Yale Daily News

Marleen Cullen has worked in her current position as a registrar for the Anthropology Department for almost eight years. She is, as registrar, responsible for recording grades, handling course information, supporting students with major and graduation requirements, working with teaching fellows and more.

But for Cullen, the “more” often takes up the majority of her time. She is additionally expected to mentor students, assist the new Director of Undergraduate Studies and Director of Graduate Studies every two years, record expenses and order travel and food for speakers.

Because there is no longer a receptionist in the department, a receptionist’s duties also fall under Cullen’s jurisdiction. Now, she must also organize mail, fix the jammed copy machine, and even stock coffee in the kitchen — all without additional compensation.

“[These additional responsibilities] affect my accuracy,” she said. “I take more time checking things over because I’m constantly interrupted. And it takes me longer to get my tasks done.”

Cullen is not the only departmental registrar whose on-paper requirements differ significantly from the day-to-day expectations set by each department. And more generally, she is not alone in expressing frustration with the treatment of and value placed upon the registrars by the University as a whole.

The News spoke to eight of the approximately 85 departmental registrars, some of whom wished to remain anonymous due to fears of retaliation. They each described a job that, while immensely rewarding in terms of interactions with students, is also fraught with unclear expectations, differing departmental standards, lack of training, poor communication, complicated technology and an overwhelming workload. While each of the eight registrars voiced their individual thoughts on what Yale could do to help, they have also taken matters into their own hands by forming a support group to fill training gaps.

University Spokesperson Karen Peart, speaking on behalf of the university Registrar, told the News that Yale both “recognizes and greatly values” all of the work that FAS departmental registrars do.

Departmental disconnect

Registrars are, according to Alexander Bozzi, the graduate registrar for applied physics department, “involved with the entire life cycle of a student, from the time he or she submits an application to the time he or she gets his or her diploma.”

They work with department chairs to develop teaching calendars, help faculty with utilizing different softwares and work with registrars across related departments. According to Bozzi, because they are “the repository of much of the institutional knowledge of how the University actually works,” registrars field questions from faculty and department administrators.

When registrars begin their jobs at Yale, they are trained initially through the University Registrar’s Office in basic software and procedures, after which each department is expected to hold more specific training. 

However, five registrars told the News that this amount of training differs significantly between departments.

Sabrina Whiteman, registrar for the computer science department, told the News that “a lot of us didn’t realize that we were missing certain pieces of training” and are instead being taught by their departments how to do different tasks “as issues come up.”

Some registrars, like Marcy Kaufman, the graduate registrar for the history department, got “lucky” and received personalized training from her predecessor in her department before they retired.

Another registrar who wished to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation said she had a similarly stellar training experience for her initial department placement as an undergraduate registrar. But when she left that department for a different one, she “didn’t have any guidance,” even though she was now a registrar for both graduate and undergraduate students in the new position.

“When I first came in, I got really great training, but after that it was kind of like, ‘well, even though you’ve taken on like literally an entire second job you never did before, figure it out,’” she told the News. “I’ve been there for a year and a half now, and I’m still learning our specific processes and how they like to save certain files and stuff.”

Whiteman also experienced this “disconnect” over what departments believe registrars are trained to do versus what they actually know when coming into the position after initial training.

Kaufman added that their supervisors in the department “have no idea” what their training from the Registrar’s Office looks like, and Whiteman noted that she has yet to see any sort of handbook from either the department or the University Registrar’s Office, meaning that the department can “interpret” what both training and roles can look like.

Liza Joyner, operations manager for the Department of History, did not respond to a request for comment on her knowledge of the training from the Registrar’s Office.

Kaufman emphasized that she has a very supportive department and “terrific” supervisor who is “as supportive as any manager could be.” Given that her supervisor herself is also “overloaded,” there’s “no possible reason that she could know the ins and outs of the registrar work,” Kaufman said.

Peart told the News that departmental registrars do not report to the University Registrar. She said that along with the initial University Registrar’s Office training, the office also offers monthly group training for the registrars.

“While this is not a requirement for the FAS departmental registrars, many have found it helpful,” she added.

A constant ‘state of anxiety’

Like Whiteman, six other registrars also told the News that in addition to differing standards of training, their supervisors and often faculty in the departments do not understand the intended role of registrars, which can lead to unrealistic expectations.

In one case, another registrar who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation had an additional department added to her workload — without additional compensation. She called the added responsibility “an area of struggle” that “was just not feasible for one person.”

“There are times that I am working overtime to just try to stay afloat and do what needs to be done, but it’s been difficult,” she said, adding that she constantly finds herself “in a state of anxiety” because of how much work she is expected to complete.

Cullen told the News that, along with anxiety regarding the overwhelming nature of her tasks, she is also nervous around job security for upcoming summers, especially due to the new preregistration timeline that causes some of their summer tasks to move towards spring. 

Peart declined to comment on concerns regarding job security.

Another anonymous registrar, because he works in two separate departments that act as a “bridge” for the rest of the academic program his work supports, considers his expectations tantamount to “two full-time jobs.”

Peart told the News that the responsibilities of departmental registrars “vary based on the needs of their specific department,” which can range from record-keeping to finance, faculty support and event planning.

