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Messy Lives
February 22, 2011 - 10:00pm

A big part of what I like about being a Registrar is bringing order to chaos. Whether it is tackling room scheduling for dozens of classes for an entire semester or de-mystifying degree audits, I can usually bring my experience and framework of advice from trusted colleagues to offer solutions. I’ve written about battling the culture of “no” in my profession, but increasingly, I’m finding it more and more difficult to see my interactions in black and white.

Perhaps it is because I am working more with students and less with the abstract, easily containable curriculum that leads me to feel there are fewer right answers and more nuanced interpretations. Perhaps it is because my current school is a small world within a larger university, and it is likely the student I am facing across the counter will be in the coffee-shop I frequent, or (more likely) back in my office sooner rather than later.

I’ve stayed away from Student Affairs issues and positions, remembering what a Dean told me when I was still a student: “I deal with 10% of the students 90% of the time.” As a Registrar, I get to see the whole careers of students laid out on transcripts at graduation. I get to sort and pivot the whole curriculum, seeing patterns and finding errors. It’s the human side of things that gets messy. From plagiarism to failures (yes, despite grade inflation, there are still “F”s) to complex family financial situations, students often willingly tell us more information than is necessary for the question they are seeking to resolve - in loco parentis. We are also the ones who help faculty deal with “ghost students” once grades are due.

I am learning to see the facts through the stories students tell me. They are learning to write briefs and argue legal cases, while I am learning to navigate their nascent powers of persuasion and adhere to the academic regulations. By distancing and evaluating, I’m able to answer their questions more clearly. But I’ll never be able to bring order to the chaos of a student life. I can only hope that I give a clear answer and help make their short time here as smooth as possible. And therein lies the complicated world of boundaries, advice, rules, and academia. It’s a messy world.

New Haven, Connecticut in the USA

Heather Alderfer is an Associate Registrar at the Yale Law School and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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