John Richard Schrock is a Professor of Biology and Director of Biology Education at ESU
Advising has been central to this university’s “changing lives since 1863.”
Each year my department gets letters from retiring alumni who are looking back over their lives. They remember coming to college as uncertain freshmen and being taken under the arm of specific professors who are now gone. They were not certain of their field of study. We worked with them as they made career decisions because we were experienced in those fields. When some were uncertain they could succeed, we steered them through the best path of courses for them to build their intellectual skills and confidence. We pressed them into student societies. We cajoled them into attending and presenting at conferences.
Oftentimes their letters come with a check inside, targeted to continuing the scholarships and supporting the departmental activities that changed their lives.
Such care-of-students is more common in small liberal arts colleges—rare in big public universities. But it is what has made Emporia State unique. And just as we benefit today from the good will that was generated by caring professors a generation ago, it is critical for today’s professors to be able to continue to mentor students for success in a rigorous program of which they can be proud. And someday, long after we are gone, they will retire and look back and be proud to support an institution that carries on this tradition.
Professors teach, research and serve the academic community. Advising is part-and-parcel of teaching, written into the faculty handbook as an academic faculty responsibility, and therefore not to be changed without faculty consultation.
It is therefore distressing to see proposals to reduce advising to a task placed in the hands of computers and non-academic advisors.
I have had many undergraduate students transfer from a large university such as KU and be surprised but pleased that at ESU they actually had an advisor who knew something about their field. They were accustomed to secretaries with a catalog or computer who clicked out the next set of available required classes. And in the last few years, they were merely handed their PIN and told to “go enroll yourself.” In both cases, this often cost them lost semesters because the computer system did not tell them that a required next class was not being offered some semester. Nor did they get scheduling advice tailored to their performance in prior classes.
Our recent consultant was clueless about ESU advising when he mentioned academic advising could be shunted to computer self-enrollment, leaving faculty social “advising” to just focus on a Friday afternoon tea with their advisee. Advising in most fields is intimately centered around helping unique students who are willing to study hard to achieve their degree. That is an academic task; it is no tea party.
Some departments have a single degree program and few prerequisites. If they do not feed to a professional program, a hired advisor does minimal harm.
But my department has 23 career paths and 13 faculty, each with specialty knowledge. Faculty involve their advisees in unique experiences. Many of my colleagues travel to schools we feed (so our pre-Vet program continues to align with veterinary school at KSU, etc.). And our graduates often keep in contact with us long after they have left. Their feeling that they are “our” students after they leave is based on many years of working together here, not on Friday chit-chat.
If you wanted to sabotage ESU’s ability to change students’ lives, there is no better way than cutting out the heart of faculty-student advising and making it a mechanical process with generic advisors.