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Survey Says Advising Lags

Lewis calls improvement 'disappointingly slow'

By David C. Newman, Crimson Staff Writer

Undergraduates continue to be largely unsatisfied with the quality of concentration advising, according to a survey of the Class of 2001 that was discussed at Friday’s meeting of the Standing Committee on Advising and Counseling.

On a scale from 1 to 5, last year’s seniors rated their advising experience 2.83 on average. The figure, after two years of Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators’ close attention to the problem of poor advising, is up only slightly from 2.78 for the Class of 1999.

“The overall improvement in advising across the College has been disappointingly slow,” wrote Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 in a memorandum to the committee.

Though overall satisfaction rates have gone up slightly, seven of the 10 larger departments with the lowest satisfaction rates saw their numbers drop lower since the 1999 survey.

In contrast, the four large departments whose concentrators were most satisfied in 2001—literature, history and literature, chemistry and environmental science and public policy—made the four greatest improvements from 1999.

Lewis has often said that unwillingness to improve advising is ingrained in the culture of a department—a contention that seems to be supported by the survey data indicating that increased attention to concentration advising has resulted in the relatively rich getting richer.

“It’s not surprising that the departments that are getting better are the ones that have really tried,” said Lowell House Master Diana L. Eck, who is a member of the committee.

Although Lewis offered grant money to several large departments to help them improve their subpar advising, not all accepted the handout, according to committee member Michael A. Blaustein ’02. Government, for instance, turned down the money, saying the department had recently accepted a grant for advising and felt that insufficient funds were not the problem.

Satisfaction among government concentrators fell to 2.44 in 2001 from 2.57 in 1999, a fact that irked Lewis, Blaustein said.

While the economics department—often derided for its poor advising record—improved only modestly from 2.12 in 1999 to 2.26 in 2001, the department managed to crawl out of the cellar. Seniors in applied mathematics students were the least-satisfied this year, with economics concentrators the second-unhappiest with their concentration advising.

Though Lewis wrote in his memo that “the problems of implementing systematic changes in such large departments is quite daunting,” he said he was optimistic about efforts made by the economics department to improve its advising.

Blaustein said economics is making efforts to do small things like publicizing professors’ office hours.

“It seems obvious,” he said, “but it’s an indication of just how far some departments have to go.”

Committee members said they discussed many ideas for increasing student satisfaction with advising.

Lewis said that more might be done within Houses, such as pairing up sophomores and seniors in the same concentration so sophomores might receive more informal guidance.

Eck said she suggested that more Houses use their Senior Common Room (SCR) members to advise students. Professors in the Lowell SCR are matched with sophomores with similar interests—and the House is beginning to emphasize that those interests could be academic.

While Lewis was disappointed by the survey results, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz cautioned against concluding too soon that recent advising reforms have been unsuccessful.

“It is useful to get feedback from students, but it will be hard to judge the success of some of these new ventures until students have moved through the concentration completely under the new regime,” Wolcowitz wrote in an e-mail.

—Staff writer David C. Newman can be reached at dnewman@fas.harvard.edu.

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