The Comfort of Deadlines

The Comfort of Deadlines

When I tell people outside of higher education that I work in a Registrar’s Office, faces usually go a little slack. I can almost see the mental wheels turning: what is it, exactly, that a Registrar’s Office does again? Registration…or something? If I tell people inside higher education that I work in a Registrar’s Office they typically start backing away, mumbling something about how they’ll be sure to get their grades in on time this semester. Our office does help register students and does oversee official academic records (including collecting those pesky grades), but we participate in a number of additional activities to try and help keep things running smoothly: everything from ensuring compliance with federal regulations to checking whether new courses and programs have gone through all the necessary steps before they are published in the catalog.

A routine and easily overlooked part of what the Registrar’s Office does at a university is measure time during the marathon of the academic year. Every semester the mile markers loom up as deadlines: When can I register? Can I still drop this class? When will I get my diploma? We publish the academic calendar and send reminders as we make our way through the months of the year, tracing the cycle from the initial advising and registration rush through to graduation and final degree conferral. This calendar-making and maintenance is one of those basic tasks that is often almost invisible (you usually only notice a deadline if you miss it) but that nevertheless provides structure and shape to the year.

I have been thinking about this routine aspect of our work because I, like so many of us, have been feeling somewhat unmoored in time amid the fog of pandemic fatigue and the stresses of the past year. These mundane mile markers have provided helpful reminders of forward progress. The deadlines that approach and then recede in the rearview mirror remind me that despite the repetitive “Groundhog Day” quality of these pandemic days we are still moving forward, deadline by deadline.

Even in the best of times the finish line of a semester can feel like it is far in the distance, and these are not the best of times. Each semester brings its own sets of challenges and stresses for our faculty, staff and students, and it is always good to remember that the semester is a marathon and not a sprint. But, in the context of a year marked by a global pandemic it often feels like we’re trying to run the marathon during a blizzard. Wearing steel-toed boots. While warding off a swarm of angry bees. With vaccines and other various positive developments in the news, finish lines are in sight, but we are still feeling the burn as we try and traverse these final miles.

So, as we feel the fatigue and frustration, I recommend to you the humble comforts of the calendar and its deadlines. Even when it feels like we’re stuck in a snowdrift of bad news, we are moving forward. It is only day by day, and step by step, but finish lines of various sorts are drawing closer. It is not easy, and it requires endurance and perseverance, but keep an eye out for the mile markers, and keep going.


Thomas Cairns

Associate Registrar