This post is way late in coming, but I can’t hold it in anymore. As many of you might remember, I took a voluntary leave from school this semester to focus on personal matters. I said that the worst of all possibilities was that I’d look back on this time, now drawing nearer to a close, and feel that I wasted 6 months of my life, having gotten no further in my personal goals. Well, UAG doesn’t disappoint, and they’ve trumped themselves in the sodomizing students department. While I do have some regrets about things I didn’t get to accomplish during my break (which, as I remind myself, is not over), the reality is UAG has given me the biggest stressor of all: creating an untenable situation which would force me to leave school altogether, the last two years of my life wasted and over 120k of debt for my troubles.
All of this started the first week of November when I wanted to both renew my visa (already expired, but I needed it current as we were house-hunting and needed it to sign any new lease) and officially “register” for the upcoming semester by paying a deposit, of all things. Things slowly unraveled that something was wrong (I hinted at it here) as I was banging my head with administration, but first it was only about my visa. When it came time to talk money, I was informed I had a debt of over $9200USD (cost of a semester’s tuition) for a semester in which I didn’t attend, not one hour of one day.
Their rationale for charging me was that I never let them know I wasn’t going to go to school this last semester. This isn’t a “standard” U.S. university where one knows when registration times are, there’s an add-drop period, a date one can drop w/o a grade on the transcript, etc. This is medical school. You don’t get to choose what you take except maybe electives as a 4th year, but the academic course load is still rigid. There is no add-drop period, because everybody at your level has the same schedule. Basically, my point is that it’s not obvious that one is going to face being charged for something one hasn’t done. Moreover, the staff pointed out that this regulation was specified in our student handbook–a CD given to us at orientation 2 years ago. I looked it up. Depending how things go, I might post it, but for now, it does indeed say I should formally request leave, but makes absolutely no mention of any financial consequences for not doing so.
Moreover, I was sent an email 3 weeks into classes in August, informing me that I was no longer enrolled for failure to appear. At the time, I thought, “Duh!” and filed it away. In hindsight, it was yet another opportunity to inform me that there would/could be a problem. It all started with all those meetings with Dr. M., the director of the International Program, during all the crap surrounding my absences in Kaplan last semester. By the time everything was said and done, he knew full well my decision not to go this Fall. He even helped me by passing along some medical resources since I’d be without student insurance. But he never said, “Go to so-and-so and do this,” or even to go to administration to check.
But here at UAG, nobody can do anything, because there is always at least one thing that is not in their area and therefore disqualifies them from being able to help. Since my problems are multifactorial (finance, academic status, etc.) that means I’m screwed. No one department can fix issues in a vacuum without other departments’ input, so everything like this has to go to a committee. My case has already gone through two previous committee meetings, both of which yielded non-specific answers that amounted to “We can’t help you,” but I can’t get specifics. You see, committees here are secret. The main committee for the medical school does meet regularly is staffed by a few regulars, but you can’t find out exactly who was at any given committee meeting. More egregiously, you can’t find out what was said about your case. You can go to the person you petitioned to take to the committee, but whatever answer you get can’t really be verified, nor can it really be officially appealed. You should, theoretically, be able to go to 2-3 people, knowing they’re on the committee, get their opinions about what was discussed, and have a good idea of what was said. Not here. Worse yet, my case is now being decided by a committee of people that are not only outside the school of medicine, but are comprised of people that can’t be determined by myself or anyone else in administration that I’ve talked to (so they say).
This “secret” committee that is currently pending is made of of bean-counters/finance people, not professors, and certainly nobody from the medical school. What possible motive do they have to clear a debt from an agenda line-item identified by an ID#? Well, I wrote a letter and said that they could stick to their guns and keep the $9000-whatever charge, but they wouldn’t see a penny from me. Why? Because the same office that sent this along to get charged also notified my lenders that I wasn’t in school. Brilliant! They just shot themselves in the foot for whatever chance they MIGHT have had to get something. Now that Sallie Mae, et al. know I wasn’t in school, there’s not an ice cube’s chance in hell that I’ll see (and therefore UAG will see) a dime. I certainly don’t have almost $10,000 lying around by other means. Moreover, they could keep the $9000 Monopoly money debt, but they’d lose $37,000+ in remaining tuition by having forced me to leave. Maybe that will get their attention, but that would mean they’d actually have to read the letter–something I have no hope in anymore. Regarding loans, US federal law (which as a US Dept. Education-approved school (for now), they have to abide by) mandates that if I don’t show up for class, student loan money has to be returned directly back to my lender. Except in my case, I never cleared loans to arrive, knowing I was going to be out, so the school takes it upon themselves to bill me “in house.” That’s the scam going on here. With this debt, I can’t do anything since I’m not a student “in good standing.” I can’t get my visa renewed, so I’m here technically illegally. I can’t register, so why bother. Worst of all, I’d never be able to transfer my academic records, meaning I’d have to start over wherever I go. They know this. They don’t care.
What kills me more than anything is obviously, the threat to the loss of my dream. Sure, if things don’t work out here, I can go to Ross, another Mexican medical school, or masochistically try to reapply to a US school, probably an osteopathic program. But I’m not 25, and I now have a child–I can’t just go Quixotically following windmills. How do I think of them in terms of what I have to do? Then I think, “I’m already $120k in debt, how can I not do whatever it takes to go wherever to finish?” because going home with my tail between my legs because of UAG’s bullshit with a debt of a small house as a souvenir is about as bad as it gets. Moreover, I don’t have enough money to move all our stuff back (would take about $4-5k for a professional moving van + border costs), meaning I’d have to make a mad scramble practically giving everything away just to make it back to the United States with what can fit in the two cars. I’ve told people at UAG this; nobody gives a shit. Nobody at UAG has gone to bat for me in a real way that made me feel like they cared about keeping me as a student. I (was) in the top 10% of my class, was a class officer for 2 years, yatta yatta, and not one person in the medical school is willing to make a call to someone in administration and say, “What are you people doing? This is one of the students we want to keep.” I’ve been told that such a call wouldn’t make a difference, anyway.
There is so much obfuscation, redundancy, ignorance, and outright incompetence here that I’ve lost all hope. To reiterate, this secret committee may very well rule in my favor, allowing me to continue. That insulting victory–that I’d be allowed to return to the good graces of the UAG, my excellent academic record being deemed acceptable for this institution–is the best I can hope for. My morale has been lowered to begging administration and school official–one after the other–to please deem me worthy enough to continue at this school. This school should be lucky to have me, not the other way around, but when one is beaten down enough, well, one just wants the pain to end.