Editorials

Editorial: First-year advising system must be strengthened

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Building relationships between students and faculty members is crucial to maximizing the college experience. Indeed, most universities can proudly boast of their deep advising programs, many of which consist of some form of an established network between a first-year, a faculty adviser and possibly an appointed upperclassman. Theoretically, Brown features such a model, reflected by its own first-year Advising and Meiklejohn programs. As the University stakes its claim to fame on its liberal curriculum, deep and well-functioning advising programs are one of the paramount conditions to unlock all of the benefits of such an open academic environment. This is most important for our first-years, who are the major recipients of the Brown advising effort. Despite this, we question whether the entire first-year advising program is in fact among the weakest and most inefficient programs the University has to offer.

Though the freedom afforded by the Open Curriculum necessitates continuous feedback and guidance from other students, faculty members and administrators, the first-year advising program boasts at best a hit-or-miss success rate. Though exceptions exist, it is incredibly difficult for first-year students to get to know their advisers, especially if they do not share academic interests. And though Brown’s laissez-faire nature may mean students should assume the responsibility to build relationships with their advisers, a well-run advising program should reconcile academic freedom with solid guidance. Currently, we do not believe that the program is at such an equilibrium.

It is no secret that some first-year advisers do not put forth full effort to fulfill their part in the advising relationship. When first-year advising is at its very worst, the “continuous feedback” prescribed by the University’s official advising description translates only into the periodic exchange of PIN numbers needed to register for classes, while “engagement with many kinds of teachers on campus” turns into a series of superficial relationships. We cannot cast blame on any one party. After all, advising relationships need a strong effort on all sides. But a first-year advising experience can set the tone for subsequent advising relationships at Brown. Consequently, first-years should not finish their spring semesters disillusioned about their opportunities to build relationships with faculty members.

Brown’s efforts to remedy first-year advising have also been unsubstantial. Programs like the Curricular Advising Program seem effective only when the class itself is relevant to the advisee’s academic interests: It seems unrealistic that students would select a CAP for the sole purpose of getting to better know their adviser. The sporadic intensity of first-year advising — with several events at the beginning and few at the end — is also ineffective. Instead, the University should focus on hosting more concrete advising events throughout the year.

We believe Brown’s system of academic freedom and experimentation can only be effective if supplemented by strong advising. Though we want a much more engaged effort from any faculty members who also serve as advisers, we also acknowledge that clearly delineated values and appropriate incentives must be established to build the most effective advising system. If this current advising system continues to be the norm, we worry that the general apathy regarding first-year advising will only continue to grow.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Rachel Occhiogrosso, and its members, Daniel Jeon, Hannah Loewentheil and Thomas Nath. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

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