Science Triumphs Again!: An Optimist Looks at Registration

Charles Bowen
October 3, 1958, Scholastic #1

Although it has always been more or less traditional to welcome the freshmen with our friendly advice in the first issue of the year, we feel that circumstances demand a break with custom this time, in order to extend some much-needed guidance to the upperclassmen. Contrary to popular 'belief, it is they who are most in need of help at this time of year. We will try to explain why.

There are no limits to the human power of adaptation, provided that the human in question doesn't know what he's adapting to. The freshman arrives on campus with eyes and ears open, apprehensive of everything and certain of nothing. He comes through splendidly. In one short week he encounters the Student Manual, the Bookstore, and the Blue Circle, and yet nervous breakdowns are surprisingly rare. Within the same period of roughly twenty-four hours, he meets his benevolent and devoted rector, Fr. Thumbscrew, C.S.C., and Knute Rockne, All-American. Still, as we have noted, his hold on reality is seldom stretched beyond repair. The reason, of course, is that he doesn't know what to expect, and therefore adapts to everything, on the unquestioned assumption that this is what college must be like. You could introduce Peter Lorre as the Dean of 'Students and Little Richard as leader of the choir without getting much reaction.

In sharp contrast, observe the upperclassman returning to what he fondly believes is the old routine. Shaking the sand of Lake Geneva from between his manly toes, perhaps dabbing a spot of lipstick from his freshly shaven cheek, he alights at the Circle, blithely whistling a bar or two of "When the Irish Backs Go Marching By." He is prepared to slip gracefully into another year of gracious living in our home under the Dome. And what does the poor, unsuspecting clod find awaiting him?

Registration.

Where there used to be a little man with a green eyeshade, there are now Stations A through K, schedules, cards, carbon paper, cards, seminarians, cards, professors, mug shots, and cards. Not to mention at least four hundred people who seem to be there for no reason at all but to borrow your pen. It is a small wonder that registration always falls harder on the unprepared upperclassman (who is without a freshman's healthy terror) and leaves him a quivering hulk.

Since this is the case, it is not surprising that there are a few tragedies each year. This year, for instance, an overzealous seminarian misinterpreted his instructions and tattooed 178 juniors with their student numbers before the mistake was found. An unfortunate sophomore lost his name card and has had his name revoked by the University. All friends of the former Harry Fulp are now directed to address him as "570923." And two Commerce seniors, whose names will be withheld, have been expelled for setting up a black-market registration in the Field House, where they promised to clear the whole business up in twenty minutes.

In spite of such inevitable minor problems as these, the new registration procedure is leading us all forward to a greater and more efficient Notre Dame. ("What!" you ask. "Can such a thing be as a greater and more efficient Notre Dame?") Yes, we are assured by a spokesman for the Office of Accelerated Affairs. In the interest of lighting the path of the students of this University with the blazing beacon of truth, we visited him recently in the buzzing, humming interior of the Main Building to get the story.

We were shown around a large room, in which were several banks of IBM machines all whirring vigorously. Cards slid in a continuous blur past our astonished eyes, and piled up in a rack at one end of the machine, where they were packed into boxes. "What is it doing?" we asked.

"Oh," replied our host, "not much at the present. We're just alphabetizing the students by middle names. Not that we'll probably ever need them, but everything else is caught up until this year's load comes in from the drill hall. This is just an exercise to break in the new technicians."

"Oh."

"When we started," went on the official, "we only had one little machine in that corner. Then there was another, and another, and eventually we had to face the necessity of consolidation. Right now we're in the process of hitching them all together to make one big omnipotent machine."

"Ah."

"We're doing it in sections. Every time one section is added to the rest, we have a little Golden-Screw-Turning ceremony, with tea and little sandwiches."

"When," we inquired, "will the last screw be turned?"

"Our motto is 'Everything all screwed up by I960.'" He led us over to a little door, and opened it. We were confronted by a mass of electronic viscera and several technicians.

"It's . . . very nice," we commented cautiously. "What does it do?"

"This outfit here is part of an apparatus which will take the fingerprints and front-and-side-view photographs of a student, while simultaneously feeling the bumps on his head. This information will be sifted through an electronic device which analyzes his character and predicts what rules he will break and how often during the semester. This is in turn punched in IBM code on a card which is fed through another machine, which distributes the appropriate penalties." He beamed. "It entirely eliminates the Board, leaving the Fathers free for more important duties.

"But over here is the best machine of all. The student's class cards, IQ, and character analysis go in at this end, the professors' personality ratings go in at that end, and Bingo! all the grades come out right here. Does in twenty seconds what used to take a whole semester."

"Amazing!" we gasped. "This means that ..."

"That's right! Registration will take about a week, but after that you'll be free to start your Christmas vacation."

Dazed at the prospect of a Christmas vacation beginning in October, we groped our way out the door, and staggered for the stairway. "Come back," cried the official anxiously. "Don't you want to see how we're eliminating the Dining Hall?"

We really wish we had stayed. But at least we feel sure that we have given our fellow students some measure of reassurance that there is a higher reason directing the destiny of our University, and that real progress is being made.

Onward and Upward.