Q & A with Susan Jones, University Registrar

Posted: January 8, 2004 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: This weekly question-and-answer column with George Mason administrators appears every Thursday in the Daily Gazette. To view previous articles, visit the Q&A archive page.

By Robin Herron

Can you give a general overview of your office’s current responsibilities? What other units in the university does your office work with closely?

The mission of the Registrar’s Office is to implement the academic policies of the university. The work is divided among several functional areas. We certify that NCAA athletes are eligible to perform and participate; veterans are eligible to receive their educational benefits; and students are eligible to continue to defer repayment of previous educational loans. We also have responsibility for evaluating students’ eligibility for in-state tuition privileges.

We release about twice our headcount in official transcripts every year. There are also enrollment and degree verifications. We do approximately our headcount in those every year. We certify that students have met degree requirements; we post degrees to their academic record–the transcript–and produce and release diplomas to students.

Susan Jones
Susan Jones

We’re also responsible for assigning all of the general classroom space on all three campuses, except law school assignments. We publish the fall and spring Schedule of Classes and the various rules and regulations which they contain. We manage the computer processes through which students register. There are many transactions at George Mason that we refer to as “permissive.” They require the approval of the department chair or the dean; those are submitted to us and we update the students’ records.

The Registrar’s Office has a very significant internal IT staff. They support all of the rest of what’s going on in the Registrar’s Office. They also have the important duty of writing significant numbers of decision reports–information that an academic program would want–on student data. This staff now supports our efforts toward the Banner system.

I supervise the coordinating position at Prince William in Student and Academic Services. That person has a role in the management of university-wide contract and noncredit CEU classes, as well as credit offerings at that growing campus.

The Registrar’s Office has strong working relationships with Admissions, Student Accounts, Financial Aid, and Academic Advisement. Probably our most compelling relationship is with the academic departments because of our role in managing classroom assignments, student enrollment, grading and graduation.

How long have you been the registrar, and what changes in your office have occurred since you took over the job?

I’ve been the University Registrar for 9 years now, and I’ve been at George Mason for more than 12. I started out 26 years ago as an assistant registrar at the State University of New York College at Brockport.

Early in my tenure as registrar, I was able to justify having an attorney in an assistant registrar position. When you think of all the student privacy and domicile appeal issues, having an attorney with this kind of expertise is not only good for the office, it’s good for the university. I played a key role in creating the cross-functional staffing for the Prince William Campus. I had an interesting couple of years as the functional lead in our now-abandoned project to work with Oracle to develop a student information system. Also within this time, we implemented the new General Education program, which was significant for the Registrar’s Office.

I think my biggest accomplishment is gaining the respect the office generally has at the university. This is partly due to my efforts over the years to professionalize the Registrar’s Office. I was able to develop high standards for the staff, and I also sought out professional-level salaries. The bottom line is that really good, experienced, wonderful staff members want to come to work here, and they want to stay. That translates into high level services for students and faculty.

Your office is heavily involved in the Banner project. Can you describe what that has entailed?

We have to implement those functions I talked about, using the Banner software. We have one additional position that was given to us to deal with Banner. It’s almost a doubling of the workload in a lot of positions, and to get just one is not a lot, but we now have two very fine Banner experts on our staff. The workload doubling will probably last for a couple of years.

It’s hard to keep the university running while at the same time becoming oriented to a new way of doing business. Besides getting our functional needs met, like how we are going to deliver registration processes in Banner, we have responsibility for conversion of records. The volume of student records is huge–just under 300,000 student records, which are being converted electronically but not easily.

We’re concerned about privacy. When you think about student privacy you think about not wanting the wrong people to update a record. But the federal privacy regulations also concern themselves with the ability to view and potentially disclose a student’s private record. What we’re going to with Banner is a self-service format for both students and faculty, and faculty advisors will be able to easily access student records.

Another challenge is to be sure that our staff can continue to provide the reports out of Banner that we have been providing out of the Student Information System. With Banner we’re trying to stay minimally whole as we get into the fall ’04 semester. By “whole” I mean perform our basic work, get students registered, be able to assign classrooms, be able to do grading, that sort of thing. Once we can stay whole, then we can start implementing some of the additional kinds of functionality that we don’t have now, such as complex prerequisite checking. One of the things we won’t be changing is that our permissive transactions are still going to be on paper. Automation of those processes will come later.

We’re on a very aggressive timetable for converting to Banner. In December, we were building the Schedule of Classes, and we’ve got the catalog converted for fall ’04 in Banner. Then we will be doing fall ’04 preregistration in April in Banner’s online system, “Patriot Web,” which the students should appreciate. At the same time, we’ll be doing summer registration in our old Student Information System through 4GMU.

What are some issues or challenges you and your staff face?

I wrote a self-study in 1998 that had a section called “primary issues.” They were disunity, flexibility, inconsistency, complexity, and occasional incivility. I think I would keep those, although I would add sheer volume of work. The core staff of the Registrar’s Office didn’t increase between 1993 and 2001. At the same time, student headcount increased 17 percent and academic program components quadrupled. When a new program is mounted, we have to be able to talk to students about it, we have to accept academic program changes to get students into it, we have to manage course offerings for it, and we have to create new degree audits to reflect these new components.

I think the core values at George Mason include creativity and independence of academic programs. Probably our biggest challenge is the complexity that results. Each school is managed differently, so that when we talk to a student, we have seven answers instead of one. Everything I look at requires a grid. Sometimes I think the amount of complexity we have is beyond what’s good for us, and that it might be in our best interests to abandon some of it.

We have the challenge of occasional incivility. The students are, with a few exceptions, generally polite. A lot of our work is telling them, “I’m sorry, we can’t do what you’re asking for.” We always tell them why, but we often must deliver bad news. The students care deeply about what happens in the Registrar’s Office because it can affect their lives significantly.

The Faculty Senate often comes to you for input when it’s developing a new policy, and, for example, you are on the Faculty Senate Task Force on Reporting Satisfactory Academic Standards. Can you talk about these initiatives?

I was on the original committee considering plus and minus grading several years ago, and more recently was involved in the various C- grade discussions and those on minors. I think I am accepted by the senate because I do understand what my role is and what my role isn’t. In general my stance must be neutral, although I am always eager to see the university maintain high academic standards.

The task force wanted to look at other schools’ systems of academic good standing. I reviewed and summarized more than 20, a few of which were very interesting. There are a lot of fallout issues when you make this big a change. So my jobs on the task force were to try not to forget any of them, and to let the decisions come from the committee; they’re going to have to convince their peers in the senate.

What are some other things in which you are personally involved?

I co-chair a classroom advisory committee with John Gresock [Office of Space Management]. It’s intended to give the faculty a voice in classroom decisions. I also chair an academic procedures advisory committee, which deals with implementation of undergraduate academic policy at the school/college level. I am a member of the Consortium Registrar’s Committee. We meet quarterly in order to manage the Consortium cross-registration. This also gives us access to our fellow registrars in other institutions, and we can ask them general questions and compare notes on hot topics. Finally, I serve as staff to the Provost’s Office, consulting with Dr. [Marilyn] McKenzie and especially Dr. [Linda] Schwartzstein on topics related to the Registrar’s Office.

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