OP-EDS

  /  

February 6, 2004

Council discusses College advising

Editor's note: This is the third article in a series of occasional updates from the chair of the Dean's Advisory Council.

The Dean's Advisory Council's (DAC) first meeting of this quarter focused on the College advising process, in particular the function and effectiveness of the mandatory meetings with an adviser. (These meetings are quarterly for first-years but annual for everyone else.) While this might not seem like the most pressing issue for the DAC to address, it is the area where our discussions can be the most productive—the entirety of the administration side of our council is involved in College advising.

By and large, students and advisers agree that these mandatory meetings are necessary, both to check students against possibly unpleasant requirement surprises and to give advisers the chance to offer students information they might otherwise not hear. Students recognized that whether or not the meetings were used to cover personal (rather than academic) issues was a decision more influenced by the student than the atmosphere of an individual meeting created by the adviser.

From these determinations, our discussion generalized to students' attitudes about their advisers and the advising system. We recognize that these vary tremendously from student to student, but it is difficult to deny there is a slight wariness or discontent among much of the student body. We believe that the way to address this issue is to try and foster better beginnings to the student-adviser relationship.

A proposal for reform from the students came out of this end of the discussion. I submit it here in hopes that students will let us know what they think. We believe that students' first impressions of the advising system, made during O-Week, are a big part of establishing the negative or ambivalent sentiments many students have about their advisers. For those who don't remember, the first time one sees one's adviser is across some lecture hall in Biological Sciences Learning Center and the next time is for a fast-as-you-can registration appointment. In the past we tried to confront this by recommending advisers send out a letter introducing themselves, warning students that their first meetings are going to be rushed and aren't indicative of their continuing relationship. This has been done, but now student councilors are suggesting taking it a step further. Around the time students receive housing materials, they would receive a similar guide to advisers. Advisers would iontroduce themselves, students would read them, pick out people they imagine they can relate to, and then bid on their choices. Advisers would not declare academic or professional specialties but rather the points of connection that would want to share with their advisees.

Obviously, it is both impossible for students to perfectly determine the suitability of their adviser from a half-page intro and for every first-year to get their top choice. Our hope is that the initial attitudes students have towards their advisers would be greatly improved if most went into their first meetings with a knowledge that this is a relationship they have had some hand in creating and that there are at least a few points on which they can connect. We don't expect that this will make every student and adviser chummy, but rather that commonality will improve the basic communication that underwrites any successful relationship. We hope that these better beginnings would help correct many of the other issues in the advising system, from students' perceptions that their adviser is too busy to help them, to students' sudden needs for recommendations from people who hardly know them, or, most importantly, the miscommunications that result in advisers giving students the wrong information, undoubtedly the most damaging experience in a student-adviser relationship.

Comments on anything said above should be sent to dac@listhost.uchicago.edu. Please include your name, year and concentration. Mail will be read by myself and Brittany Ann Simmons, the council's secretary, and contributed anonymously to the council's discussions.