Large organizations that listen to their P.R. counsel can often work magic when things go wrong, which, of course, they inevitably do. That is what just happened at Baruch College, where I’m involved in a mentoring program. Baruch is part of the massive and complex City University of New York system, one of the most extensive and decentralized educational institutions in the state.
Baruch, as do other city and state colleges, charges students who are New York residents a significantly lower tuition than it does those from out-of-state. For some reason it had been charging tuition for a recently admitted student, Matthew Levy, a lifelong New Yorker, at the “out-of-state” rate. When Baruch caught the error, it informed Levy that in future he would be billed at the lower “residents” rate.
Not unreasonably, however, he decided to seek reimbursement of the approximately $7,000 he had overpaid and approached a clerk in the school’s admissions department to help him. The clerk told him: “Normally, if you paid, you don’t get your money back,” but that he could file an appeal, including as evidence of his New York State residency, copies of his driver’s license and voter registration card.
Matthew, no fool, went one step further. He also wrote to David Segal “The Haggler” in the Sunday New York Times Business Section and asked for his help to expedite the refund.
Christina Latouf, Baruch VP Communications
Segal wrote: “The Haggler contacted Christina Latouf, a spokeswoman for the college. She needed a day or two to figure out what had happened, and then she wrote something rather remarkable. In an e-mail, she said that the school not only took responsibility for stumbling blocks inserted between Mr. Levy and his refund, but also that changes would be made so that such errors don’t happen again. Those changes include working with the City University of New York — of which Baruch is part — to review out-of-state designations.
“‘Further, if a student’s initial documentation indicates they have always been a New York State resident, we will no longer request additional documentation,’ Ms. Latouf wrote.”
Segal praised Baruch for changing its system: “Do you hear that, dear readers? It is the sweet sound of modest reform, a noise as rare as the quack of the Scaly Sided Merganser.”
He continued: “‘At the heart of this case was an incorrect coding designation,’ Ms. Latouf wrote, in conclusion. ‘While we have put some measures in place (such as the one that triggered our initial outreach to Matthew), we will build and utilize new technologies to put more safeguards in place, and train staff to assure coding is accurate.’
“True, soothing and conciliatory words are cheap. But Baruch is off to a good start. Two days after the Haggler called, the school contacted Mr. Levy, and that same afternoon he e-mailed the Haggler a photograph of a document waiting for him at the bursar’s office: a check for $7,245.”
I’ve met Latouf, who is Vice President for Communications, External Relations and Economic Development at Baruch, and dashed off a note to congratulate her. She responded: “It was a lot of work, but we’re all very pleased to have been able to turn a potentially negative story into a positive.”
She did more than that: She showed the world what a well-oiled organization she works for. Who couldn’t admire the speed of the reform? Baruch includes 1,500 full time academic and administrative staff and more than 17,000 students. That someone in the administration listened to the communications VP and agreed to and implemented changes at warp speed shows trust. Like The Haggler, I think this is unusual and laudable.