Faculty Back Expansion of Advising

Professors expressed broad approval for bolstering and expanding pre-concentration advising at a meeting of the full Faculty yesterday, with many advocating more informal interaction between advisors and students over meals and in the Houses.

Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 also announced at the meeting that Monique Rinere, currently a residential college dean at Princeton, will become the College’s first Associate Dean of Advising Programs in February.

Professors in attendance emphasized, in accordance with the recommendation of the Harvard College Curricular Review’s Committee on Advising and Counseling, that all faculty be involved in some part of the advising process.

However, empty chairs dotted the room and only about 85 professors attended the meeting. This represents a sharp decline in attendance compared to earlier in the year, when curricular review discussions on concentrations and general education filled University Hall’s Faculty Room to near capacity.

Ford Professor of the Social Sciences and Advising Committee Chair David Pilbeam introduced his committee’s report, which was released in May but not discussed by the full Faculty until yesterday.

The report recommends that all faculty participate in undergraduate advising, particularly freshman advising; that concentrations put more resources toward pre-concentration advising; and that the College establish the position of Associate Dean of Advising.

Pilbeam said at yesterday’s meeting that compared to that of peer institutions, Harvard’s current advising system is inadequate to meeting students’ needs.

“When students rate their advising experience, we do relatively very poorly,” he said.

Several professors said that the College has not historically placed enough emphasis on faculty advising, and that for the new advising efforts to succeed, Harvard’s advising culture must change.

Professor of Biological Oceanography and Pforzheimer House Master James J. McCarthy, who has taught at Harvard since 1974, said that “no dean has ever told me that advising is one of my duties.”

And Dillon Professor of International Affairs Jorge I. Domínguez said that in his 34 years on the Faculty, he had only been asked twice by a dean to advise undergraduates.

But Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby said that the College is ready for a recommitment to student advising, and highlighted that yesterday’s meeting was the first Faculty meeting in recent memory devoted exclusively to student advising.

And Loeb Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology David G. Mitten said that he has in fact been approached by deans many times to participate in student advising. Mitten, who said he now has three advisees a year, added that he had previously been asked to shoulder a heavier advising load.

“But then there was a freshman dean who would give me all the difficult cases, the legacy cases,” he said, adding that after some of them failed, “I said no.”

Three house masters—McCarthy, Lowell House Master and Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society Diana L. Eck, and Cabot House Master and Wolfson Professor of Jewish Studies Jay M. Harris—said that advising should be moved to more informal settings, particularly the Houses, where both students and faculty will feel more comfortable interacting with each other.

“We have to think about how to move advising to where the people gather,” Eck said.

Saltonstall Professor of History Charles S. Maier said that as the advising initiatives move forward, professors must ensure proper training for the advisors.

“I have a question adopted from the classics: Who advises the advisors?” Maier said. He noted that without specialized training, many professors would likely be ill-equipped to offer career advice or to evaluate the merits of other professors in the classroom.

As he has done at every Faculty meeting this fall, University President Lawrence H. Summers asked Kirby to lead the discussion and did not offer his own opinion on the review. In the wake of professors’ no confidence vote in his leadership last March, Summers has ceased all formal involvement with the review.

Also at yesterday’s meeting, Gross announced that Quincy House Co-Masters Robert P. Kirshner, who is the Clowes professor of science, and Jayne Loader, will be taking a sabbatical in 2006-2007. Gross said the College is currently taking applications for acting house master.

—Staff writer William C. Marra can be reached at wmarra@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Sara E. Polsky can be reached at polsky@fas.harvard.edu.