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Saying Goodbye to the BSC, With Reservations

The new Academic Resource Center is located at 1414 Massachusetts Avenue.
The new Academic Resource Center is located at 1414 Massachusetts Avenue. By Quinn G. Perini
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

The launch of Harvard’s new Academic Resource Center, meant to replace the old Bureau of Study Council, will be accompanied by a restructuring of services the BSC used to offer. The biggest differences? Students will no longer pay for one-on-one tutoring — regardless of financial aid status — as the ARC moves to emphasize a group-session format. The ARC also seems to shift away from the BSC’s broader mission of social and emotional academic support.

While we stand behind any move to increase socioeconomic accessibility to academic resources, we also worry that the ARC is neglecting a critical part of the BSC’s mission: giving students advice on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, dealing with high academic workloads, and offering individualized counseling. Emblematic of that shift is that while the BSC used to offer a privacy policy, the ARC does not. On a campus where students feel they’re always performing, losing confidential resources is troubling. It’s essential that the College work to support and maintain the intimate relationships and trust that students have built with counselors and other staff. Moreover, it’s imperative that they continue to provide students, who have not yet developed those relationships, with opportunities to do so. Privacy is one assurance that is critical to that process.

To be sure, the ARC will offer students the opportunity to meet with academic coaches in 30-minute sessions. But the scope is much narrower: Academic coaches will assist in identifying “ideal learning styles,” “customizing [students’] semesters,” planning around concussions, and finding other academic resources, according to the ARC’s website. Academic counselors at the BSC had a mandate aimed to assuage students’ anxieties not only about their academics but about the intersections between their academics and their wider experience of life. As the BSC website noted, in bold no less, “Academic counseling is conversation about life and learning.” The question we have to ask is who is filling that prodigious gap.

At Harvard, many students have a problem less with the actual content of their academic work as with balancing the stresses, social, emotional, and otherwise, of completing that work in a highly competitive and often isolating environment. Between classes, extracurriculars, and the oft-forgotten notion of fun, how should we manage our time? How should we prioritize our efforts, when we have so much to care about and so much we really don’t? And how do we find a sense of purpose and meaning in the piles of articles and lines of code that just keep going? Students don’t need “coaches”; they need counselors.

Helping students deal with those pressures and questions was a vital part of what BSC did and what made it such a special service. It’s a shame to see the University abandon that approach to helping students. We are concerned that abandoning this aspect of the BSC’s mandate in favor of more narrowly defined — though commendably free — academic services will do a disservice to the students who relied on other aspects of the BSC’s support structure.

That said, we are hopeful that the new ARC will deliver free tutoring to students who need it and that increased access will help students achieve higher academic results and perhaps even a healthy work-life balance. To accommodate what may be significantly increased demand for tutoring services given the elimination of fees, the ARC should consider surveying people who used those resources in the past or even tutors who conducted sessions under the BSC, so as to get a better sense of what classes and disciplines they should expect to have the highest demand for tutoring. These efforts should be coupled with diligent work to ensure that the ARC has enough resources to support students in those classes and fields.

As the BSC restructures into ARC, administrators should take advantage of the opportunity to market their changes to both students and tutors. Only by working to hire a comprehensive and academically diverse set of tutors can the ARC hope to achieve its goal of meaningfully increasing access to vital academic resources for students all across the College, regardless of socioeconomic status.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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