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Davidson Chooses Longtime Faculty Member As New College Registrar

Hansford Epes
Hansford Epes

Davidson College has appointed one of its longest-standing citizens, German and Humanities Professor Hansford Epes, as the institution's new registrar.

Epes entered Davidson as a freshman student in 1957, has been teaching at his alma mater since 1964, and for the past six months has served as interim registrar.

Clark Ross, vice president for academic affairs, said Epes' 40-year-plus association with the college was just one factor in his successful candidacy. Ross said, "No one is more dedicated to the institution than Hansford. His blend of experience and expertise will serve Davidson well in the registrar's office."

Epes has held many positions of responsibility at the college, including coordinator of international education, chair of the German department, the first-ever coordinator of academic computing, adviser for Rhodes and Marshall Scholarship candidates, coach of the College Bowl team, and service on the faculty's educational policy committee and curriculum requirements committee.

A Teacher and a Registrar

Epes emphasized that his new administrative duties will not retire him from the classroom, and said he would not have accepted the contract if it did not allow him to continue teaching. "I refuse in any way to say I'm no longer a teacher," he said. "I consider myself a teacher and a registrar, rather than a registrar who teaches."

The distinction is important to Epes, who will continue to teach one course per semester in the Humanities Program, a four-semester interdisciplinary examination of Western civilization that he has taught since 1969 and led for the last four years.

His registrar's job involves work with both students and faculty in course registration, academic advising, management of self-scheduled exams, scheduling classrooms and courses, maintaining grade records, progress toward graduation requirements, and transcripts. Epes explained, "In terms of service to others, our mission is to be as scrupulous as humanly and 'computer-ly' possible about keeping academic information (and keeping it confidential!), and then sharing it with the people entitled to receive it."

Automation: Making things simpler?

He is assisted in his duties by five full-time and two part-time colleagues. During his six months of interim duty, he has spent much of his time answering questions about transfer of course credits from the 150 or more Davidson students who are at all times studying abroad or at other institutions in this country. "They all have legitimate questions and they all know how to use email!" he said. "I try to answer as quickly as possible, and it takes a lot of time."

Epes' comfort with the college computer system also made him a top qualifier for the job, since registrar's functions are becoming increasingly automated. During his interim period, the college brought on line a Banner software module that permits students to make adjustments to their course schedules on the Web. In addition, student grades were posted on the Web for the first time at the end of the fall semester, in addition to being distributed via regular mail.

He said a major automation project still ahead is computerization of the senior audit, and standards of progress for members of other classes. "I spent many hours last fall going through the transcript of all seniors to see that they were on track to meet graduation requirements," he explained. "The computer can handle a lot of that work for us."

New Challenges

The computerization of the office is also raising new and difficult issues, he added. The most common request made of the registrar by students is for transcripts to be forwarded to another institution where they plan to study. Federal rules on privacy of academic records place specific requirements on how that can be done. Therefore, transcripts are currently sent as hard copy marked with an official college seal and placed in a sealed envelope. "All of these rules were written before we had the possibility of sharing information electronically," Epes said. "But now people want to share information via email for speed and convenience. How can we assure the same level of security and authenticity for transcripts if we try to do that? The problem will be a big one for both lawmakers and educators."

Epes said he had never previously considered the registrar's job, but accepted the call by Ross to serve as interim head of the department out of a sense of duty. He was initially schooled by departing registrar Polly Griffin, who worked with him as she prepared to take on a new job at Dartmouth College. He has been learning the ropes since then from his staff, whom he described as "the best office on campus."

He found that he liked the work, and made the decision to apply for the permanent position. "I have enjoyed the new challenges," he said. "In addition, how often at my age do you get to change careers without leaving home, without giving up what you already do, and without being forced to make that change? It was an extremely rare opportunity I didn't want to let pass."

He said he is grateful that the matter was resolved in his favor, and he looks forward to "sitting down with the staff to set some priorities and see what we can do to serve students and faculty better."

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