Does paper carry weight? That is the question being pondered by the hundreds of recent Trent graduates who found themselves in possession of two Trent University degrees after the Office of the Registrar made a typographical error on approximately 1380 undergraduate degree certificates.
A degree certificate. Is it a meaningless piece of paper or meaningful recognition of our academic accomplishments? When something is “on paper” it takes on a new life. It adds meaning, credence and sometimes respect to an event that can’t necessarily be proved by word of mouth. Paper is used to represent a contract, an education, a birth, or a purchase. One could view this typographical error as a screw up on the part of the university, indicative of lacklustre administration. Alternatively one could view the university’s attempt to rectify the situation in an expedient manner as a very human and earnest attempt to correct a mistake. We all make mistakes after all.
The error, which lists the “Dean of Arts and Science” as “Dean and Arts of Science,” was brought to the Registrar’s attention by a student on Thursday, June 2. On the following Monday they sent an e-mail to every graduating student informing them of the mistake.
“I hope you’ve taken time to celebrate your achievement in earning a Trent University degree,” reads an e-mail from the Registrar. “I regret to inform you of an error on some of the degree certificates. Due to a typographical error, the title of the Dean is incorrect.”
Recipients of the e-mail soon received a package from the Registrar containing the “correct” degree certificate, an apology letter and a self-addressed stamped envelope in which to return the erroneous degree. The cost of the mailing tubes, postage, self-addressed envelopes totalled approximately $3500. This, however, does not take into account the labour costs.
Trent University Registrar Susan Salusbury was immediately forthcoming in her apology about the error. “It was very unfortunate to have happened,” says Salusbury. ”We notified students immediately. People make mistakes, we made a mistake and are very sorry.”
For some graduates however, the error puts the validity and security of Trent University degree certificates into question. “People campaigned so hard last year to install some security features on the degree,” states recent graduate Ziysah Markson, making reference to the Trent Central Student Association sponsored campaign to enhance the degree’s security and design features. “Now I have two degrees,” she continues adding that she did not have to present identification to retrieve them “It seems that security is getting worse – not better.”
Salusbury points out that replacing a lost or destroyed degree certificate is not out of the ordinary. “We will replace anyone’s degree certificate if they lose it provided they send us $40,” states Salusbury. “If someone’s house burns down and they lose their degree we’re not going to ask for proof of the fire. It’s based on honesty.”
Salusbury expresses a hope hope that the error does not reflect badly on Trent as a whole and points out that everybody makes mistakes. “If [the error] is a reflection on anything it is that we have a lot of work to do and not enough administrative staff to do it. That goes back to government funding.”
“We worked hard to make sure students weren’t disadvantaged,” says Salusbury. “As soon as we identified the error we sent out letters of apology along with the correct degree certificate.”