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Toni Achten, center, laughs at a retirement reception held in her honor. Achten was the last university operator. Calls that she fielded soon will be answered by KU Info.

The end of an era: Last university operator hangs it up

Calls to be fielded by KU Info

When Toni Achten left work on a Thursday afternoon last month, it marked the end of an era that stretches back as far as the telephone. Achten, KU’s last university operator, retired, and the position is being restructured.

The role of the university operator has changed over the years, as trends in communication have shifted. Originally, a dozen or more operators answered calls 24 hours a day, then about five operators took calls during business hours only. When Achten started 12 years ago, there were four full-time operators. In her last few years, Achten was the only operator, and she had a phonetic assistant.

A few years ago, Information Technology and KU adopted a phonetic operator, an automated system that can direct callers to necessary offices. But when the phonetic operator didn’t have the answer, the operator was there.

“The phonetic operator doesn’t understand bad cell phone connections and it doesn’t understand some accents,” Achten said. “I also get the people who dial zero, and when I answer say ‘Oh thank God, a person.’”

While there will no longer be a university operator, callers will still be able to get answers. Currently, Information Technology staff are taking the calls. When the summer semester begins, KU Info will field them.

“We’ll still be there in the background,” said Ann Ermey, manager in Information Technology. “A lot of the questions that went to the operator are questions that KU Info can answer. People looking for information can still call 864-2700. We have worked with KU Info and we decided this is the move that makes the most sense.”

Achten regularly answered the kinds of questions that would make any KU Info staffer proud. “How do you spell Jayhawk,” “how do you get to Salina from Kansas City International Airport” and “are there tickets available for the basketball game” were just a few of the queries she regularly fielded.

“I thought to myself ‘KU Info is the best place to go,’” Achten said “People still ask me if KU has that line that will tell you anything.”

Curtis Marsh, director of KU Info, said callers looking for campus phone numbers should still call 864-2700. Callers who have questions and don’t know who best to ask, should call KU Info at 864-3506.

Whether it was providing a phone number, giving bookstore hours or hearing complaints, Achten managed to calmly help all callers, her coworkers said.

“For the last seven years or so, Toni has been our only operator, and she’s answered the bulk of the calls,” Ermey said. “She’s always had this great ability to come to work every day and deal positively with people who were negative, cranky, happy and everywhere in between. She’s been there for the long haul and she’s been absolutely great. It’s been fun working with her.”


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