The Resiliant Registrar: Part Two

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: https://gvmcmillan.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/521/ 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

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