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Do Not ‘Fear’ a Strong Registrar

As a student at the University of Notre Dame, I resided in Zahm Hall. Intramural athletic events were a significant part of our Hall identity. During one intramural football contest, an opponent shouted, “Zahm is full of fear!” Later, a metamorphosis occurred and our unofficial dormitory nickname was born: the “Zahm Fear.” As with many collegiate monikers such as Hoosiers or Huskers, the name borne out of humiliation actually became a rallying cry.

Fear is an interesting word. Especially, when contemplating the contemporary collegiate registrar. The registrar profession seemed to diverge over the last decade. There appears now to be two categories. One is a benevolent person who honors traditional registrar standards, yet does little to grow the profession. The second is an ambassador of data.

The first individual often fails to make an important connection. The connection that high quality e-services and data mining abilities do improve student-faculty satisfaction. The perception of how welcoming our institutions are does correlate to constituent satisfaction. Regretfully, how such student data is mined and transmitted is black box magic. Viewing solely record keeping, FERPA and transcripts as core registrar functions presents an incomplete view of the contemporary job. Disappointedly, a noteworthy percentage of our profession still views technology as a distinctly non-registrar activity.

The fear of information technology is a problem for the registrar profession.

There is a solution. It is the path taken by many successful registrars. The path is to become an ambassador of data. One who collaboratively brings forward the fruit of student-faculty data thanks to a combined knowledge of records and information technology. These are people of strength who possess a comprehensive view of what it means to be a registrar.

The contemporary successful registrar is a strong registrar. Fear of information technology is illogical to such an individual. Rather, technology is an integral part of a well balanced registrar skill set. Good registrars have realized an important fact: to know the data is not enough. Registrars must be able to mine and present data without constantly relying on IT staff to cover any knowledge gap.

There should not be a conflict over who we are as registrars.

The traditional duty of the registrar has been “to assure the accuracy and integrity of the student’s record.” However, we have turned a corner in the profession, and the time has come to append our traditional definition. “The duty of the registrar is to assure the accuracy and integrity of the student’s record and to maintain jurisdiction over the sphere of technology containing student and faculty data.”

I do not solely want the definition changed only in editorials and periodicals. I want the definition changed in every AACRAO publication, professional Web site, and most importantly people’s hearts. I want the definition to become a rallying cry.

The additional phrase allows for the profession’s authority to be maintained even while technology changes in the future. The registrar is an academic office with medieval roots. We do a dishonor to the nearly 700 years of registrars who have preceded us when we fail to enhance the profession.

The position is one of the top academic offices held at institutions. By clearly stating the registrar profession has license to control the transmission of student and faculty data makes any fear of technology irrelevant. Yes, some may elect to ignore such a principle. However, such an individual would be out of compliance with a foundational tenet of the profession. Part of the issue registrars face today is some in the profession believe that the registrar is not the controlling authority for the transmission of their own data. Regretfully, some are even willing to shirk their data steward responsibilities in favor of handing them off to IT staff.

Please to do not get bogged down in transitional topics. The Office of the Registrar has consistently been influx almost from the beginning. From the storage of parchment records in trunks in the 1300s, to unifying records in ledger books, to official files, then official records, one-stop organizations, enrollment management models and technology challenges, the registrar has consistently had to adjust.

Registrars need to look at the profession on a macro level.

Something has changed about the registrar profession much greater than any of the aforementioned hot topics of a particular point in history. What has changed? Registrars as a profession seem confused as to the limits of their authority over a record. Throughout much of history, the campus boarder is where the registrar’s record authority ended. However, we have become far less internally driven organizations and much more external focused on services.

The definition of a registrar’s duties must reflect that external focus. If the campus network drops a student’s record, who is in charge? The I.T. department? What if the student record is electronically compromised in an off-campus network? Technology has blurred that authoritative line for registrars. Right now, we are faced with a wonderful opportunity. Registrars have the opportunity to mature the profession by stepping into the transmission vacuum as a leader.

I would like to see registrars start fighting much harder for our profession. We could use a few more folks championing our profession and proclaiming the success stories of registrars. As a group, registrars tend to be quite humble servant-leaders. Much of that comes from the type of work and people we are.

We need to begin tooting our own horn a little louder. Innovation is issuing a challenge to the registrar profession. Fear has pushed too many in the profession to the background of higher education. The registrar profession has a strong and influential history. The time has arrived for the present occupiers of our 700 year strong office to move the profession onward and upward once again.

About the Author
Chuck Hurley is Associate University Registrar and Interim Director of Summer Session at the University of Notre Dame. He can be reached at churley2@nd.edu