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Advising Remains Subpar, Survey Says

By David C. Newman, Crimson Staff Writer

The results of the Class of 2001 survey about advising are in, and according to Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68, the numbers show that subpar academic advice at the College is not improving.

“[The results are] not very encouraging about progress in the quality of advising, especially in some of the larger departments,” Lewis said last week.

The Committee on Advising and Counseling will discuss the survey data at its meeting this Friday, said Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz.

Lewis said the data—collected from seniors last spring—will be made public next Monday.

The advising survey, given to every other senior class, asks students whether their advising conversations included discussions of their academic interests and appropriate classes to take and whether they were able to get their questions answered quickly.

The survey of the Class of 1999 showed a 6 percent drop from the Class of 1997 in students who said their academic interests were discussed and also in the percentage of students who said they were advised as to what classes to take.

Large departments and the social sciences have fared worst in this survey in the past. For instance, the number of government concentrators who answered “yes” to the “appropriate courses” question dropped from an already low 53 percent in 1997 to 34 percent in 1999.

The economics department performed even worse than government in the 1999 survey on the other two questions, with affirmative answers to the “academic interests” question falling from 48 percent in 1997 to 31 percent in 1999.

The 2001 survey shows economics having fallen considerably behind government in student satisfaction with advising, indicated Bell Professor of Economics Jeffrey G. Williamson, who is the director of undergraduate education in the economics department.

Williamson said the department has in the past tried to justify its poor showings in the survey by citing its size and large student-faculty ratio.

“For a long time the department has made excuses,” he said.

But now, he said, those old excuses won’t fly.

“There are big departments like government that do better,” he said. “That’s a reason for optimism.”

Williamson also noted that for the first time in the history of the economics department, his position—director of undergraduate education, or “head tutor”—is held by a senior Faculty member.

“This is our way of signaling we’re getting serious,” he said. Although Williamson may not be able to overhaul concentration advising overnight, “at least I can rattle cages,” he said.

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

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