The Resiliant Registrar: Part Two

Posted in Definition: Registrar, Registrar 101 with tags , , , , , on October 23, 2014 by Grant McMillan

Yesterday, I posted a couple of questions from a younger Registrar, and followed that up with the first response from experienced Registrar (and now AVP) Glenn Keeler. Today, I offer a second response written by me. Later, I will post a third and fourth response from other also experienced Registrars, so check back soon to see what they say. And please feel free to share this with others who are facing similar challenges in our profession.

To refresh your memory, here are the questions again:

I am wondering if you find that, as Registrar, the majority of your job is trouble shooting and being the “bad guy”? Does this cause you stress? If so, I wonder how you personally deal with it?

The reason I ask is that lately I have been finding myself very short of patience and easily frustrated. I think this might be due to the fact that most of what I deal with during the day is problems. Also, I find myself having to keep everyone to the rules and confronting those who don’t follow policy – sometimes it feels like I’m banging the same drum all the time.

My experience and emotional response is similar to Glenn’s. I have not yet resolved some of them in my mind and I hold them in tension. Sometimes I’m frustrated beyond reason. At times I may have been depressed. This role of Registrar is not an easy one, and there are very short line-ups of people looking to take our jobs. Here are some thoughts of mine on the questions posed.

Since coming Trinity Western University, I’ve learned that some faculty truly believe it is their job to hold administration in check, that administration does not understand the true nature of the university and therefore they oppose me by virtue of my position and role, not because they don’t like me. I’ve learned that these people occasionally push me in good directions, so it’s worth listening to them. I’ve also learned that when asked what they would do they almost never have an answer. I hold their opinions lightly. This doesn’t mean I don’t respect them. It simply means that they are lay people who are not in the profession and therefore don’t work in the same regulatory environment.

My predecessor used to say, “We don’t make the stupid rules – we just have to enforce them.” I find this humorous, but not very helpful. It robs us of appropriate power and responsibility. If I think the rule is stupid it is highly likely someone else does too. I take the time to research, build a case, get the key players behind me, propose the change, solidify the value of the change (afterwards), and re-articulate the rationale even years after the change was made. I make sure I’m in the decision-making circles for rules I’m asked to enforce – I negotiate that with the Provost (my boss) on a regular basis and he comes to me when he believes I should be part of a decision. After a while, getting rid of stupid rules becomes much, much easier, provided there’s no big political force in the background that takes you by surprise. To avoid surprises, see “take the time to research.” I don’t tackle all the stupid ones at once, either. Timing is everything.

I was once reduced to a “gate-keeper” by a previous boss. It annoyed me to no end! But it was my own fault (see the “stupid rules” comment above). I blogged about it here: In summary, if you want an expanded definition of your role, enlarge it yourself!

There are two things I’ve learned about problem-solving and rule-keeping:

  1. I’m never going to be big enough, omniscient enough, omnipotent enough, etc. to do this job. I’m not God. I must stop trying to be Him. Even God has a team around him and he has delegated a surprising amount of responsibility. Build a coalition of people to do this job with/for you, starting with your staff and office colleagues and broadening out to key players in the faculties and schools. If they’re not willing to join you, maybe the rules aren’t important enough to enforce or the problems aren’t big enough to worry about.
  2. Stories are more powerful than rules, rationales, and registrars. Get in front of the groups that need to hear them and forget about running through a PowerPoint list of policies and regulations. Tell stories about how students are being put in bad situations. Share all the potential evils that could result. Tell these groups how they can help solve the problem presented in the story. Use this time to glorify a problem-solver from the history of the school. If you’ve got a faculty member or well-known student who’s participated in the solution, laud their efforts. Spread out the efforts, share the glory and the pains. And then give the people you’re talking to a chance to respond publicly to the story. You might be amazed at their response. Use this weapon wisely!

One final thing for young impatient, frustrated, stressed registrars: this doesn’t happen overnight, or in a fortnight,or  in 6 months, or two years. Only after building up a long history of trust will this get easier. Be patient. Put the problems where they belong (not in your heart). Like Glenn said, focus on your centre. These things are not your centre.

Grant McMillan

The Resilient Registrar

Posted in Definition: Registrar, Guest Post, Registrar 101, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 22, 2014 by Grant McMillan

Can you resonate with this Registrar’s feelings?

I am wondering if you find that, as Registrar, the majority of your job is trouble shooting and being the “bad guy”? Does this cause you stress? If so, I wonder how you personally deal with it?

 The reason I ask is that lately I have been finding myself very short of patience and easily frustrated. I think this might be due to the fact that most of what I deal with during the day is problems. Also, I find myself having to keep everyone to the rules and confronting those who don’t follow policy – sometimes it feels like I’m banging the same drum all the time.

