5.12.2005

Never underestimate a well-written letter.

Whilst searching for my resume to send along with my Peace Corps application, I turned up an angry letter I wrote in the Summer of 2003.

The background story is not nearly as complicated as I'd probably like to make it--long story short I was enrolled in an internship under the belief that I had a sizeable partial scholarship to help out and halfway through the program I was informed that I suddenly owed an extra $2,500.

I responded quickly and angrily, immediately penning a very purgative missive which I completely intended to delete before bending over like a prison bitch. Instead, I e-mailed it to some friends who suggested I remove the swears and send it along.

I did, cc 'ing my college advisor and relevant professors at my university. The response was surprising: the internship program, The Washington Center, bit the bullet and covered all my expenses and set up a private meeting in which they were apologetic and dutifully took notes as I listed my various complaints. Victory.

ORIGINAL MESSAGE:

Jeremiah,

It has recently come to my attention that we have incorrectly credited your account with $3500 from NMU.  I have learned this from an email I received from XXXXXXXX, excerpted here:

Two additional NMU students are doing internships with TWC this summer i.e., Jeremiah Brit and XXXXXXX. Currently, neither of these students is receiving NMU support, however, each student has been awarded $1,000 from TWC. It now appears that we may be able to provide each of these two students with some Development Fund support.

Without the $3500 from NMU, your original invoice should have been for $5345, not $1845 as you were sent.  It seems that you were never promised this aid, so we trust that you will not have a problem paying the difference.  I have talked to Bob Kulisheck today, and he determined that you will actually receive $1000, which he will forward here to be credited to your account.  I have therefore issued a debit to your account in the amount of $2500, which will be delivered to your apartment.

I accept full responsibility for the mistake, and sincerely hope that this will not be a burden for you.  If you need to work out a payment plan. I will be happy to make arrangements with you.  Again, I apologize for the mistake and will be happy to discuss the matter further with you if you like.

XXXXXXXX
Manager of Program Accounts

MY RESPONSE:

In regards to the money you are charging me:

As far as I know, the bill I received prior to leaving Marquette constitutes a form of legal contract. I signed it and carbons where taken by your representatives and myself. In accordance with this contract, I paid a previously agreed upon amount in return for services (placement, classes, housing). I do not recall any fine print discussing the possibility that “prices may be subject to change.”

This bill displayed incorrect information regarding funds supplied by a secondary source, Northern Michigan University, which lowered my personal sacrifice considerably; bluntly: this made it possible for me to attend, as I am not a man of means.

The error was made on your part, not mine. It is not my responsibility to collect or distribute various scholarships or grants; the task of the verification of funds lies with the collector. My checks have cleared.

I have paid the amount billed, and for you to “discover” charges once I have already invested this much time and money into what is quickly becoming a comedy of errors is grossly negligent and unprofessional. I am glad that you “trust that [I] will not have a problem paying the difference,” but I assure you that it is impossible. I do not have the money, and the only reason why I was able to attend was the fact that my parents were willing to make a large sacrifice to help me with the quantity on the bill.

And, technically, I was “promised” the money, since that amount was printed in distinctive black and white on documents supplied by you prior to my arrival in D.C.

In regards to the services I had thought I paid for:

1)      My placement was handled haphazardly and ineffectually; TWC misrepresented its ability to place persons previous to their arrival (the number of unplaced interns at the orientation was surprising, damning, and I have learned, strongly precedented); while TWC had all the necessary materials to send organizations applications well ahead of time, I still was not placed until I arrived; and I was only placed once The Hispanic Radio Network bent it’s application deadlines around the fact that the person reading my application was an alumna of NMU and TWC.

2)      The classes I am attending I do not need, nor, in fact, desire beyond my curiosity and willingness to learn; I only accepted the programming cost for these unnecessary classes once my bill was (falsely) lowered to an amount I could budget; half of the scheduled speakers and congressmen do not show up, get subs, or are late; and TWC’s complete inability to provide a textbook free of errors until the third try and a week later, when I had an assignment due the first week, is unacceptable.

3)      Housing costs are prohibitive, considering I (a legal adult) am given less rights than if I were to stay in a dormitory, I was offered no preview as towards compatibility of my roommates, and I did not even know where I was staying until I arrived and carried my luggage from building to building.

You have placed me in an untenable position; I only attempted to attend TWC based on a false dollar amount supplied by you that was barely within my abilities to reach.

Your organization has wasted my time, my efforts, and my money. You have caused me undue stress, you have destroyed various plans I had set up for this summer, you have exaggerated your abilities and professionalism, and you have already charged me twice what it would have cost (in money and effort) for me to set up a comparable internship myself.

I want my money back, in full. You have failed to uphold your reputation and promises, and you are attempting to break a contract with me.

I will require one week of rent to determine what other means of alternative housing and/or transport home I may need, and I should not be charged for this. I will require you to settle whatever monetary/credit discrepancies that exist with my university, though I have, of course, learned from my mistakes and will be making sure that it is done correctly and to my satisfaction.

Finally, it seems that you, in fact, promised this aid, so I trust that you will not have a problem defraying the cost of my involvement with your organization.

I trust you will accept full responsibility for the mistake, and I sincerely hope that this will not be a burden for you.  If you need to work out a payment plan, I will be happy to make arrangements with you.  I will be happy to discuss the matter further with you if you’d like.

Jeremiah Britt

The moral: When wronged, write a letter immediately, while the facts and emotional response is fresh. Don't be afraid to cuss and rant. Wait a day and have friends help remove the swear words and tone down the rage, but let some of it sneak by. Avoid direct insults and flesh out any complaints. Provide, or be prepared to provide, supporting documentation. Send it and CC anybody who might have the slightest connection to the event, all the way up the chain of command in every organization. Results will be had.*

*Results not guaranteed in a political arena.

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