Call someone who cares

Many years ago — actually about a quarter of a century ago — I had applied for the job of Student Ombudsperson at the University of Chicago. The job of the Ombudsperson was to help students navigate the bureaucracy of the university, and to help them get their concerns heard when the usual channels weren’t working. It was a job where I got to problem-solve and advocate for people, and that appealed to me.

One part of the process for being considered for the job was an interview with a selection committee, which featured members of the faculty, administration and student body, who asked me (and presumably the other candidates) questions and offered hypothetical issues to resolve. It was during one of the hypotheticals, the details of which are not especially important, that I was confronted with a hypothetical student who simply wouldn’t be happy with any outcome. So, like this:

Q: A student comes with “X” problem. How would you resolve it?

A: I would do “Y”, and here’s why [explain why].

Q: Okay, but they’re not happy with that solution. What do you do then?

A: Then I would try “Z,” and here’s why [explain why].

Q: Okay, but they’re still not happy. Now what?

A: Well, then let’s try “Q,” because [explain why].

Q: They’re still not happy.

A: Fine, I would try “K,” because [explain why].

“Okay,” my interviewer then said, “But they’re still not happy with your solution or your efforts. What do you do then?”

“I give them a quarter to call someone who cares,” I said. “Because at that point it’s clear they’re more interested in being upset than anything else, and I have other work to do.”

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