 Several veterans of the registrarial underworld were faced with this question recently, and graciously allowed me to share their responses with you. I will share them in a series of posts over the next few days.

The first responder, Glenn Keeler, has recently transitioned to be the Associate VP of Institutional Research at The King’s University in Edmonton. He has obviously thought carefully about this and helpfully numbered his thoughts here:

Ouch! I empathize with the writer.

It does often feel like a Registrar is called to be the “bad guy” or the one who is sweeping up after policy and process have been ignored, with the predictable crash resulting. So here are some scattered reflections on my 20 years of dealing with that.

  1. You can tell I am an administrator because I am numbering my points. Other people are not drawn to administration by personality or training or gifting or whatever else it is that leads us down this road. So the first lesson I had to learn was that my focus on, and I would even say my joy in, an ordered system that both guides and protects the students and the institution is not shared by all. For reasons that are opaque others will launch out to do something in (willful?) ignorance of policy and procedure, or perhaps even in defiance of it.It took me quite a while to just accept that there are some who approach the task of getting things done in the institution from a perspective that distains what I prize. The hard part about that lesson is that it sometimes feels like a personal rejection. And sometimes it is because people frequently don’t distinguish between policy and those charged to enforce it. Nonetheless, if I can separate the relationship from the conflict that helped me handle this fundamental personality distinction.
  2. Problem-solving is also a fundamental mindset that I find common to Registrars. I love problem-solving; tracing out the routes of why something is not working, and modifying it to create the best outcome for all involved is a fabulous feeling. My best interactions with faculty and students were always when they approached me at an early enough point that we were answering the question “how can we do what you want within the system?” instead of “now that it is really screwed up, how do we put the wheels back on?”The best I could do with the latter group is to attempt to look at it as a teaching moment on how to deal with the next case. And then your task is more than fixing the problem, but rather teaching students to deal with large complex systems (which many have never done before arriving at your institution) or shaping a relationship with other staff around helping them fix problems before they are a mess.
  3. Dealing with the personal impact of this does require at least one more thing. A lesson I am repeatedly learning (perhaps I am a slow learner on this) is that every day I have to do something to reconnect with my centre. That is, I need to be reminded that my identity, my core being, is not grounded in what I do or what happened today or the last conflict situation I faced. For me I need to be reminded of my identity being rooted in Christ. So the day’s events, while important and significant, do not materially affect who I am.I just finished reading Erica Ariel Fox’s book Winning from Within where she puts it just that way, but this idea is readily found in Scripture and the Christian tradition. I have a long commute, and on the best commutes I let go of the day’s struggles so that by the time I arrive home I have also arrived back at my centre. Other commutes are not quite so effective! But the intent is to take who I am to work, work in a way that is consistent with who I am, and then to take who I am home, instead of taking my work home.

Hopefully there is a helpful thought in there.

Glenn Keeler

The Thankful Registrar

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 10, 2014 by Grant McMillan

It’s Thanksgiving on Monday here in Canada. For my loyal American readers, this does not mean it is November already up here in Canada. Canadian Thanksgiving falls on the second Monday of October and was chosen to coincide with England and Europe’s Harvest Festival. Because, you know, we’re not American…*

This year, I’m thankful for many things, a few of which I will share with you.

I’m thankful for universities that provide education and training and are great places to work.

I’m thankful for students who come every year with eagerness to engage and learn.

I’m thankful for the gift of work and the ability to serve students and faculty. The position of Registrar is truly a hub of a wheel and the spokes we build and maintain are what help us succeed.

I’m thankful for you, my loyal readers, and the feedback you give me on this blog. You make me better, and you are the reason I continue writing.

This Thanksgiving Monday, we are having family over for a large dinner, and we’ve invited guests who have not celebrated Thanksgiving before or who cannot celebrate with family.

What are you thankful for? Leave a comment below. It would be pretty cool to see a large number of responses with thanksgiving thoughts.


*Canadian national identity can be summed up in two words: not American

Free Privacy & Fraud Protection Protocols

Posted in Best Practices, Registrar 101 with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2014 by Grant McMillan

In keeping with the Registrar 101 theme of this blog, I thought I would share some office procedures and protocols with you. Sometimes it is useful to have a window into how someone else does things. I’ve provided a downloadable document that covers some protocols related to the university seals that are in our possession and the signature stamps that my office staff use for documents that require the signature of the Registrar. Seals are used to emboss documents and add to their “officialness” (<– not an official word). They’re not something that should be left lying around, as they could be walked off with fairly easily. Also, my signature has been placed on a stamp so that my staff can sign documents which require the signature of the Registrar. I’d rather not have to sign a massive stack of papers every day, so this is our expedient method of doing this. My stamped signature can also add a certain odor of “officiality” (<– another non-official word) to documents and so I don’t want these stamps lying around waiting to walk off and be used for nefarious purposes. This downloadable file shares some protocols that we developed in-house related to how my staff should use seals and signature stamps, all with the view of better protecting against their theft and potential fraudulent use.

