We Aim to Please...
The Freshman Dean's Office Evaluates Its Performance
Tuesday night, the Freshman Dean's Office picked up proctor-adviser evaluation questionnaires from the Class of '83. On a scale from one to five, freshmen answered queries like, "How often has your proctor sought you out?" and rated amount and quality of help their advisers provided in clarifying their career goals. Susan W. Lewis, associate dean of freshmen, will pore over the stacks of forms, synopsize the comments for each proctor, and analyze the results. The 94-per-cent response will give the FDO its most scientific indication of its performance this year.
But what exactly is the FDO's function? Students certainly hold different opinions on its role in the University's administrative structure. One freshman recently termed it "An unnecessary, bureaucratic, paternalistic institution." "An innocuous, friendly bunch of people," his Freshman Union dinnermate disagreed.
"We're the nexus of an advising network," Henry C. Moses, dean of freshmen says, weighing each word. "We join communication cables among advisers and share each others' information."
Moses lists the programs under the FDO's auspices: the freshman outdoor program, freshman week orientation, lectures and discussions in the Union, intramurals, the freshman council, concentration selection meetings and, of course, the proctorial and advising system. In the last three years, since all freshmen have been housed in the Yard, the FDO has had to deal with what Henry C. Moses, dean of freshman, terms a "tough philosophical question." "Is the level of panic higher if the community's entirely frosh? I don't know," he concedes. Though he says Harvard "has two freshman years in effect," Moses thinks most freshmen appreciate the chance to get to know people in their class. "They know they're not alone, and it's easy to meet upperclassmen," he adds.
But despite the nearly 200 letters Moses has received from freshmen applauding the housing policy, many other freshmen find the FDO inadequate in meeting their needs. "Nothing is sufficient, Moses sighs. "There will always be times a freshman needs to know something and we can't offer adequate advice. The point is to diminish the number of such situations." And Moses concedes the FDO gets mixed results for its efforts. "Some days I think there's no place else where such good stuff is happening. Other days, it feels like the back of my hand," he says.
The FDO selects 25 proctors from approximately 115 applicants each year. Despite efforts at publicity, however, the applicant pool has not grown in the last few years. Ellen Porter, former senior adviser and now a proctor, surmises that shrinking Graduate School of Arts and Sciences enrollment, coupled with an increasing reluctance on the part of graduate students to devote private time to proctoring, is responsible for the limited number of candidates.
While the FDO has worked to improve the design of the proctoring system through increased briefings and monthly meetings with proctors and evaluations such as the year-end survey, Moses says its performance has not necessarily exhibited an upward trend. And Lewis's statistics bear out that presumption; although the ratings have increased for academic advising over the last five years, those for proctors have remained stable.
"It's important that a proctor be seen as a source of stability and sanity. He must be trusted," Moses says. "A good proctor has to be a nurturer--though I hate the term. He is not a neutral resource." Many students, however, feel that proctors are best seen as a neutral resource. "My proctor was stoned all the time, and he dealt drugs. But he had a moral code--he wouldn't deal to any of his proctees," one sophomore recalls. Another says, "Our proctor got engaged in the middle of the year--after that, she wasn't worth dealing with."
The best a proctor can do when faced with a situation he can't handle, FDO administrators admit, is refer a student to a support service, or to a higher authority such as a senior adviser. "If there's ever a question, the FDO is here with the answers," Moses says.
As senior advisers evaluate the proctors performance, proctors report on their charges in turn. At the year's end, they write a letter about each student, which becomes a part of his file. Although Moses says he assumes most proctors inform their proctees of the letter, many randomly questioned freshmen and upperclassmen say they did not know such a procedure existed.
Moses points out the difficulty a proctor faces when confronted with the job. "It's a conflicting role--he has to be a neighbor, a friend, a representative of the University, a keeper of order and an adviser." The office prepares proctors and advisers for these duties in two half-day sessions, where they are blitzed with information. But Porter says a new proctor or adviser will not be able to offer adequate counseling if he chooses to depend only on the information provided by the FDO. "If a proctor supplements the initiative with his own initiative, it is definitely enough," Porter says, adding, "The best training is having gone through it once. So much is trial and error."
Even if resident and non-resident proctors and advisers are equipped with adequate information, Porter says, forwarding particular advice "is a tricky thing." As Lewis says, "I hope people aren't in the business of telling people what to do." Porter and senior advisers James D. Mayer and Evangeline M. Morphos all echo the necessity to avoid pontificating to freshmen. "It's authoritative advice--the best the University can come up with for freshmen," Moses says, adding that dogmatic advice "is a danger to be guarded against."
And although there may be a tendency to blandly accept a proctor or adviser's suggestions, Porter says, "Very rarely is a proctor's advice considered gospel."
The FDO tries to keep a tight rein on advising. While Moses says he considers "informal, off the cuff advice a precious resource," he is disturbed with "the premise that it's going to provide the best advice." The upperclassmen who work on the Freshman Task Force receive training from the FDO.
"We're an organized service providing packaged advice--people are trained, evaluated and fired," Moses says. Beyond the task force, though, there is no formal upperclass advising. Moses disliked Students Helping Students--an organization formed last year matching upperclassmen and freshmen according to interest--because of its "initial grandiosity." But Porter sees a need for as many sources of advice as possible: "Anything more is good."
So the FDO toils on, trying to improve its advising network by coordination and design.
"In my view, the intelligent person can't accept advice--he must struggle with it," Moses says. "Proctors are there to prove people can survive Harvard and be human beings. But the ideal is pretty elusive." Lewis says, "Our goals are not particularly surprising. We try to get everybody to do better on everything." Each summer, Lewis compiles 100 pages of materials submitted by departments and offices into a freshman advising handbook. But all FDO members say the handbook does not insure that freshmen will receive good guidance.