incorrect? Not really. My email implied that the letter hadn't been sent as the usual email hadn't been sent. On further investigation it transpired that the email address in the correspondence address details wasn't working so the letter may well have been sent but whoever sent it didn't make a note that the email address was invalid. Not many people would as it happens regularly enough not to be a big deal. The letter was reprinted and sent. I then copied the 'home' email address into the 'correspondence' email address and the email went just fine.
Then I did some more checking and realised that the old email address being incorrect meant the old postal address was also incorrect so the poor applicant still wouldn't receive his offer letter as it had been posted (possibly twice) to an address that was nearly 2 years out of date. Yes, this was someone who'd taken their BA at the Uni, gone back to their parent's home and 18 months later decided to apply for the MA. They'd applied online and only supplied a home address so when their application was transferred to the database the home address was overwritten with the new information but the correspondence address was untouched. It's obvious that whoever checked the addresses just gave them a cursory skim to make sure there were two addresses and didn't pay much attention to the details. From that point onwards there were going to be problems and I happen to be the one who tripped over them. As soon as I spotted the source of the error I corrected the correspondence postal address and sent a new letter so the applicant is none the wiser.
Now, the contact in the school could just have addressed the email to me and the situation would have been resolved just as quickly. By escalating it the way they did they upset all the people on the email CC list and my head of department, caused at least half an hour's unnecessary work for a handful of people and managed to maintain the unpleasant status quo very nicely.
Status quo? Yes, the department I'm about to leave is shat on from all directions and all heights. I could whine like a stuck record about the internal politics and questionable decisions that come from within but nothing compares to the crap that's thrown at us from outside. The above example says it all: I had to try to resolve a problem not of my doing and because I sent an interim email to someone I've had a good working relationship with for over 2.5 years our whole department has once again been made to feel like the world is coming to an end. It makes working life unbearable when you can't communicate with 'colleagues' without painstaking care. It makes you feel as though you have to watch every tiny detail and it makes you afraid to say anything at all. Which is why I'm leaving.