Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bernard Baruch Must Be Spinning in His Grave

Today at lunchtime, I walked from 40th and Third down to 25th between Third and Lex to pay my tuition bill at Baruch College, where I’m enrolled in the MPA program at the School of Public Affairs. I’ve taken to paying this bill in person because my experience with Baruch’s behemoth administration has been that if there’s something to screw up, they’ll screw it up.

I should have been suspicious when, much to my surprise, there was no line at the Bursar’s Office, even though the deadline for tuition payments for the spring semester is tomorrow. However, the walls of the office were plastered with homemade-looking signs that said something along the lines of “No credit card payments are accepted at the Bursar’s window.” Lovely…

Not one to believe everything I read, I stepped to the first empty window and, slid my bill and my Visa card into the tray. The conversation with the woman behind the window went something like this:

Me: “I’d like to pay this bill.”
Window woman: “Only pay by credit card online.”
Me: (slightly apoplectic): “I can’t pay this here?”
Window woman: “Only pay by credit card online.”

Muttering things that most definitely would not pass the “family blog” test, I left the window and the building and, with my blood pressure somewhere on the way to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, returned to my desk after my fool’s errand.

Fast forward to the evening. Immediately upon returning home from the office, I logged onto eSIMS, Baruch’s online student information and registration system, and navigated my way to the tuition payment page. There I learned that the College accepts only American Express, Discover or MasterCard. I, of course, wanted to pay with my Continental Airlines Visa card (the only card I ever use) so I could get airline miles. Nine hundred and four miles in one shot is nothing to sneeze at, but noooo…no such luck.

And so I pulled my American Express card from my wallet, dusted it off (I don’t remember the last time I used it) and entered the account number, the expiration date and the name on the account, as well as the email address to which I wanted the payment confirmation to be sent into the form on the screen,. When I hit “Next,” the total showed $904 for tuition and $23.96 as a transaction fee.

Assuming the fee was there because I was using a “high-end” American Express card, I dug out a brand new MasterCard (it arrived just yesterday) that I got to ensure overdraft protection on my checking account. Again, I entered the account number, the expiration date, the security code from the back of the card, the name on the account and the email address to which I wanted the payment confirmation to be sent. When I hit “Next,” the total again showed $904 for tuition and $23.96 as a transaction fee.

Again I felt my blood pressure creeping up, not only at having to repeat the process again and again, but also at what my father would call “aroisgevorfene gelt,” (thrown away money). And so, yet again, I went back to the payment page, and this time selected the electronic funds transfer option. Experienced now, I entered my checking account number, the bank routing number, the name on the account and the email address for payment confirmation. Just as I was going to hit “Submit Payment,” the screen flickered and without warning I was back at the eSIMS home page. Urghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

And so one last time I navigated my way to the tuition payment page, selected the electronic funds transfer option, and entered my checking account number, the bank routing number, the name on the account, the email address for payment confirmation and the name of the goat my father bought for two zuzim (just checking to see how carefully you're reading!). This time, the total showed $904 (no transaction fee!) so before you could say “Bernard Baruch,” I hit “Submit Payment” and almost immediately received the promised email confirming my payment.

Speaking of Bernard Baruch, the man was an extraordinarily successful financier, business mogul and presidential advisor on economic matters. How ironic. I have no doubt that if he had even the slightest inkling of what’s going on in the Bursar’s Office (and at the online payment site) at the school that bears his name, he’d be spinning in his grave.