Free downloadable file (.docx file): Protocols for Fraud and Privacy Protection It is completely free – I have no commercial interests with this blog.

Please note that this file is not intended to be a legal document and I offer no guarantees that it will protect you or your staff against fraud or inappropriate releases of private information. It is intended to be a guide for you to use to review your daily office procedures. Basically, I am claiming no responsibility for how you use it or what results from its use.

I encourage you to review the document for your own learning. You may wish to revise it and the related procedures for your own purposes and that is up to you.

You may also read this over and say, “But Grant! You’ve completely missed this important thing!”

If you do that, please tell me what I’ve missed. I’m simply sharing a tool that the staff in my office use to help them in their daily work. If I’ve missed something important, I WANT TO KNOW! Please feel free to share your suggested improvements with me. Leave a comment with your suggestions. If I revise this document with your suggestions, I may repost it here so that others can benefit from the improvements.

Protocol to your heart’s content!

Labour Day & the Registrar

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2014 by Grant McMillan

Loverboy’s most famous song, and one of my favourites, is “Everybody’s Working for the Weekend.”

For years, I dreamed about, planned and basically lived all week for the weekend. Monday was spent pining for the fun I’d just had, Wednesday was hump day – downhill to the weekend! Friday was spent anticipating how much fun I was going to have in a few short hours. Work was a necessary evil to pay for weekends and holidays.

I didn’t realize that I was missing out.

We all know people who work hard to play hard. They only work to pay for the fifth wheel trailer and fancy truck and quads they take on vacation while they long to retire early so they can do whatever they want. Or we know people who work hard to buy hard: shoes, fancy SUV and European sports cars, a bigger house (with a man cave for the bar and home theatre), etc. Work is simply a means to a fancier end.

They’re missing out too.


If we only work for the future (e.g. , the big holiday or early retirement), we miss out on today. I believe that work is where we find much of our day-to-day worth in life because it is one place (like our family, volunteer organizations, or church) where we can make a real and significant difference.

Some philosophers believe that work is only a means to something else (the technical term is “instrumental good”). In this sense, we either work for money or to climb the social/hierarchical ladder. Working for a wage is essential in our society. Most of us have to get paid each month to put food on the table and a roof over our heads, and in this sense work is an instrumental good. However, if that’s all it is, we miss out on what other philosophers believe: work has intrinsic value. It is important in an of itself and it has innate power to shape us. In fact, it is an integral part of our life. My work at Trinity Western University (and in academia in general) shapes me, just as it shapes the students, parents, staff and faculty I serve. It’s not meaningless or simply just a pay cheque for the weekend. It is an intrinsic good. In this sense, work is a gift. I think this is what Confucius referred to when he said, ”Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

In Ecclesiastes chapter two, Solomon talks about his life experiment of trying to find pleasure. Reading it I get the sense that he was perhaps like our modern society: desperate to find pleasure in his equivalent of a vacation and stuff. Money and power were no objects for King Solomon and so he could pursue these pleasures to the Nth degree. But in the end he says they are just a vapor, a shadow (the King James Version used the term “vanity”) and ultimately meaningless. After searching all his life for pleasure and coming up only with a fistful* of cloud, he came around to finding pleasure in simple, daily life: there is nothing better than to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in work. “Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24).

What makes the good life? Aristotle believed that the pursuit of leisure – activities that are enjoyable for their own sake is what makes a good life, and I generally agree. While I like a lot of Aristotle’s philosophies, we differ on the point of work. I am with Solomon: work is a good gift, something that is enjoyable for its own sake and, let’s be honest, for the money.

On Labour Day (yes, in Canada, there’s a “u” in there), I hope you take some time to reflect on your work. I look forward to my work almost every day. Work has been good to me, and I don’t take that for granted. It is something I pursue. This is also why I believe that having enough jobs for people is so important. Finding the good in work is predicated on having work! Like Solomon, I hope you find satisfaction (perhaps the true gift) in your work.


* Thanks to editor Mark Allen for the clarity on whether to use “fistful”, “fist full”, or “fist-full”. You can follow him on Twitter @EditorMark and I highly recommend reviewing his website Mark Allen Editorial.

