Off-Third: Meet Albert, the Man Behind the Machine

One man has been manually operating Albert since the registration site was founded, and he hasn’t seen the light of day since.

Abby Hofstetter, Opinion Editor

Many students believe that Albert, NYU’s course registration system, is named for Albert Gallatin, the university’s founder. Perhaps we believe this because it’s what we’ve been told; whether it be on campus tours or at Welcome Week and Weekend on the Square, NYU never shies away from promoting its website and the man behind its name.

But I recently discovered that everything we’ve been told about Albert is a lie. Albert is not named for NYU’s founder — it’s named for Albert Albee, the man who personally runs the registration site. Alone.

I first stumbled upon Albert’s office while exploring the lower levels of Bobst Library, looking for a seat. Meticulously scanning LL2’s floor space, I spotted a crack in the wall. I pushed on the crack and the wall swung open to reveal a staircase. Against my better judgement, I descended the stairs. There, surrounded by boxy, old IBM computers, innumerable file cabinets and papers tacked haphazardly to the wall, sat Albert.

After a short introduction, Albert gave me a quick rundown of the situation. Since he founded the registration system, he’s been the only man responsible for the website’s maintenance — and for every aspect of its functioning.

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“People think that Albert is an entirely digital program and that it registers your classes for you, but that’s not true,” he said. “I do it all by hand.”

I was more confused than I had been to start with, so Albert decided to show me an example. At his instruction, I took out my laptop, loaded the website and tried to add a course to my shopping cart. While the site loaded, the screen read “adding course to your shopping cart” — the same as always.

The moment I clicked “add,” Albert sprang into action. He flew around the room, gathering papers from every corner. “Texts and Ideas, Tuesday 2:00,” he muttered as he ran. “Texts and Ideas.” He found the paper he was looking for (“There’s a spot! There’s a spot!”) and shoved it into what looked like a fax machine. The machine swallowed the paper and Albert quickly pressed an orange button to his right. Immediately, my laptop notified me: “Course has been added to your shopping cart.”

“You see?” Albert was panting, but he was satisfied. “I add all of your courses.”

Albert explained that not only does he manually register students’ courses, but he also maintains the rest of the website: he removes advisor holds, updates students’ GPAs and uploads midterm and final grades, along with performing all other features that the site offers. The system doesn’t allow Albert to make any changes en masse, so he updates every student’s profile separately. Needless to say, this makes for a lot of work and not a lot of free time.

“There used to be others who worked here,” Albert said. “The job was too demanding, so they quit.” But this means a workload that used to be split between seven employees now falls entirely on Albert’s shoulders. After his coworkers quit, Albert divorced his wife and moved into his office full-time. He hasn’t left Bobst in years and survives off of the vitamin-rich snacks from the vending machines. He pointed toward a pile of empty wrappers of dried mango and fruit gummies sitting sadly in the corner and told me that he hasn’t taken out the trash since he moved in.

I asked him why his office is so hard to find and he chuckled, almost ironically. “NYU wants you to think that the website is state-of-the-art, or that it at least has tech support,” he said. “If the students found out that Albert isn’t perfect, they would be crushed.”

But students already know that the site isn’t perfect. Though they might not know the full extent of its operation problems, NYU students have been voicing their frustrations with Albert and its — or his — shortcomings for years. The program is slow, consistently crashes and is constantly in need of maintenance. All of this makes sense in hindsight. There’s no way that one man could manually run a perfect website, so of course it has bugs. Don’t we all have bugs, in one way or another?

I couldn’t bring myself to tell Albert that the student body hates him. Running the website is the only thing he has, and he’s such a fragile man. This news would have crushed him, and I didn’t know if he’d ever recover.

“You’re right,” I said. “It’s better that no one knows.” I climbed the stairs and closed the hidden door, and the crack faded back into the pattern of the wall. 

I don’t know why NYU hasn’t simply set up an automated website, how long Albert will remain in LL3 or how long NYU will continue to exploit his labor. But now, every time I pass that crack in the wall, I leave behind a bag of fruit snacks and hope he’s okay.

Off-Third is WSN’s satire section. Try not to take us too seriously.

This article is satirical, and all quotes and events are entirely fabricated unless stated otherwise.

Email Abby Hofstetter at [email protected]

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