Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Rules and Advising

I saw a student today for informal advising. I'm not the student's advisor, but I was asked, and I'm around, so there we are. (Nope, the contract period hasn't started yet, so this was a freebie. You're welcome, State of Northwoods.)

We talked about this, and we talked about that. I tried to make some suggestions to help the student find hir way. Happily, the student was pleasant and the questions not troubling or really worrisome.

Except for one thing that really bothered me. The student's regular advisor gave hir some wrong information about a university rule, and it was something the advisor really should know (though it's weird enough that a student would have difficulty finding it out without guidance). But this is a rule that's common to every college or university whose catalog I've ever looked at, and it's always about the same thing and means the same thing. I would be willing to bet ten bucks that any four year college catalog you look at would have this rule, right in the first section of the catalog. It's that central.

Of course, I tried to tactfully explain that the issue is complex, and confuses lots of people, here's what the rule means. It means X and not Y. It's trying to make sure that students do Z before getting a degree from this school.

The good thing is that the real rule is very freeing for most students rather than restrictive, so this student gets to apply to do something really cool now.

Yes, I know advising isn't exactly a glamourous part of faculty life. (I'm still trying to find the glamourous part. Any ideas?) But still, you need to take it seriously, learn the major/minor advising information, learn the ins and outs of the school you work for, and learn the basic rules that govern academics.

And mostly, you have to put the student's interests forefront. That doesn't mean you sign off on everything, but that you try to figure out how to make the system work for the people who come for an education.


  1. I've come to like advising (especially now that I am not advising 112 students, which I think was my top load, back when I was the sole advisor for English majors): it's tedious, sometimes, but I like getting to know the majors close up; and I do like helping them make the system work.

  2. i'm a big fan of advising -- and its cousins, consultation and brainstorming, which also work outside the academic field. i think it is good, actually, for students and professionals to hear different points of view. one advisor may have experiences or insights the other doesn't.

    it sounds like the disturbing part was hearing that the student had gotten bad advice from the regular advisor. that could mean the regular advisor is sloppy, which is a problem. it also could be that the student misunderstood or didn't want to hear it the first time -- sometimes that happens, too.

    when i supervised people giving advice, this kind of thing came up from time to time. a supervisor could talk to the person in a non-judgmental way to find out if there is a different side to the story. and, it never hurts to have a meeting or training or whatever to clarify/discuss the confusing rule in question. just thoughts.