The individual exudes an air of mystery and intrigue. Lurking in the bureaucratic underworld of Yale administration, he or she holds the cards to every student’s future, yet rarely emerges to deliver a riveting public address, to break ground for a new building, or to otherwise make him or herself relevant to world at large. Without him, you do not even exist.
When Yale Registrar Barry Kane decided to leave New Haven this fall to become the registrar at Harvard, most students seemed not to take notice. Instead, they were preoccupied with the task of registering for history courses online, a novel system introduced by the Registrar’s Office that left “The Cold War” booked up before professor John Gaddis even gave his opening lecture.
While no student enrolled in Yale College is immune from the registrar’s grasp, the actual registrar remains a behind-the-scenes figure in the daily operation of college life. Aside from the periodic e-mail notification reminding students to fill out course evaluations, the registrar remains in faceless anonymity.
So with Kane gone, who is currently managing the veritable Matrix of personal student records — all 5,200 of them — and course enrollments? Her name is Jill Carlton, and she has been working at Yale in various capacities for over two decades, most recently as director of student information technology services. An Italian major at Cornell University, Carlton received her doctorate in Romance languages and literatures from Johns Hopkins University, after which she taught for 11 years.
While the position of registrar may naturally attract individuals with affinities for numbers and filing cabinets, Carlton brings a colorful academic background to the position, including experience teaching abroad in France and Italy. Though she does not remember what she wanted to be when she grew up, Carlton said she is pretty sure it did not involve becoming a registrar.
“My first choice was to do research and teach, and I came to academic administration because I was interested in computers,” she said.
Today marks Carlton’s third official day on the job as acting registrar.
Carlton is no stranger to the responsibilities of the office. She worked closely with Kane for seven years and has been a part of Student Financial and Administrative Services since it became a department around 1996. Having worked alongside Yale registrars since the early 1980s, she also designed the information system for graduate school registration, which previously relied on paper records.
Carlton can be held partially responsible for helping to develop the discussion section pilot for history classes, which enabled students to register for sections online during shopping period. The idea originated from faculty in the History Department and was submitted to the registrar for implementation. While Carlton said the program achieved its intended objectives and was greeted with approval from History Department chairman Jon Butler, she said they would continue to assess its prospects for the future.
“What we’re going to do is review that, see how it functioned, how we can improve it, and see if we can extend it to other departments,” said Carlton, who added that the pilot had to be created in a “very short time.” During shopping period, many students were initially blocked out from getting into the section of their choice, or, in some cases, from even getting into a class at all. Yale introduced its online course registration system in January 2002.
Given her considerable experience and technological skills, the decision to have Carlton serve as acting registrar was a logical one, administrators said.
“We felt it was natural to ask her to step in,” said Ernie Huff, associate vice president of Student Financial and Administrative Services. “I can’t overemphasize Jill’s qualifications — she’s highly qualified.”
Huff said Carlton would serve as acting registrar until a decision is made to conduct a national search for Kane’s successor.
“We purposely didn’t begin the search process due to the opening of classes and the strike,” he said. “We wanted the opening to be as seamless as possible.”
He added that discussions will likely take place in three to four weeks, and the search for a permanent replacement would open up “as broadly as possible,” including individuals from inside and outside the University, and that Yale is “not ruling anything out.”
While becoming a registrar can result from climbing up the administrative hierarchy, in many cases registrars are plucked from peer institutions, just as Harvard snatched up Kane.
“Many institutions conduct national searches, which sometimes yield internal candidates,” said Barmak Nassirian, spokesman for the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. “I would guess that while hiring from within is not rare, it occurs less frequently than hiring from outside the institution.”
Nassirian added that there is “no particular academic trajectory” for registrars, who come from a variety of academic departments and backgrounds.
Up the coast, Kane has been moving into his office in Cambridge and settling into his new role as registrar for Harvard College and the Graduate School for Arts and Sciences. Greg Atkinson, Harvard’s associate registrar for administration, said Kane has been in the office during registration period and that “everything’s been running smoothly.”
“Everyone’s looking forward to his official [start],” Atkinson said. On Oct. 1, Kane officially replaces outgoing Harvard registrar Arlene Becella, who served in that capacity for seven years.
Before serving as Yale’s registrar for six years, Kane, who is 47, also worked as university registrar at Colgate University and Drew University.
“He’s a great guy and we’re sorry to lose him,” Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said. “I suspect that he thought he’d have more challenges there. He’s worked very hard here to maintain the online course system.”
Until a permanent registrar is chosen, the important role of managing student records and course registration rests in Carlton’s experienced hands.
“If Yale does a search for the position of registrar, I’d like to be considered for the job,” Carlton said.