Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why I Am Probably Not Cut Out For Academic Advising

Today I spent about 8 hours trapped in a meeting. It was a training session for academic advisors. We reconvene tomorrow for another full day of training. Were I running things, both days of meetings could have been compressed into a single half-day. I could have covered all of the gen-ed requirements, the distribution requirements, the lifespan of an academic catalog, and the overall requirements (mostly as they apply for transfer students) in a little over an hour. Then we could have covered the computer system, the paperwork, and the office logistics. There would have even been time to stop for a snack. None of us are stupid; we don't need to have the catalog read to us.

Instead, the meeting was held by (and mostly attended by) humanities and social science types. A full professor who had been at this institution for over a decade could not comprehend how a student who transferred to this university in the spring of 2004 might be under the 2003 catalog; she just could not understand that "2003 catalog" is the name given to the catalog that was issued at the start of the 2003-04 academic year. She was totally lost on the finer point; I knew all the answers to the trick questions. If a catalog is in effect for six years, can a student who entered in the fall of 2002 but has only accumulated 66 credit hours so far graduate under the 2002 catalog? (The answer is "no." The 2002 catalog expires in August 2008, so if you want to be under that catalog you have to graduate by that date. However, the 2002 catalog requires 124 credit hours for graduation, and you can only enroll in a maximum of 19 hours each semester, so the hypothetical student would be unable to graduate.)

There were some strange presentations from humanities and social science types of the "Don't worry! You'll do fine!" sort, assuring us that we could give good advice about what courses to take. I wasn't worried. That part of advising doesn't seem hard. Everyone needs to take English Comp and a foreign language. Everyone needs math, science, and civ. For the students who have picked a major, you check the catalog for what it requires. For the ones who haven't, you tell them to take some electives that will help them decide on a major. All the rules are in the catalog. We have access to a computer system that prints out which requirements the student still needs to fulfill and a list of courses that will count. Not hard.

While I am an absolute master at reading the catalog and divining the rules and finding the sneakiest way to double-dip on courses that will fulfill requirements*, the part of advising that I will probably suck at is the part that we don't receive any training on. It's the damn small talk. You're supposed to ask them where they're from. Find out how their courses are. Feign interest in their sorority. Pretend that it's a completely natural thing to want to spend Saturdays in a hideous concrete structure penned up with more people than live in the captial of New York. You're supposed to tell the kid with 80 credit hours of lower division work and no two courses in the same department that he can find a major and complete it and graduate. Pretty much, it's a big farce about pretending that 18-year-olds who have no interest in anything intellectual can and should pursue a fairly classical education (with very broad gen-ed and distribution requirements) instead of getting a two-year degree in a vocational program. I'm not sure that I can pretend to care about them as people while also pushing a four-year degree that they aren't really suited for. We'll see how it goes. I'm not going to let it bother me too much, especially since I'm getting paid $3000 to do it (and it counts as base salary, so I'll get an extra $300 in my retirement account, too).

*When I was an undergraduate, I managed to avoid the senior residence requirement without a petition. All seniors at Dartmouth College are required to have a D-Plan such that they attend Fall, Winter, and Spring terms of their senior years -- even if they have enough credits to graduate at the end of the winter. I attended only one term of my last year (completely legally) due to a careful reading of the ORC.