Pivot!: Registrars’ tight maneuvers in the face of COVID-19

March 23, 2020
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A global pandemic is changing higher education faster than anyone would have thought possible just a month ago. Despite the immensity of this challenge, it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together, adapting to extraordinary and unprecedented pressures in real time.

“We collectively are being asked to reinvent the way higher education functions—and we’re doing it right in the middle of a semester,” said Registrar Doug McKenna, host of AACRAO’s For the Record podcast. “It’s complicated work and the number of logistical questions being contemplated across campuses is staggering.”

In response to these immense outside pressures, systemic changes are happening right now in higher education.

"We may never see a return to normalcy in higher education,” McKenna said, “and it remains to be seen whether that will be the positive change many of us have hoped for and hoped to achieve."

It’s possible. McKenna noted, that this crisis will result in positive and necessary changes in higher ed, as happened with Y2K when, in the face of potential catastrophe, institutions had to make major technology investments they wouldn’t have sanctioned in normal times—and which fundamentally changed higher education. 

Take good notes and give good advice 

“Make no mistake, the next six months will be studied, written about, and looked to as an example for years to come,” McKenna said. It’s extremely important that registrars, as institutional historians and record-keepers, are taking good notes. Document all discussions, decision points and takeaways, McKenna advised, for future registrars and researchers.

Never has it been clearer that the registrar is at the core of the student experience. That’s why it’s also important for registrars to advise senior leadership about the practical and policy implications of their decisions, McKenna added.

3 situations arising from the pandemic

In the most recent episode of For the Record, McKenna discusses three specific challenge areas in this context, including:

  • Academic calendar. Extending spring break, moving to online instruction, and more affects the very structure of learning.

  • Teleworking. Offices are learning when and how to accommodate staff during a time of physical (rather than social) distancing.

  • Policy exceptions. Grading, transcripts, and more are being affected by changes and closures. Where are policy exceptions appropriate?

Listen now to “COVD-19 Situations,” and also check out the recent episode “Emergency Management and You,” on For the Record.