It always interests me how people react when I tell them I’m the Registrar at Trinity Western University. Some give me a slightly confused look followed by, “What is a registrar?” Others give me the slightly awed look and maybe a “Wow!” sometimes followed by “That’s a tough job!”
It’s not, really.
Sorry to burst your bubble. Oh, sure, there’s all the database, web registration, CRM, SIS, and other technical jargon we have to know (see some earlier posts on definitions for more reading excitement). Yes, we’re always dealing with legal issues, challenging financial management, tricky policy interpretation and application. There are pressures such as admission deadlines, registration systems to open on time, thousands of courses & exams to schedule, fees to collect, and, ultimately graduates to get across the stage every year. It is easy to get lost in all the technicalities and bureaucracy. Interruptions and demands of students can get in the way of running a perfectly smooth operation. Hey, running a university would be easy if it weren’t for all those students!
I can get all that stuff right – I can run the tightest ship around – but if I do not love students I am just making a lot of noise and smoke. As one writer put it, I’m “like a clashing cymbal”. We all know how jarring that sounds.
No one likes being jarred by a registrar – ugh! All that technical, legal red tape again! No one likes to be thought of as an interruption or a pain in the neck. And if that is the impression I give people, the job of being a registrar becomes really difficult. But it doesn’t have to be that way – it is simple really: love students. Have empathy for them.
Red Tape + Anger + Love/Empathy = Hope
Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple, understood that selling computers wasn’t about selling gigabytes, processing speeds, or programming languages. It was about letting people do stuff with an Apple product. He had empathy for customers, and sometimes his products had to catch up with his vision – here’s a cool, short video on an upcoming biography of Steve Jobs that explains more. And yes, I will admit to being an Apple fan.
What do students want? They want to be able to do stuff. They want to know we care enough to help them do stuff. In my office that means we work hard at being hospitable – taking the time to invite students in, to get to know their needs, to listen, listen again, listen more, repeat back to them what we think we’ve heard and ask them if we got it right. We ask them why they need what they need, and then talk about the options available. And if there are no options, we go about clearing new paths and doing what we can to create new options.
Red Tape + Love/Empathy + Plan = Possibility
What does that look like? Just last week a student came in to our office and was angry because he’d received a note saying he couldn’t graduate for numerous reasons. He was hot under the collar, red in the face, and assuming the worst in every personal interaction with our office people. His problems seemed insurmountable – the mountain top of graduation just too far out of reach – and he was furious.
It all changed for him when one staff member said, “I understand that you are unhappy about this, but do you realize that I’m here to help you? It might be hard, it’s going to take some effort from you and me, but there is hope.” The student actually stormed out, still steamed, and I thought we’d lost him. But fifteen minutes later, he came back with a completely new attitude. Our staff member laid out the issues along with a plan to deal with each one. It still looked almost impossible, but there was a glimmer of hope and the student left with a simple thank you. Next day we were pleased to find out that he had dealt with each issue and is now going to be able to graduate.
Without love, without empathy, that situation could have been nothing but a whole lot of clashing cymbals. It was terribly complex, technical, legal – impossible, really. But all it needed was someone to say, “I’m on your side. We can do this. There is hope.” The impossible became possible.
The simple job of registrar is to love students and reach out in the spirit of hospitality to help them do stuff.
Registrar + Love = You Can Do Stuff