The Pressured Registrar

In my last post, I responded to Kevin’s question about moving from a faculty position to become a registrar. He asked some common questions faced by people interested in becoming a registrar, or at least moving into administration. His second question is:

“Professors often face the pressure of being expected to publish frequently. Thus the axiom, ‘Publish or perish.’ What are the greatest sources of pressure and stress placed on registrars or other full-time administrative professionals working at universities?”

Job descriptions for registrars are hardly uniform, so it is difficult to give one answer to this question. If the Registrar is responsible for recruitment and admissions, then we are faced with significant pressure to recruit and admit the right number of the right students. Miss that and the entire university suffers. There really isn’t much of an option – screw up admissions and we will likely perish. We are responsible to be professional and growing in our knowledge and skills in leading recruitment and admissions teams.

If the Registrar has the typical bursar responsibilities of charging and receiving tuition and fees, just try doing that incorrectly and we will quickly find out what sort of pressures there are in this area. Students and their parents don’t appreciate it when we mess with their money. The university likely can’t afford it if we don’t collect enough of it. Screw up the money and we will likely perish. We are responsible to be professionals when it comes to handling financial transactions for hundreds, thousands, and tens-of-thousands of students.

Almost all registrars are senior officials in our institutions, which means we manage large departments full of staff. Many of these departments are union shops with all the pressures that come with bargaining units and collective agreements, etc. Regardless of whether or not our departments are unionized, leading in large and complex organizations can be a very daunting task. The Registrar’s Office is often described as a wheel with many spokes leading in and out from all the rest of the departments of the university. Forget one of these spokes in our plans or communication, tick off some staff or another department by poorly communicating and we will quickly find out what pressures there are in managing in a large and complex institution. I personally know several former registrars who are “former” because they couldn’t lead or communicate very well or they angered the wrong people. We are responsible to lead like professionals.

Registrars are senior leaders for a reason: there is too much at stake, too much influence in our universities to screw up. We are responsible for our own professional growth and development, as are faculty members, with one major difference: we are not lone actors. Instead of “publish or perish” we must be responsible to plan, organize, lead, supervise, and control as one central and influential unit within our organization. This isn’t something we can do casually or without significant oversight. We must lead, and lead well.

“Lead or perish” is my personal axiom for my role as Registrar.

Next time, I will respond to Kevin’s questions: What challenges do you think professors or other researchers face if they try to transition into administrative roles? Do you have any advice for scholars trying to move into administrative work?


P.S. Update: my boss, the Provost, suggested “Precision or Perish” which is appropriate as we Registrars must earn the trust of those we serve by being precise!


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