Administrators ‘AIM’ to communicate better



The door squeaks. Your residential college dean “has entered.”

Years ago, AOL Instant Messenger revolutionized communication and procrastination for students across the nation. But now, even administrators working from within Yale’s gothic towers are beginning to recognize the technology’s convenience.

“Sometimes I need to call the registrar’s office and if the line’s busy I can go online and click on the name and leave a message and say, ‘I tried to call but the line was busy. Get back to me,’” said Janice Harrilla, the administrative assistant for the Branford College Dean’s Office.

Harrilla, who used Instant Messenger when she worked for the registrar’s office, said she was attracted to the service because of its speed and convenience. She said the dean of Branford does not use Instant Messenger, but Harrilla still uses it to communicate with other offices, especially the registrar’s office.

“It comes in handy if the two assistants at the front desk need an answer really fast,” said Barry Kane, the registrar of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. “Instead of jumping up to find the answer, they don’t even have to leave their desks.”

Indeed, office layout may dictate a need for the technology. Davenport College Dean Peter Quimby began to use Instant Messenger to communicate with his administrative assistant, Rhonda Vegilante, when they moved into a new office over a year ago. In the old office,

Vegilante could see into Quimby’s office from her desk, but now a hallway separates the two rooms.

“We decide to use Instant Messenger rather than yelling to each other from our desks,” Quimby said.

But most users said Instant Messenger has not replaced face-to-face interaction, and they have not found the technology to be alienating. In some cases, the service may allow more expression than the old intercom systems it has replaced.

“You send a little message with a happy face or a sad face,” said one administrative assistant. “It makes it personal.”

But not too personal. Most said Yale offices are unlikely to see creative screen names anytime soon.

“This is an office environment,” said Jeanette Chavira, the Association of Yale Alumni’s director for college classes, who uses Instant Messenger to communicate with colleagues at the AYA. “Most people want to use something close to their real names.”

Quimby said he and Vegilante recently decided to add a little more fun to their online personas, though, and picked icons. For Vegilante, the choice was Mr. Met — the mascot of the New York Mets — and for Quimby, it was “sort of a toothless farmer,” he said.

They are keeping their screen names private, although they said no students have ever asked for them.

In general, Quimby said students seemed surprised to learn that even he used the service.

“A lot of students say, ‘Wow, you use IM?’” Quimby said.

But none have ever asked for his screenname, and he said he would not give it out.

Quimby said he limits his use of Instant Messenger to the office and is wary of expanding its use beyond the confines of his office.

“I think IM has the potential for wasting a lot of time,” he said.

For Yale offices, perhaps the switch to Instant Messenger is more of an evolution than a revolution, and, despite its conveniences, it seems to be far from ubiquitous. Branford and Davenport are the only college dean’s offices that use Instant Messenger at all, and even in many other offices, administrative assistants said its use was “minimal.”

“I’ve never even heard of it,” one administrative assistant said.

“What is it?” more than one asked.

“No, we don’t use anything like that,” said Heidi Kaminskas-Chagnon, the administrative assistant in the Jonathan Edwards Dean’s Office. “We’re kind of boring over here.”

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