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Letters to the Editor

I am writing in response to Opinion Editor Matthew H. Hersch's column in the Jan. 13 issue of The Tech, in which he said Bursar's Office employees seem "to want to have as little to do with students as possible." Since I became bursar in 1985, soon after our office was featured in Guest Columnist Stuart Atlow's article in The Tech entitled, "The Ten Worst Offices at MIT", my colleagues and I have been working hard to improve our services to students and alumni. We want to be accessible to any client who needs our personal attention and advice.

We publish a brochure, "Important Facts About Your Student Account," which we mail out to 20,000 students and parents each summer. This brochure is available free-of-charge in the reception area of our office. It tells you whom to call for what purpose and gives you his or her name and direct telephone number.

In the backs of the faculty and staff directory and the student directory blue pages, our employees are listed by function, and all the telephone numbers listed are unique. This is because these are our direct telephone lines. We do not have a receptionist or switchboard operator screening our calls. Our employees who provide services to students and alumni each have their own personal voice mailboxes. If they are busy and unable to answer their telephones, you can be assured that any message you leave will be heard by them personally.

Also, we are accessible via electronic mail. Your can find our electronic addresses in the white pages of the faculty and staff directory.

These voice mail and e-mail capabilities mean a client can communicate with a specific employee at any time of the day or night, not just during business hours. Our office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and we have ended our pre-1985 practice of closing our doors for an hour at lunch time.

We have two "ombudsmen" on our staff to resolve disputes that may arise with our receptionists, student account representatives, or student loan representatives. They are Cheryl Blankenship, ombudsman for students, who is available at x3-3850 and at bursrv@mitvmc.mit.edu, and Carlene Chisom-Freeman, ombudsman for alumni, who is available at x3-2445 and at buroan@mitvmc.mit.edu.

We have increased our loan counseling since 1985. Back then, we met with students just prior to graduation to explain their loan rights and responsibilities. We still do that, but we also do similar loan counseling with first-time borrowers to help them realize what they are getting into before they borrow! There are one-on-one sessions for all international borrowers, borrowers whose loans require co-makers, and borrowers who request individual attention.

MIT does not sell the student loans we make to secondary markets, like so many other universities do. We keep them and the Bursar's Office services them throughout the repayment period. We have an 800 telephone line to help alumni call us easily if a problem arises with their loan account once they have left MIT. The number is 1-800-537-6012 and appears on all our student loan bills and letters.

We are working on all our computer systems so our employees will be as knowledgeable and helpful as possible when a client asks us to explain something about his or her account. We are designing a new student account bill and are being flooded with responses to the 10,000 questionnaires we sent out to students in December asking for their ideas on how to improve it.

In summary, we in the Bursar's Office work to be as accessible as possible and we sincerely invite any client with a problem or feedback to contact us directly so we can respond.

Shirley M. Picardi

Bursar