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.


What is the Registrar for? (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in Leadership, Service with tags , , , , , , , on January 20, 2014 by Grant McMillan

In Part 1 I asked what the profession of Registrar is for – why have one, why become one? I started with leadership but now want to focus on service. In Part 3 we’ll talk about administration.

Registrars, whether they like it or not, sometimes have a bad rep. I recently met with a retired university President who, upon discovering that I was a Registrar, blurted out, “I never had so much trouble than with registrars!” To which I retorted that I found presidents to be a most troublesome breed, too (which I said with a big grin on my face and we parted amicably).

Unfortunately too many Registrars have earned a reputation for being troublesome.I think it’s because of two main reasons:

  • the expectations of the hiring committee;
  • a misunderstanding of who or what the Registrar serves.

Hiring committees are rightly concerned about records and risk management. There is little that is more damaging to a university’s reputation than poor record management. Poor record management can land you in court, in the news, and in the bad books of your best marketers – students and parents of students. So, hiring committees often focus on hiring Registrars that are very, very careful, and very, very detail conscious. What is often unseen or unspoken, or even unknown in such cases is that it is the records and the Registrar that are being served and protected. I will be the first to acknowledge that protecting Registrars and record management is important (hey, I want to save my neck too!), but hiring committees put the cart before the horse with such emphasis.

Service takes into account good records management, but keeps it in its place. A Registrar focused on serving the goals of the students and the university will understand that poor records management equals poor service. But good service is much more than having good records.

Good service from the Registrar’s Office means helping clear pathways to education for students. It is listening to the students – not just listening to the question (“I need this form filled out.”) but to what’s behind the question (“I see this form is to withdraw. May I ask you why you want to withdraw?”) It’s giving students a map detailing their next steps. It’s cutting through red tape. It’s educating about education, too.

Good service from the Registrar means listening to Faculty concerns too. It means providing them with the information they need to do their jobs well. It’s cutting through red tape. It’s educating them about their students.

Good service from the Registrar should very rarely mean these people hear “No, I’m sorry, you can’t do that” from us. What they should get is a listening ear, one that expresses care for their concerns and needs.

Good service from the Registrar’s Office means listening to the needs of Administration. As I have argued before, an awful lot of information comes into and flows out of the Registrar’s Office and we are not just keepers of this information. Good service from the Registrar means making this information available and useful. It means listening to the university’s needs for information about itself and its students. It means proving feedback, reports, and big picture impressions. The Registrar should provide the President, Deans, and other administrators with the tools they need to help them know what’s going on with students and courses. This can be challenging – perhaps even more challenging than serving students and faculty (although these can be an unruly bunch), but hey, if you’re not up for a challenge what gets you up out of bed each morning?

The Registrar who listens and serves these three groups before serving her records and reputation will be a Registrar who is sought out and in demand. This is a Registrar who will last and who will find her opportunity for leadership (see Part 1) increased.

Of course, the Registrar who neglects Administration will find his opportunities diminished, so we cannot neglect that either. That’s the topic for Part 3, coming soon.



What is the Registrar For? One Man’s Vision (part 1 of 3)

Posted in Leadership, Registrar 101, Service with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2014 by Grant McMillan

In the modern era, where kids think if it’s not on the interwebz it doesn’t exist, is the Registrar in danger of disappearing? 

I don’t think so. Not if you’re a true professional keeping up with the times, leading your institution into the future.

Ok, so why bother having a Registrar? Why bother becoming a Registrar?

Here in British Columbia where I work, the University Act requires universities to have a Registrar. So presumably the government and the court believes it is important to have a Registrar. My own personal vision for the Registrar profession is three-fold. One side is focused on leadership, one side is focused on service, and one side is focused on administration.


What’s the difference between a good leader and a good administrator? Vision!

A good leader keeps his/her eyes peeled for what’s going on in the world, paying attention to trends, events, watching out for needs, problems, and possibilities. Leaders look for influence and how to leverage it in their favour, and they look within and outside of their normal sphere of work.

How do I do this?

I make sure I’m involved in the world of academia. I pay attention to academic matters such as research trends, faculty concerns, hare-brained ideas like MOOCs, and all the kinds of education that are out there. I attend faculty conferences, teach classes, and participate in student life wherever possible.

I make sure I’m involved in my profession. I pay my membership dues to registrarial organizations like WARUCC, ARUCC, BCRA and others. But I also pay my dues in other ways. I attend conferences, I volunteer for committees, I participate in professional organizations, I make my voice heard. I research ,write, collaborate and act as a leader to create a better present and future. I make friends with colleagues, government officials and others because I like them and I want them to like me and because we are this together. I do this on behalf of my institution but, just as importantly, I do this for myself and my profession. I believe that if I’m working on professionally developing myself, only then will I have the influence I hope for.

Thirdly, I make sure I’m involved in my own organization. I listen (a lot). I listen to official communication, but just as importantly, I try to listen for the unspoken. I make sure other leaders in my organization know that I’m listening – that I’m aware and on top of what’s going on. I want them to know that I care and that I am leading with the right things in mind. I collaborate, invite, participate – much like I do in the outside professional organizations, only I make sure to do this inside my organization too.

But mostly I listen.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 to see why it’s important to focus on service and administration.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,670 other followers