University News

Dean accessibility reduces academic warnings

Staff Writer
Thursday, December 6, 2012


The total number of students placed on serious warning by the Committee on Academic Standing has declined from an average of 252 students each academic year from 2000-01 to 2005-06 to an average of 188 students each year from 2007-08 to 2011-12, according to the Committee on Academic Standing’s annual report released this month. 

The report also noted that the number of students placed on academic suspension declined from an average of about 38 to 26 students. But the suspension rate of students placed on serious warning increased slightly from 6.7 to 7.3 percent. Students are placed on warning, serious warning or suspension for failing to complete the required number of courses given their semester level, with the specific classification depending on the extent to which they have fallen behind.

Stephen Lassonde, deputy dean of the College and chair of the Committee on Academic Standing, attributed the decline to more active and frequent communication with students to help them stay in good academic standing.

Deans have increased their office hours by 75 percent since 2007, he said, now collectively offering over 40 office hours per week to students seeking advising. 

“Students kept saying that University Hall was intimidating,” Lassonde said. “Now we also meet in places like the Nelson Fitness Center and Third World Center so that students can feel more comfortable about seeking help.”

Lassonde also said it helps significantly that students now provide their cell phone numbers online through Banner.

“(Academic warning) is a message that needs to be redundant,” he said. “We try to get the message to students through as many avenues as possible, now including calling them on their cell phones.”

Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron also credited Banner pre-registration to the decline. In the years before Banner was created in 2007, hundreds of students would fail to register for classes after the add/drop period was over, she said.

There have not been any retroactive course registration requests for the last three years, according to the Committee on Academic Standing’s report. 

“When you have an open curriculum, it’s important for students to plan,” Bergeron said. “Banner helps students develop good planning skills.”

The Committee on Academic Standing reviews each student’s individual case, Lassonde said. Before a student is suspended, he or she gets a letter to meet with a dean and is contacted around three times, he added. 

“Having conversations with students is making a difference,” he said. 

“The reorientation of our staffing toward outreach to students has had a tremendous effect,” Bergeron said. “We used to have students return from serious warning requiring them to have an advising relationship with a dean, but many never took that opportunity, and so they never got the help they needed.” Students on serious warning can avoid suspension by taking courses over the summer, according to the Dean of the College website.

The addition of the serious warning category in 2009 in lieu of suspension also helped students, Bergeron said. 

“In some cases, we realize that a student may benefit from a second chance,” she said. 

Advising, tutoring programs and study skills workshops have made a difference as well, Bergeron said.

“Sometimes we come to the conclusion that a student needs to be away for a while, and that’s not a bad thing,” Lassonde said. “Students have said it was the best thing that ever happened to them.”  

Students’ time away from school can help them sort out problems or personal issues and acquire new skills to help them succeed when they return to school, he added.

Lassonde said the Committee on Academic Standing will continue its efforts to reach out to students more, though “it’s hard to say how much more we can reduce it.”

“We believe that each student at Brown is truly special, and we’re dedicated to helping students achieve their full potential,” Bergeron said. “We’re glad to see that some efforts seem to be allowing more students achieve that.”

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  1. This is bizarre. If Brown’s applicant pool is self-selective to begin with, and given the 9% admit rate, to have hundreds of students each year on serious warning shows that the admissions office is failing in its job in some way. So, questions…… Do the Deans notice some pattern among these students on serious warning? Is the admissions office curious about such a thing? Is the admissions office remotely interested in feedback, if there is any? Did Ruth Simmons lead the Deans and the admissions office to talk to each other? Is Christina Paxson doing that too? Or, is Brown University really a collection of silo columns?

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