What is a Registrar?
The registrar is one of the oldest positions in higher education. Its historical origins date back to the end of the 12th century. The bedle, or beadle, at the University of Oxford made announcements, collected fines, and escorted "evil-doers" to prison, according to Charles Mallet's A History of the University of Oxford (1927). At the Universities of Paris and Bologna, the bedle or bedelli served similar functions.
It was not until 1446 that the title of "registrar" emerged at Oxford. According to C. James Quann's Admissions, Academic Records, and Registrar Services (1980), the registrar's duties were to "give form and permanence to the university's public acts, to draft its letters, to make copies of its documents, and to register the names of its graduates and their 'examinatory sermons.'"
In America, the first registrar served at Harvard in a part-time capacity. The registrar was primarily a teaching faculty member, a tradition that continued until the late 1800's. At that point it began a transformation to a more specialized role, although many registrars continue to have faculty status. Early in the 20th century, registrars were responsible for many functions that are now based in the admission and student affairs areas.
Today the primary role of registrars is maintaining academic records and managing registration. They work closely with faculty and other academic administrators in developing, explaining, and enforcing academic policies. In addition, they collaborate with other administrative offices to serve students and faculty. The registrar's role spans both the academic and administrative sides of a college, making them uniquely able to contribute to institutional goal-setting and problem-solving.
The author of this article would be remiss if he did not acknowledge Clarence Roberts' wonderful history, North Central College, A Century of Liberal Education (1960) for the detailed information on Thomas Finkbeiner.