Registration Frustration

Long lines and wait times often characterized student registration at the U—until the technological revolution.

Photo courtesy Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Registration at the University of Utah didn’t reach the 1,000-student mark until after the turn of the 20th century, and even in those days, registering for classes was no problem. Students received a “yellow ticket” from the registrar and then visited the various professors whose classes they wished to take. As the student population grew, however, registration became a source of great frustration. As early as 1918, the crowd of students trying to register was described as a “great mob” in The Daily Utah Chronicle [October 4], and within a few years the Chronicle described the scene in the Park Building as resembling the “disordered condition of a blasted ant hill. Students wait hopefully in line for hours only to find at the end of their vigil that the ruling has been changed and their cards must be checked by the third desk to the right.” (Up until World War II, registration was in the Park Building, but by the 1950s, it had moved to the library—the current Utah Museum of Natural History on Presidents Circle—and was later variously stationed at Orson Spencer Hall and again at the Park Building.) Despite the efforts of longtime registrar E. J. Norton, the situation worsened throughout the early 1930s. A Chronicle article dated January 8, 1932, depicted registration as a “tragedy,” with “thousands of infuriated students… shrieks, howls, wisecracks and giggles fill the air… the scene is meant to typify the terrible confusion, extreme horror, and utter devastation of modern registration.” Clearly some new system was needed, and in 1936 Norton came up with an alphabetical arrangement that prevented all students from registering at once. The new system worked well until after World War II, when a flood of new students flowing in under the GI Bill overwhelmed it once again, and it was back to long lines and frustrated students. In the 1950s, female students had to have their registration card approved by stern-faced Dean of Women Myrtle Austin, to make sure their classes were appropriate for young ladies. The first computerized registration arrived in the winter of 1967—with the Maximum Advanced Registration (MAR), which relied on a Univac 1108 computer—when students were told “You’re in the punch-card generation.” Computerization helped, as did a telephone registration system developed in the 1970s, but as the student population continued to grow, crowds and long lines snaking through the basement of the Park Building continually reappeared as a feature of student life until the advent of Web-based registration in the fall of 1998.

—Roy Webb BA’84 MS’91 is a multimedia archivist with the J. Willard Marriott Library.

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