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Effective Use of Chocolate aka How to Bribe Your Registrar
August 24, 2010 - 8:45pm

A good friend of mine claims that when he was an undergraduate, he always returned to school late, bearing a big box of chocolates or salt-water taffy, and charmed the Registrar's Office into waiving any late enrollment fees. Whether it was his deliberate charm or the sugar, he claims his tactics were successful.

While most fees are automated now (and I'm not recommending actual bribes), getting off to a good start with the gatekeepers of student records will save headaches and time down the road. We're not here to enforce arcane rules (unless the faculty voted on them); we just want to keep the all the moving parts working the best they can.

As the end of the summer approaches, and faculty and students begin preparing to head back to school, here are a few ways to work collaboratively with the Registrar's Office.

For faculty joining a new institution, try to stop by the Registrar's Office when visiting campus, preferably before student orientation begins. Introduce yourself. Know who to go to when a student sends an email requesting to take a class pass/fail or claims he is "blocked" from registering and writes an email asking, "but couldn't you, as the faculty, just let me in"? If I can put a face to a name, the next time you call, I'm more likely to go an extra step to help or explain.

Find out what the policy is for students who don't show up to class, never hand in work or plagiarize. Ask colleagues what they include in syllabi about re-grading, attendance, and collaboration. My first question to faculty when they approach me with questions around these topics is “what did you include in the syllabus?” – the de facto contract with students. It is easy to overlook student judicial policies amid the optimism of the start of the term. Knowing a friendly registrar or academic affairs staff person can make navigating complex problems easier.

If nothing else, turn grades in on time. Many institutions now use electronic grading - you may never have to interact with the Registrar's Office.

While these are just a few of my suggestions, the blogosphere is rife with semester "to do" lists - I especially like ProfHacker's post at the Chronicle and Instant Mentor’s ASAP post.

I would like to debunk the myth of the Registrar's Office as automaton spitting out "No" to every request, or the idea that a set of Kafka-esque rules and forms takes precedence over the actual lives of students and faculty. I also try to maintain a fine balance of firmness and fairness, while realizing information overloaded students may need some guidance navigating the bureaucracy of the first few weeks of the term. As Meg recently wrote, finding compassion while saying no reminds us to not forget the human side of higher ed administration. How about a little familiarity and friendliness too?

So before the semester starts, I recommend stocking up on some good quality chocolate. I guarantee it will brighten the day of almost any administrator.

Heather Alderfer is a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus


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