By Hamzah Yaacob and Katie Jolly
The 2016-17 academic year is an unusual time in the Provost Office. For the first time in recent years, faculty development and review will be shaped by a theme—this year will be the Year of Advising. The Provost Office will focus on ensuring that faculty are equipped with the know-how and tools to provide quality advising. But this will go beyond just academics.
“We think of advising very broadly at Macalester, it’s not just academic advising, who you get your PIN from—it’s all kinds of advising,” Provost Karine Moe said. In addition, she said the faculty handbook was updated to include diverse descriptions of advising.
So far, faculty have engaged in a series of workshops and talks. Moe says the college will employ a “multi-pronged approach” and will tailor training to the different needs of advisors. For instance, faculty teaching First-Year Courses (FYC) will be given specific instruction. Moe also hopes the emphasis on advising this year will encourage faculty to talk about the issue and spread ideas on good advising.
At the same time, a new review structure will be inaugurated this year in which faculty will be explicitly assessed on advising. Previously, advising was combined with teaching during major reviews. She said the shift was approved after a faculty vote. She revealed, however, that it originally caused some confusion, as some had counted advising as a service while others as part of teaching. “So now we have an agreement that advising is teaching and that it should count explicitly in personnel reviews,” Moe added. Nonetheless, she stressed that the new assessment mode is not a radical departure from the past.
“We’ve always considered advising to be important and on the surveys that we sent out for tenure review there’s always been a question that said ‘about professor so-and-so as a teacher and as an advisor.’ But we perhaps weren’t as explicit,” Moe said. “So now the teaching and advising questions are separate.”
The choice to focus on advising is the culmination of the Report on Advising released in January 2014 by a task-force assembled by then Provost Kathy Murray, due to “concerns about advising on campus,” Moe said. The report reviewed advising at Macalester and looked at practices at other small liberal arts colleges. It found that 71 percent of alumni and students who were surveyed on the matter were satisfied with their advisors.
However, the report also found that students were “less satisfied” with career advice from advisors. The report noted that the alternative sources students were turning to — such as peers or family — were not ideal.
When asked about this shortcoming, Moe said the new Dean of the Career Development Center, Mindy Deardurff, who assumed the role in March this year, “is excited to work with faculty to build those kinds of bridges.”
Another problematic area the report highlighted is that the FYC advisor’s area of expertise often differs from a student’s eventual major, as many go on to major in subjects different from their FYC. While acknowledging that other colleges had first-year students assigned to advisors based on their intended major or academic interest, it posited that “consistent interaction” between advisees and advisors is important. Furthermore, the current system was “an easy method to administer.” The report’s sentiment was echoed by Moe who said “I can’t imagine a system where you could guarantee a student would come in and end up with an advisor who would be their (future) advisor.”
Ultimately, Moe said students will feel the changes depending on who their advisor is. “We’ve always had excellent advisors, so for some there may be no difference at all,” she said. “There will be some faculty, especially newer faculty who are going to learn about ways that they can improve their advising.”