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.

The Door Shall Ever Swing Inward

Posted in Definition: Registrar, Leadership with tags , , , , on November 29, 2013 by Grant McMillan

“The everyday details of duties performed by my office are secondary to the opportunity to add my influence in the building of character through personal contact outside my official capacity, and to this end the door to my office shall ever swing inward to students seeking advice and encouragement.”

Committee on Code of Ethics, American Association of Collegiate Registrars,”A Code of Ethics for Registrars.” Proceedings of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars, 13th National Meeting, 1925, page 259.

Remember Your Influence

Posted in Decision Making, Registrar 101, Service with tags , , , , , on October 3, 2013 by Grant McMillan

This is the time of year when young college students make decisions about their futures based on how things are going for them right now.

They will be receiving mid-term exam marks back soon, and their first projects will be returned to them with  A+ grades. They are also just about to head home for Canadian Thanksgiving (or stay on campus with the prospect of being bored and lonely).

You would be amazed how many students assume that a bad mid-term grade means they should go elsewhere. I am always surprised how many students make the choice to attend TWU simply because we’re the first or the nicest school to contact them when they apply.

Undergrad students are often strongly influenced by the smallest things. Big decisions are often made around the Thanksgiving dinner table. This is the time of year when YOU can make a difference in their lives. Remind your staff to encourage them every chance they can. Students should leave your office knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that you care about them.

I know you care for students – why else would you do this job? I simply want to remind you of your position of influence.



Would You Trust Your Registrar?

Posted in Leadership, Service with tags , , , on September 2, 2013 by Grant McMillan

On Saturday, Trinity Western University welcomed about 500 new students to campus for Orientation Day. It was a lot of un, but it was also challenging for our staff to serve that many people in one day.

One interaction I had with a parent reminded me about what’s most important when meeting new students and parents who are entrusting their kids into our care. 5 of us had just finished making a presentation to parents of news students in which we fielded many questions, everything from “is there a bus service to Langley?” to “what address do I use to send mail to my son?” Then we stayed afterwards to answer any further questions from parents. That’s when a dad came up to me and said, “I have a question about my son’s invoice. It says the money I put on his account hasn’t been applied against his fees yet. Should I be concerned? I talked about this to someone in your office before we arrived.”

That is a classic “can I trust you?” question.

I could have gone into the details with him, but he knew the details better than I did – he had them right there on his smart phone, so there must be more to his question than just details. I had to listen to the real question – the question behind the question. So I asked him who he talked to. When he answered, I simply said, “Oh, you talked to Maco and Laurette? There’s no one better than them to answer your question. If they said it’s ok, I can guarantee you that it’s ok.”

He smiled and said, “Thank you,” shook my hand and walked away.

It was a simple but profound exchange. He was simply looking for confidence in the competence of the people he talked to. When he found it he could move on. My only job in that situation was to confirm the trust he’d already extended to TWU. That was easy to do!

Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.

Growing a Strategic Enrolment Management Culture

Posted in Enrolment Management with tags , , , , , , on May 21, 2013 by Grant McMillan

Spring is sprung here in Canada. This past weekend, my wife and I wandered over to our community garden plot and prepared the soil for planting. Last year was our first time planting this plot and we were a bit late so we rushed things into the ground without doing much prep work. I turned over the soil with a spade and we pulled weeds, but we didn’t have time to spread any manure or even evaluate the quality of the soil. We just dug it up and put seeds in.

We were disappointed. People had told us, “Oh, you’re getting Old Man George’s plot. You’ve got great soil!” Well, maybe Old Man George had gotten a little tired and didn’t keep up with his soil because things did not grow like we expected. The carrots were stumpy little things about an inch long. The biggest potato we got was about the size of a dollar coin. The rhubarb was no thicker than a pencil.

My wife, the gardener, determined that the problem was tired soil. So, my wife sent me off to the garden centre to get some manure, sand, and other stinky, dirty, half-rotten stuff that plants like. This year I expect a great crop – Kathleen knows exactly where to start to get things growing.

Walnut Grove Gardens

Gardening and SEM

Have you been disappointed in the results of your Strategic Enrolment Management? My beef with most SEM books, articles, presentations at conferences, etc., is that they forget the most important part of SEM. If you want to get a good crop out of your strategic enrolment work, start with Strategic start with the soil – the culture of your organization.

How do you help promote a culture of SEM? It starts with good structure and proper reporting lines, but that’s just like the walls of a raised bed garden: there’s minimal benefit without good soil culture. So after creating the proper structure, people need to buy in. Why should they care about SEM? What’s the benefit? What difference will it make? What’s in it for me? What are the consequences of ignoring it? It’s our job to share this stuff regularly – to rake it into the soil so that the clumps are broken up and spread out.

Strawberries and SEM

Another way to help SEM become part of your culture is similar to my community garden. We walk through the plots and say, “Ooo, look at that nice garden! What are they doing to grow such a nice patch of strawberries?” Call it whatever you like: keeping up with the Jones’ or social pressure, but it works. Take your key influencers to see what good Strategic Enrolment Management looks like and then encourage them to tend their own culture.

Square Foot SEM

Heard of Square Foot Gardening? It’s all about laying a good plan for the garden to grow in. This is where strategy and making a plan for Strategic Enrolment Management finally becomes important. What are you going to do? Who’s going to lead it? How will you know when you’ve got a good thing growing? Get everyone contributing to this plan! I can’t emphasize that last point enough. If they’re part of the plan, they’ll take responsibility for it. No one person, regardless of title and reporting lines can do the job of SEM. A good organizational culture depends on everyone in the organization.

Weeding and SEM

Yeah, I went there!

Sometimes you have to pull a few weeds to keep the garden growing. A noxious weed can ruin a whole garden bed. I know you might have a union to deal with, but don’t wimp out. Get the right people on the team and get the wrong people off the team. If you have a union, work with them on the goals of SEM and the culture you’re after. Good ground work here will make dealing with staff much easier.

Growth of your Strategic Enrolment Management depends on good culture. It’s sometimes hard, back-breaking work, but the rewards can be worth it. Don’t garden your SEM culture like we gardened our plot last year. Last-minute, hurry-up jobs are not worth it. Work on the culture, dig it in deep, rake it smooth and water it daily. If you do that hard work, the growth will be organic and will bring lasting results. In fact, it might just outpace your ability to keep up with it. That’s a good problem to have.

Oh, and one last thing. Share the fruits of your labours. Come to the WARUCC conference in Winnipeg in June. Find me and we’ll have coffee with a bunch of SEM professionals and show off our culture calluses and share seeds of ideas.

See you soon?



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