The Registrar as Judge, Jury, and Executioner

I am often amazed by how willing some people are to be judgmental in the extreme. Why are we so eager to enact frontier justice, so ready to holler out “Let’s get ‘im an’ string ‘im up from the nearest branch!”?

Ok, so maybe I shouldn’t be writing any Zane Grey novels anytime soon – my western twang is a bit rusty. But I worry when I read stories this one in the Edmonton Journal about a Dean who seems to be facing something that looks and sounds an awful lot like a lynch mob. What sort of school culture is supportive of such quick and dirty justice?

I believe that Registrars can easily become part of such a judgmental culture. Each semester we determine who ends up on Academic Probation, who might be kicked out of university for grades that are too low and other similar judgements. We’re often involved in academic dishonesty decisions and sometimes student life incident decisions. We’re also quite good at determining who makes the honor roll or Deans List. It’s Commencement or Graduation season, and the waves of students crossing the stage, who have all had to meet some criteria that we’ve calculated, are evidence that we’re very good at judging – it’s part of the job.

I don’t have a problem with my role as a ‘judge’. However, I have to remind myself that being a judge is only one small portion of my job, but it can have life-long consequences . I need to remember that I am dealing with real human beings who are in circumstances that I am not, and who need to be treated with grace & mercy wherever appropriate and possible. We are in a unique position of power, and as you might remember that famous line from the recent Spiderman movie, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

I was inspired by this response article to the one above, and I am cheering inside that there’s a colleague who admits that he’s not friends with the commencement speaker, but he’s calling for a more gracious response from people. Perhaps I’m sensitive to this because I was not a very good undergraduate student. I scraped by for a multitude of complex reasons, none of which was a lack of ability (I redeemed myself in my graduate studies). I remember chairing a meeting with about 40 faculty members a few years ago where the conversation became quite critical and demeaning to undergraduate students with a low GPA. I finally spoke up and said, “Folks, I understand your point, but I can’t agree with you. If I did, I would not be able to stand here with you today – you would have rejected me.”

The silence in the room was palpable, and then the ring-leader apologized.

I believe we have to watch our seemingly natural bent towards a critical spirit. I think it’s a shame that we’re trained so diligently in education to be slow to leap to conclusions, to be careful about our assumptions, etc., yet we so quickly forget this when we deal with people who are vulnerable.

Let me encourage you to cultivate a spirit of grace and mercy, and to guard your heart against a spirit of criticism and self-righteousness. It is only when our hearts are right that we can rightly play the role of judge.

 

 

P.S. Thank you to Stefanie Ivan at Grant MacEwan University for the inspiration for this post. A more gracious (former) Registrar would be hard to find.

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