What would it take for a school to tell you that you can’t come back next semester? Cheating on a final exam? Vandalizing an academic building? Committing fraud on your financial aid paperwork? Just days before I was set to register for spring classes, it still looked like I was going to be locked out of eCampus.
Had it not been for the independent actions of my parents (who understandably placed my education over my stubbornness), I might not have been coming back to the University of Rhode Island in January at all. And more than a few administrators at URI seemed to be completely fine with that.
I’m not the only one who’s ever experienced having a “sanction on your account.” Holds typically block students from registering for classes, having a transcript or diploma printed or even dropping a class in the beginning of a semester. They are often placed for more logical infractions like not paying your entire bill, not filling out all the proper paperwork or for younger students, not receiving the proper advising.
I, however, had paid three years of tuition in full, dotted all my Is and crossed all my Ts and I’m even up-to-date with my university-mandated immunizations. The issue that the university determined was worth risking my entire education for was $200 that they claim I owed to Club Sports.
What is Campus Rec’s justification for demanding what would relatively be pennies to the university? If you asked them it’s because on top of all the money I have paid every year to attend this school, I owe an additional pittance in dues for a season on a team of which I was not even a member.
I’m not here to bore you with contract law, the details of why I don’t owe the money or why some think I do. I’m confident in my argument and I’ve been assured of its validity by lawyers and even high-placed university officials. For nearly a year, I’ve been ignored, passed off, hidden away, lied to, bullied, threatened and coerced by university administrators from the Club Sports office, to Campus Rec, to ultimately the Office of Student Life.
Nobody would even attempt to explain to me why their argument was valid and mine was not. Only that I was wrong and they were right, no questions asked. And any time I did ask why, my inquiries went unanswered or completely ignored.
I finally heard something different when the issue rose to Vice President for Student Affairs Thomas Dougan’s authority. On multiple occasions, he admitted to fault in the Club Sports contract and stated that he thought my interpretation of it was valid and reasonable, two things that his staff had a hard time admitting. He even instructed his staff to change and clarify the contract to eliminate this legitimate confusion in the future.
However, I’ve also been told that even though they may be in the wrong in their justification to demand the money, I don’t have a choice but to pay it if I want to continue to be a student here. Essentially: “You’re right, you caught us, nice job! But you still owe us $200.”
Even after admitting my legitimacy and offering me a potential compromise, an email from Mr. Dougan simply stated that I still owe $200 and my “record will remain sanctioned and will not be lifted until the money you owe is paid.” I later found out that this newfound hesitation to correct the wrongs that his staff had made was because I was not the only one in this situation and he wasn’t interested in opening “Pandora’s box” to making deals with other students, even if it might be the right thing to do.
But on a larger scale, legal experts told me that the university has the right to place these holds, almost regardless of the reason, and unless I wanted to personally take on the legal might of URI, I was out of luck.
So ultimately, this isn’t about the $200. But if the university – let alone a single part of it as inconsequential as Club Sports – can independently use my education to force $200 out of me over an issue even they admit they’re wrong about, what else is possible?
According to Carnell Jones, the director of Enrollment Services, each university department is responsible for placing their own holds and only some – like Enrollment Services, and clearly Club Sports – have the power to place an “enrollment hold,” completely blocking students from registering for classes. According to Jones, this type of hold is “reserved for departments that are billing for significant financial obligations such as tuition bills and fraternity housing costs.” Other departments, like the library and health services, can only prevent you from having your transcript or diploma printed. That lost library book will not prevent you from registering for classes, but it might keep you from hanging a diploma on your wall.
There’s a disconnect here, somewhere. Even it it’s for a fair reason, does $200 outstanding deserve to be dealt with the same way as an incomplete housing or tuition bill? For departments with the ability to place these “enrollment holds,” there is no minimum requirement and there’s no one to say, except that department’s administrators, that threatening a student’s entire college experience isn’t the most appropriate response to $200. And what if they’re wrong? If you can force a student to pay either way, there’s not much incentive to be right. It’s easier to just ignore a student’s complaints and questions and just wait for enrollment dates to get closer, rather than argue with them.
And unfortunately for us, threatening someone’s $40,000 per year out-of-state education is a pretty effective way to extort almost anything you want out of a broke college student.