In defense of the clerk

Robert Valentine
Senior lecturer
of advertisingRobert Valentine Senior lecturer of advertising

Column by Robert Valentine, Senior lecturer of advertising

I write today in defense of the clerk.

By “clerk,” I mean to refer to those people who file, answer phones, take money, keep records, give receipts, answer idiotic questions, open up and lock up and make things run as they should.

“Clerk” comes from Greek and Latin words referring to an administrator of the church. Thus, the word “cleric,” which is associated with religious organizations, is a relative of “clerk.” If your family name is Clark, for instance, you probably have a prominent clerk in the family tree. If your family name is Idiot, your ancestor was probably in Congress.

Murray State could not run without clerical personnel. The phrases, “He is only a clerk,” or “She’s just a secretary,” make my blood boil. It’s like saying, “It’s only my femur,” and, like a body without a femur, without clerks and secretaries Murray State would not have a leg to stand on.

The clerks are the first people you encounter when you have to deal with an organization. From the Clerk of the Court at City Hall to the student worker who sits behind the counter at the University’s Office of Things You Need But Won’t Be Getting Today, the clerk is the gateway to solutions.

Clerking is a noble profession, and it is about to have a hard time of it, especially at Murray State. As we begin to receive midterm grades and prepare to enroll in second-half semester courses and get ready to register for spring classes, you may meet the clerk. Be nice.

Granted, most clerking duties have been transferred to the faculty, a race of people who spent more years in class so they could avoid being clerks. At Murray State the faculty devises a schedule for you, and then tries to decipher why the computer will not let you take open courses with no prerequisites. Be nice to your adviser; she (or he) is in a kind of scholarly purgatory.

However, if you appear to be having a run-in with the university, remember that the power of clerk is highly limited. Clerks did not make the rules and, in some cases, they did not even know the rule existed until you brought it up. Therefore, they cannot break the rule for you. They cannot bend it, nor can they explain why it’s there. In some cases, no one can.

When you show up in rage, they are just as uncomfortable as you – more so, in fact, because you have the advantage of righteous indignation. The clerk only has that narrow counter for protection. Be kind.

Clerks take a lot of blame for things like inadequate budgets, faulty technology, inexplicable policies and inadequate information on websites. Nothing is perfect.

So, lighten up on the clerks. Even more than you, they wish you weren’t having this problem. Often the more experienced among them can help you solve the problem if you will be calm and let them do their work. Sometimes, you have to get the name of the appropriate administrator and take the issue “upstairs.” The clerk can help you do that.

For students, the adviser can often cut through the confusion. They get training for that, and they usually make more than the clerks, so reliance on the faculty is both wise and appropriate. Beat not thy head against the rock, but go ye unto the adviser.

But doubt not that the clerks, secretaries and administrative assistants are people who play a key part in making the hope, endeavor and achievement come together in the dream that is Murray State. They don’t get the big money or the recognition they deserve, but they keep coming to work and making this place run.

The least you can do is to be polite, as your mother expects. After all, there is a 98 percent chance that, whatever the problem may be, the clerk didn’t cause it. If you’re nice, they might help you make it go away.

You’re in Murray; be friendly. It’s the law.   

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