Random Rarities for Registrars

Posted in Random Rarities for Registrars with tags , , , on July 28, 2014 by Grant McMillan

In the arcane world of registrars, there are some issues that arise that you know aren’t life-and-death but for which you would like to provide solutions that help and won’t create more work for you, your colleagues, or students. Sometimes it helps to have input from someone who’s gone before you and made all the mistakes (arrows pointing at this guy) so that you don’t have to duplicate them. In this spirit, I’ve created a new topic category I’m calling “Random Rarities for Registrars.” I will include a feedback mechanism for you to share your own solutions to these little problems so that our readers can benefit from other solutions that are better/easier/simpler/smarter than the ones I propose. The first issue I’ll tackle was raised by a colleague of mine in Vancouver, who asked:

“I have a situation where a student is needing us to re-issue a graduation certificate.  I am wondering if you have encountered this scenario and what guidelines should be applied; i.e. who has to sign?  Original signatories?  Original dates? Etc.?”

I’ve managed this two different ways over the years, but have come to realize that only one way is sustainable for the long-term. Years ago, when I first started out as a Registrar, the school (Briercrest College) kept a small pile of templates from old degree parchments under lock and key. These had all the original signatures in place and all we had to do was enter the name of the program and the date it was awarded. Eventually (you smart people saw this coming didn’t you?), the pile ran out and we couldn’t replicate the documents any longer. But we did our best to replicate them further by trying to get the original people (if they were still alive and available) to sign! Seriously. I’m a slow learner.

I don’t know who shook me awake, but someone must have. I saw the error of my ways and took the much easier route of reprinting without worrying about the original signatures. Now we tell students that we can provide a replacement document with the original date but we cannot always provide the original signatures if the people are no longer in the relevant positions. Also, because it is quite an important document we require students to sign a waiver that they have lost the original, and we charge a relatively hefty sum of money to replace it. It’s amazing how many of them, after hearing about the waiver and the cost, remember that they left it at mom’s. I think some of them assume it’s easier to order a new one than to ask mom to dig through that musty old pile of boxes in the basement for the original.

Here’s where I would like your input:

I suppose we could go the route of some institutions that only ever provide one document for students, and never replace a lost or stolen degree parchment. That seems overly hard-nosed to me. I don’t think it hurts to offer a reprint service with appropriate controls in place.

Does your school have a completely different take on this topic? If so, leave a comment!

What is the Registrar for? Part 3 of 3

Posted in Definition: Registrar with tags , , , , , on July 11, 2014 by Grant McMillan


I just returned from the ARUCC Conference in Quebec where we were reminded by several presenters that Administration is the dark side of the university. I think we all know where that leaves Faculty…

Welcome to Part 3 of my three-part series that asks the question, “What is the Registrar for?” Since my last post on this topic was back in January, you may wish to refresh yourself by re-reading Part 1 and Part 2.

Faculty occasionally complain about administrators and administration, and sometimes (maybe even most of the time) for good reason. Administration can so easily dissolve into administrivia with its reams of red tape, rules and regulations. This is unfortunate but is avoidable. Faculty appreciate good administration because it allows everyone to focus on what they do best and, if done right, allows the university to keep its priorities in the right place: education first!

As with all things related to organizations, structure is important here. In the history of universities, the Registrar (Beadle, Registrary, etc.) always came out of the faculty, and for good reason. The Registrar who understands and is a vital part of the first priority of the university is a Registrar who should fight against unnecessary busy work. Proper structure helps to keep administration in its place.

Administration is not just about good structure – it is also about being able to use wisdom and good judgement in the execution of the priorities. Every single day I ask myself, “Can I stand in front of the University Senate and defend what I’m doing?” I learned this question from one of my own professors, Dr. Mark Lee, who taught me to ask, “Will this pass the 6:00 news test?” when I was doing my Master’s degree in Leadership & Management.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the priorities of the Registrar’s Office is to help students navigate the pathways of education. Good administration is one that cuts through blockages, removes unnecessary gates and educates students in how to be good navigators themselves. One of the worst things we can do is think we are parents whose job it is to protect students from all the potential ills of university life. These folks are adults – sometimes young and naive – but treating them as adults who need some advice in order to make good decisions is important. However, we also need to be supportive to those who face additional barriers in life, especially to members of society that are marginalized for whatever reasons.

As stressed in Parts 1 and 2, good communication is crucial to good administration, but something that often gets overlooked by registrars is that visibility is also important. Be visible! Go to faculty meetings. Eat lunch with deans and other administrators. Volunteer for committee work. Make presentations to your community. Share how your office is following the university’s strategic plan. There are thousands of books about administration. Read one and put one or two of the main ideas into action. I personally like to re-read Greenleaf’s Servant Leadership now and again. It’s written from the point of view of someone who spent his career in a similar level as a registrar, and resonates well with me.

Remember that the point of administration isn’t just to follow the rules; rather, it is to make the university work well and to serve all the members of the university community. Keeping this big picture in mind will keep the registrar on the path to success.



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