Friday, July 26, 2013

The Bad Advisor


Not really, I hope.

I have this advisee who's trying to do a special programming thing, not unique, but not super common, either. 

The thing is, there are complications.

So zie has been emailing me this summer, not tons, but fairly regularly, asking for help with this or that.  These are the sorts of things I can advise on, but don't have power to change, and probably not the knowledge to make a decision to change.  So I've been emailing back, answering and so on, even though I'm not on contract, and should have just emailed right away that I'm not on contract so zie needs to contact the chair.

For example, zie wants to count a thing there for a requirement here.  The transfer office said no, it wasn't close enough to the same.  So zie emailed me, and I said, it sounds like the transfer office said no, so no.  Then zie emailed me again, couldn't I make it count anyway?  And I emailed my chair and so forth, because I don't have that authority. 

The mistake I made was that I didn't also email zie telling hir that I'd emailed the chair to ask for follow up.  And that was a mistake because zie got impatient and emailed the chair and so forth.  And the so forth answered, and said, no, because it wasn't close enough.

So now my advisee has totally given up on me, and has emailed various deanlings, asking for help resolving this problem.

And dutifully, the chair and the deanlings have been copying me on their responses.

At one point in this process, the student apparently emailed several faculty members, asking if they'd do on-line independent studies this coming semester, so that zie could do specific requirements while at this special program.  I don't know if zie got responses, but I'm guessing they either said no or didn't respond (because people are on vacation and out of town working on stuff, and so on).  So zie emailed me asking for help setting up independent studies.  And when I said, well, you can email faculty, but since we all feel pretty overworked, it's unlikely anyone will be able to take on the additional work of designing and organizing another class. 

So then the student emailed the chair basically asking hir for help with the independent studies.  And the chair responded pretty much as I had (and cc'd me in the response).

I'm sure from the student's point of view, we all look like obstructionist walls who don't want to help hir accomplish hir goals.  From the tone of the emails, zie sounds increasingly frustrated.

But from our point of view, things look different.  Zie is asking for special help with these requirements because zie hasn't previously completed the requirements.  There are a lot of reasons for that level of incompletion, but it isn't that the requirements were insane or suddenly imposed without warning.

The upshot, though, is that I look like a crappy advisor (because, hey, it's all about me!).  My advisee hasn't done some basic stuff we expect, stuff most students should have finished by this point in their careers here. 

And while I know that the chair and deanlings know that advisors can't force their students to do anything, I think they will still tend to think that I'm a crappy advisor because my student is emailing them with problems zie shouldn't be having, and that I should be able to solve somehow without them having to be bothered.


  1. Honestly, the others won't see you as a bad advisor, but they will see the student as someone who's putting her own failure to handle the requirement earlier onto everyone else's shoulders. . . .

  2. I agree with Janice.

    I also make the argument regularly to my colleagues that we can't keep offering independent studies to students who didn't take a requirement when ze was supposed to and now need it to graduate in a semester, or grant special independent studies because someone wants to be exempt from a requirement (we had one person develop an individual major to avoid taking one of our classes because ze didn't think the course was relevant).

    I sounds like what the student sees as a problem isn't really a problem; ze just wants things done hir way, which can't happen. That sucks for hir, but it's not a reflection on you. If anything, I imagine people are sympathizing with you not blaming you.

  3. Janice and ToK are right. This kind of behavior just creates the impression that zie is a PitA, even at foofy coddling little liberal arts colleges.

  4. I'm with everyone else here. IF this student has "given up" on you, I'd count that as a good thing!

    If this student wants a personally-tailored curriculum, ze either needs to go to an elite SLAC like Hampshire College, or ze needs to vote for pols who actually will support your state's universities with the amount of funding this kind of education requires. (Or, maybe just listen to you and do the requirements everyone else has to do.)