Registrars, who Whiteman says are “expected to hold more information than [they] actually do,” will often hear about deadlines just weeks — if even that — before they occur. This short timeline complicates a process in which deadlines need to undergo additional procedural steps, including a faculty vote, to be approved before they are final.

“We’re almost mid-March, and I still don’t know when to tell my faculty when final grades are due for graduating students,” the registrar who had to shift to a different department with little additional training said.

Bozzi credits some of this confusion to the chaos caused by the pandemic, citing system changes that needed to occur because registrars were not in the physical office anymore.

But he acknowledged that no matter the cause, registrars are in a situation where students and faculty expect them to know more information regarding dates, deadlines and schedules than they do.

Taking matters into their own hands

Recently, departmental registrars have formed a peer group, which Whiteman started, to try to mitigate some of these issues.

Anywhere between 15 to 45 registrars attend the group’s monthly meetings, which usually contain a combination of commiseration on different issues and shared problems in addition to training sessions, according to Whiteman. In the training sessions, registrars who are skilled at one system — Whiteman, for example, is experienced with Qualtrics and has already helped a few colleagues with the software — can teach others who, due to differing training experiences, might never have learned those systems. In total, departmental registrars might be expected to know around a dozen different systems, ranging from payment softwares to course inventory management.

“People felt relieved that they were not the only ones that wanted to cry at the end of every day,” Whiteman said of the first session, which occurred over Zoom this past fall.

Stacey Hampton, the graduate registrar for the comparative literature department, called the group “a much-needed support system during this pandemic.” For seven of the registrars interviewed by the News, the group provided a similar sense of camaraderie. For registrars newer to their positions, the group allowed them to hear advice and perspectives from those with decades of experience.

But Cullen and Whiteman said the group is not able to singularly solve the issues experienced by the registrars. Cullen noted that to her, the group felt more focused on “factual stuff to do with my job” instead of what she really needed support for: her additional off-paper tasks. Whiteman also acknowledged that the group serves as “a temporary solution to a very, very long-term problem.” 

Staffing support

While three registrars — Cullen, Kaufman and one anonymous registrar — interviewed by the News did specifically mention that they felt supported by their departments, students and faculty, none of them felt supported or appreciated by the larger University.

Four registrars indicated that hiring additional people could significantly help with their workloads and feelings of a lack of support.

“Registrars should not be expected to fill any work gaps a department may have,” the anonymous registrar who works in two separate departments wrote to the News in an email. “Either more positions need to be created to handle the miscellaneous tasks of a department, or Registrars need to be compensated more fairly to adjust for the miscellaneous workload we take on.”

None of the registrars interviewed by the News said that they received additional compensation for the extra tasks they were expected to complete. Cullen noted that while department registrars receive an annual raise from Local 34 union negotiations, that increase is universal across all registrars and do not give individual registrars any “incentive to do a better job.”

Peart told the News that the University and union have “a collective bargaining agreement that defines pay and benefits for C&T staff members, including FAS Departmental registrars and includes a process to resolve disputes.” She added that employees with concerns are also encouraged to work with their supervisors and union representatives in order to address them.

Whiteman added that while giving registrars all of the miscellaneous tasks might save the money of hiring additional people, the University needs to think about “the quality, the experience of the person who has all these competing responsibilities.”

For Kaufman, an additional staff member in her department whose job would be to support the registrars and other department administrators would significantly help the current situation, in which there is “more work and fewer people doing it.”

“I think that the University undervalues department registrars,” she said. “[Yale is] supposed to be a place with a mission of teaching, research and creation and dissemination of knowledge, and Yale registrars are the people who hold that academic mission in their hands.” 

The registrar who had to shift to a different department acknowledged that she felt a lack of appreciation from the larger University but noted that she did not consider this to be a Yale-specific problem.

Rather, she considered the workload and lack of understanding a result of those in higher positions failing to understand the impact of consistently delegating tasks to those below them.

“It’s a chronic issue of the people on the bottom have the most paperwork to do and the most things to juggle [while the] people higher up just sort of [don’t] realize,” she said.

In a follow-up email, Whiteman emphasized that as a whole, “[the registrars] love what we do.” But she said the frustration stems from the registrars being the “default” whenever faculty or department administrators have a question or an issue.

Whiteman added that students can help by understanding that departmental registrars do not have all the answers and similarly asking for more “transparent” communication from University administrators when needed.

“I guess my hope is that students are also alarmed in a way that helps them understand they can contribute to our support,” she wrote.

Departmental registrars report to operation managers and lead administrators in their department, who report to the FAS Senior Director of Business Operations.

Madison Hahamy | madison.hahamy@yale.edu

 

Update, March 16: A previous version of the article did not acknowledge the highly positive relationship between Kaufman and her supervisor. The story has been updated to include relevant comment from Kaufman that is key to an accurate understanding of their relationship.

Update, March 17: The story has been updated to include the names of the registrars — Cullen and Kaufman — who specifically mentioned departmental support.

 

MADISON HAHAMY
Madison Hahamy covers faculty and academics as a staff reporter. She previously covered alumni and is a sophomore in Hopper College with an undecided major.