Inside Chase Hall, in the Registrar’s Office, there is a small room that belongs to a Mr. Lee Watkins. When I visited, his room was dark; the shades were drawn, the light coming from the well-lit outer room. Everything about his desk was neat and tidy, with the feeling of efficient order and a sentimental touch.
Across the desk Mr. Watkins, eyes magnified by glasses, dressed all in black, looked on with a kindly expression and a wavering voice.
“It’s difficult to leave,” Watkins said. “I’m sorry that I’m leaving at this point in its history, but I’ve done my thing, and it’s somebody else’s turn now. It will go on well, this office— very well, in fact— so I feel comforted by that.”
Outside the door, a steady trickle of students make their way into the office, looking for guidance on various issues, turning in forms, the semester gliding towards another finish line.
At the end of the semester, Watkins will be stepping down as Haverford’s registrar, a position he has held for 27 years. Before Haverford, Watkins served as the registrar for Elmira College, a small liberal arts college in upstate New York, and before that served as Assistant Dean of Students there.
“He has made education at small liberal arts schools his life,” Dean Steve Watter said of Watkins.
Watter was part of the committee that searched for Watkins, 28 years ago.
“I remember interviewing him for the position and being impressed by his knowledge and the way he presented himself,” Watter said. “We’ve been working closely ever since. Between the registrar and the deans we interact often over issues, large and small.”
The job of registrar requires, above all, a careful attention to detail.
“It’s a job that seems like it should be so easy, because so much of it is automated, but in fact it’s endlessly complicated,” Dean Martha Denney said. “He is often picking up balls that have been dropped by other folks. He does that graciously and willingly.”
The duties of the registrar’s office are numerous.
The registrar confers with faculty to confirm and schedule all classes, their times, and their locations, making sure to offer enough classes that are required for each major, minor, and concentration by department. The registrar also works with students to meet graduation requirements, register for classes, and select and complete majors, minors, and concentrations. Additionally, behind the scenes, the registrar is responsible for organizing hundreds of years of records and transcripts. As technology to process all of these records changes, the registrar’s office must stay on top of updating all material and continuing to seamlessly coordinate with the rest of campus.
With all of these responsibilities, it would be easy to either lose track or center excessively on the persnickety details, but Watkins has shown a true devotion to the people side of his job.
“Sometimes registrars are people who get very focused on drawing lines and saying there aren’t exceptions because they hate exceptions, but Lee is very personable,” Denney said. “He is always willing to help, takes time with individual students and faculty members, is always looked for ways to make things work. Not that he bends the rules. He looks for solutions rather than looking for reasons why things can’t work the way people want them to.”
Both Denney and Watter noted how hard Watkins works to make this a reality.
“He’s here all the time,” Watter noted. “If I ever needed to contact him my first thought would be to call him in his office, even if it’s a Saturday or Sunday or in the evening, he would answer the phone. He had very high standards for himself and the office and wanted things to be right because he wanted it to work for students.”
“I can’t tell you how many times my colleagues have written to him and said, ‘Lee, we have this situation,’ and he’ll say, ‘Have them come in right away.’ He’ll come in on a weekend or stay up until one AM— for us older folks, that’s actually a big deal— going back and forth trying to figure things out,” Denney said. “He’s given so much of his life to Haverford… I don’t know the last time he took a vacation. He’s always here.”
Although most students know Watkins from his thorough emails, he staunchly maintains an open door policy. My interview with him was scheduled for a day, not for any particular time in that day, and the whole time his office door was left wide open.
Watkins’ personality seems to be in line with his office policies. Though he is soft-spoken, he is very warm and goes out of his way to get to know colleagues and students. He especially enjoys bonding with people over upstate New York, where he spent 17 years.
Watkins described the people at Haverford as his biggest joy.
“The campus is beautiful and all that, but without the people, it’s just buildings. Nothing. It’s people like you and the faculty, the deans, people like that,” Watkins said.
Watkins has seen the college through some enormous changes, implementing a number of important aspects of academic life today.
“Haverford did not have a Degree Audit when I arrived, nor did Haverford have an online transcript, two things I had to implement in my first year here,” Watkins wrote in an email.
Other important changes included US government regulations concerning financial aid and student records, and allowing alumni to more easily order transcripts.
“My sense is that he has made the most of not all that much,” Watter said. “He’s someone who for many years has pushed the college to be more digitally current—not cutting edge, necessarily, but to have systems in place that work to benefit students and faculty, and I think he made an antiquated system work as well as it possibly could work. He grew adept at working with the folks in the computer center and adapting the old system to work.”
Watkins’ final accomplishment has been helping the college transition to BIONIC, a new record-keeping and registration technology system. BIONIC allows the college to keep track of details for students, faculty, and staff more easily and stores this data, which can be useful to the college in statistics. Although the program is challenging to learn, Watkins indicated a willingness to learn and to change. Denney noted how invaluable he had been in making sure that the college transitioned successfully.
“Sometimes I sit back and think, why can’t we go back to the good old days? But we never can do that,” Watkins said. “I think the college is doing what it should be doing. It is adjusting to the 21st century and in a lot of ways it is taking the lead in this too. I think it’s doing the right thing.”
Dean Philip Bean noted how much these changes have meant to the College.
“I have had the privilege of working with few people in my career in higher education who are as dedicated to their jobs, the students, and the institution more than Lee Watkins. He is a wonderful human being and has made made innumerable contributions to the College over his long career at Haverford,” Bean said, via email. “Many people, including I, will miss him immensely.”
Watkins will be retiring to Camp Hill, PA, to live with family.