North Central College - Naperville, IL

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.

At North Central, the role of registrar has also changed over time. Although the College opened its doors in 1861, it was not until 1905 that the first registrar, Thomas Finkbeiner, was appointed. He graduated from North-Western College (as North Central was known at the time) in 1894 and joined the faculty as an assistant professor of German in 1902. Finkbeiner was responsible for the systemization of recording and reporting grades while continuing to teach in the German department. He eventually held the position of dean of instruction and was one of the College's most influential professors for the first half of the century. After 40 years as registrar, he was succeeded by Charles C. Hower, professor of Classics, in 1944. Dr. Hower saw many changes in the face of higher education, particularly in the aftermath of World War II and the advent of the GI Bill. After serving for many years, he was followed by Helen G. Barrett in 1966. She is notable as the first registrar not to come from the teaching faculty. Robert A. Reed replaced her in 1968 and served as registrar for nine years. In 1977, Shirley Haines, hired as recorder in 1963, began her tenure. Ms. Haines was the fourth-longest serving registrar; during her time many significant changes in the registrar's office occurred due to technological advances. She retired in 1991, when Susan J. Moore was hired and worked in the position for six years. The seventh registrar, Jonathan M. Pickering, began his service in 1997 and remained for 17 years.  During those years he ushered the office into the internet era and oversaw many changes related to technology.  The current registrar, Joel Wells, came to North Central in 2014 during a period of continued technological innovation.

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.