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Category Archive for 'Intellectual Life'

At the first faculty meeting of the year, held at the Bread Loaf campus, we traditionally highlight a topic of interest for conversation in small groups. This year, we chose to discuss advising. The topic seemed like a natural follow-up to endorsement of a new senior work requirement; beginning with the class of 2013, all students will be required to complete some form of independent work in their majors. This new requirement highlights the importance that advising will assume as students tackle the challenge of developing a plan over their four years that will culminate in a successful senior project. In addition, results of Middlebury parent surveys suggest that parents rate the advising that their sons and daughters receive somewhat less positively than they do most other aspects of the Middlebury experience.

The conversations that took place at the Bread Loaf meeting about advising suggested (as is often the case) that faculty do not speak with one voice on this issue. Some faculty see no problems with advising as it is: Students seek advice and counsel on a whole range of topics from a wide variety of sources on campus. They talk with their faculty advisors, with other faculty members, with Heads of Commons and Commons Deans, with staff members in many different offices at the College, with their fellow students, with their parents . . . . in other words, students have access to lots of advisors, formal and informal, and they make use of them as they see fit. Students get their needs met, and a faculty advisor is and should be only one source of guidance that students may tap.

Other faculty colleagues take a somewhat different perspective. They are concerned about the changes that have taken place in the nature of faculty/student interactions over the years. Gone are the days of “All College Meeting Night,” a night when faculty in each department and program gathered together with their majors to talk about curricular and staffing developments that were of interest to students. Juniors and seniors no longer need an ‘alternate PIN’ in order to register for classes, which allows them to forego meeting with their advisors before registration. Students regularly pose questions of faculty members via email, eliminating the opportunity for the kind of serendipitous advising that often occurred after a student’s initial question had been asked and answered.

Inevitably, there is truth in both of these perspectives. Students regularly take advantage of the resources available to form important relationships with faculty mentors and others who can and do offer helpful advice. At the same time, there seem to be fewer mandated opportunities for faculty/student meetings dedicated specifically to advising than in the past. So should we be concerned? In order to answer this question, we need to know what students believe about the state of advising at Middlebury. What advising needs go unmet? Where do we fall short? Recognizing that there is enormous variability in the kinds of advice and mentoring that students need and want, what can we as an institution do to facilitate good advising?

Comments welcome.

Mea culpa, at least a little. In my last post, I did not disclose the full contents of the Provost’s office. I did not mention the College Museum (directed by Richard Saunders), the Committee on the Arts and associated operations (chaired/administered by Glenn Andres), the Rohatyn Center (led by Allison Stanger), Environmental Affairs (headed up by Nan Jenks-Jay), the Admissions office (overseen by Bob Clagett), or the office of Off-Campus Study (whose dean, Jeff Cason, also works with Michael Geisler on a variety of international programs).

And I did not mention Library and Information Services, which employs more than 100 staff members. Mea maxima culpa.

To make amends, I asked Mike Roy, our new Dean of LIS, who just arrived from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, to give his first impressions of the College.

I’m Mike Roy. I started at Middlebury this July as the Dean for Library and Information Services. As part of my effort to learn about all things Middlebury (you can see that plan at http://tinyurl.com/first100days), I had lunch with many of the students who work at LIS over the summer. One of them asked me (in the nicest of ways): “So, what is your job, anyway?”

I said that I go to meetings. I then muttered some stuff about how I try to make sure that the work of LIS is aligned with the goals of the college, how I work on budget and planning to make sure that we have the resources we need to do the work we are asked to do, and work on management and organizational questions to make sure that we use those resources as effectively and efficiently as possible. Before I could say much more, I noticed that a glazed look had come over his previously inquiring face.

“That sounds fascinating” he said.

“What’s your favorite department in the library?” he then asked. I wasn’t sure if this might not be a trick question. Did he want me to say that I liked our collection development area more than I liked circulation? Or was he wondering if I preferred American literature over the Reference section? I hedged. I told him that all areas had fascinating aspects to them, but that for me, probably the most interesting question surrounding the work we do in the library (and in technology) is how that work will change given all of the changes that we are living through. What will happen to our video and audio collections when vast collections become available for download over the web? What will happen to our monograph collecting habits as more and more publishers move to electronic formats? As tools like Google Scholar mature and proliferate, what role will the library website play in the research habits of our students?

He listened politely, but it wasn’t clear to me that these were issues that spoke to him, since these were questions that concerned the professional identities and futures of those of us who work in this area, and even though he worked in the library as a student worker, he had no particular reason to find these questions relevant to him. And that’s understandable.

I organized this lunch as a way of signaling to our students that I am very interested in building relationships with them, as a means of understanding how Middlebury students use our services, our facilities, and our materials to do their academic work. As we plan out the future of classrooms, computer labs, study spaces, the college website, the distribution of software, the network, reference and instruction, our library collections, and all of the other things that we do, we need to find ways to understand the student perspective on these matters. It is a challenge to figure out ways to gain that understanding, since often the only voices we hear from are the voices of the discontented. Over the course of the year, we’ll be trying out various ways to gain a fuller perspective: surveys, focus groups, observation, and more formal advisory groups that can help to ensure that we have regular two-way communication between students and LIS.

One simple experiment that we’ve just launched is a suggestion box/blog (at http://sites.middlebury.edu/lissuggestions/) , which we are using to provide a public space to ask questions, make comments, and offer friendly suggestions. We’re hoping to respond in some fashion to all questions, at least at the start of this. Suggestions can be emailed to LISSuggestions@middlebury.edu.

If you have thoughts about how we can improve our services to best meet your particular needs, please do try out the blog. If you have thoughts about how we can create better communication channels to make sure that we evolve our services with regular input from students (our only paying customers!), let me know by sending me an email (mdroy@middlebury.edu) or set up a time for us to meet to discuss.

– mike


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