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?