To the Administrators of the Graduate School at Loyola Chicago

January 24, 2012

I got a letter in the mail from the Graduate School at Loyola Chicago.  It said they could help me achieve my life’s professional – and academic – goals.  I looked into their website, and decided that perhaps I could help them clean up their professional – and academic – act.

Blame it on superstition.  But I am often tempted to treat a university’s website as a bellwether of its overall health.  If the place can’t manage to put out a straightforward, organized presentation of itself, in this day and age, then it seems fair to worry that I (and others) might someday discover, to our dismay, that the more byzantine reaches of its internal processes are truly fubar.

Therefore, in a spirit of constructive criticism, I decided to log the steps that I took after receiving their letter.  I readily grant that I probably made mistakes in the path I took.  I may have missed a turn or two.  But I think I am probably not alone.  And regardless of errors on my part, I believe a certain message creeps through.

*     *     *

Loyola’s letter told me to start with LUC.edu/skilled.  When I entered that into my browser’s address bar, it took me to a page that offered me an opportunity to request snail-mail info about the Graduate School within the College of Arts and Sciences.  But no links.  There didn’t appear to be a single link to any grad school webpages.  Apparently I was supposed to give them my address and wait a week or two for them to send me stuff.

I ignored that dead-end webpage and started over at the university’s main webpage.  From there, I found my way to a page on Graduate and Professional Education at Loyola.  This was what I wanted:  a list of the available graduate programs.  I went down the list and middle-clicked on a half-dozen of them.  Firefox opened separate tabs.  I expected that I would see, in those tabs, the webpages for the programs I had selected.

When I finished going down that list, I went to the first tab that I had opened from this list.  Now I saw that, instead, middle-clicking (or a right-click > Open Link in New Tab) gave me just another list of programs.  What?  I now had a half-dozen tabs, each presenting this same alternate list.

Apparently I had to go back down the original list of graduate programs and use the left-click option instead of the middle-click.  And yet that didn’t take me to an actual departmental program page either:  it still gave me that redundant list of programs.  Actually, I shouldn’t say that this list was redundant, because it was somewhat different from the previous one.  For instance, one list had “Higher Education” under H, for Higher, while the other had it under E, for Education.

But anyway, now that I was on this quasi-redundant list of programs, middle-clicking actually worked.  Sort of.  A middle-click on Higher Education didn’t take me to a Higher Education page.  But as a second- or third-best, at least it took me to a School of Education webpage, and I could try to find my way from there.

Except that, no, clicking on Higher Education there didn’t open a new page; it just expanded the existing item, without providing any links to an actual Higher Education program.  If I wanted the Higher Education program webpage, it seemed I would have to use that webpage’s “School of Education graduate programs” link.  That took me to a page that didn’t specify Higher Education or any other specific programs.  It just listed the degree programs available:  Ed.D, Ph.D., Ed.S., M.A., and M.Ed.

I was interested in a PhD in higher education, so clicked Ph.D.  That took me to a list of available doctoral degrees in the School of Education.  See?  Easy!  I clicked on the one for Higher Education.  Now, by God, I had it:  the PhD in Higher Education webpage.

Still no direct link to faculty, though, so I tried the Program Description webpage.  Oddly, that didn’t have any links to faculty either.  I seemed to be at a dead end.  I backed up to the previous page.  Well, it had an “About Us” link on the right side, so I tried that.  After a brief announcement that I was being redirected, that link took me to what appeared to be the main page for the School of Education.  So now I had finally managed to arrive at what probably should have been one click away from where I should have started.

On that main page, there was a Faculty and Staff link.  Very good!  I looked down the list.  There were several faculty members who named Higher Education as a specialty.  I clicked on one.  Unfortunately, here, where a drop-down treatment would have been helpful, a new webpage opened up instead.  So I would have to go back and forth for each faculty member whose bio I wanted to read.

After further screwing around, I decided that Loyola Chicago had potential.  As I say, higher education was one of several programs that I was curious about, so I started to retrace my steps, to figure out where I could learn more about other PhD programs there.

I wasn’t too eager to go through so much hunting around for each program that might interest me, though, so I decided to pause and look, instead, to see what they would want in a Higher Education application package.  I clicked on the Apply Now link.  This took me to an Application Process webpage.  It looked familiar.  I was pretty sure I had been here before.

I went down to the Higher Education item and clicked on it.  Ah, yes, this was the one with the drop-downs where I had been looking instead for a link to the H.E. program’s main webpage.

But — what’s this?  Now I saw that the drop-down said, “Fall Application Deadline:  December 1.”  December 1?  This was late January!  I had gotten a letter from Loyola Chicago in late January, telling me to look at their website for exciting stuff that would take my career to the next level.  And I guess it did.  It took me to a new level of confusion, tedium, and wasted time.

Like I say, I’m superstitious.  If you can’t be bothered to do little things to help your applicants, when they are trying to decide whether to pay you tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, can you be trusted to take their concerns to heart after you’ve got them in your clutches as enrollees in a multiyear commitment?

By this point, I was thinking I really should tell Loyola’s webmaster of my experience.  I looked for Webmaster links at the bottoms of several pages.  Not to be found!  On one webpage, I tried the Contact Us option, but no webmaster link there either.  Later, I did see that there was a webmaster link, not among the Contact Us links on that page, but rather at its bottom.  But before I saw that, I had already gone back to the university’s main webpage yet another time, and that’s where I found an email address for the webmaster.

But then it occurred to me that we weren’t just talking about the webmaster.  The webmaster might have been doing exactly what they wanted him/her to do.  This website seemed to be telling a bigger tale, of a university whose administrators would demand that I submit my papers by the early date of December 1, but who themselves could not get this letter to me until the end of January.

Loyola, I noticed, was rooted in Catholic education.  In that spirit, it seemed, I had found the kind of higher education leadership that should have its knuckles rapped.

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