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Peer Advising Fellows Instructed to Limit Academic Advising

Smith Campus Center
The Advising Programs Office, which recently announced changes to the freshman advising system, is housed in the Smith Campus Center.

Harvard College’s Advising Programs Office has instructed Peer Advising Fellows to not offer directive academic advice to freshmen and to instead refer students to their freshman advisers — a change some veteran PAFs say limits their ability to help freshmen.

PAFs are upperclassmen who advise freshmen about life at Harvard. Advising Programs Office Director Anne Marie E. Sousa and Assistant Director Brooks B. Lambert-Sluder ’05, who oversees the PAF program, announced the change to returning PAFs during their pre-semester trainings in May and to new PAFs in August.

Sousa told PAFs the shift comes in conjunction with plans to pilot more intensive training for freshman advisers, according to Brandon M. Martinez ’20, a PAF.

Freshman advisers are typically Harvard faculty and staff who meet with freshmen to discuss academics. Some freshman advisers are otherwise unaffiliated with the College — they may work in the University’s other schools. In past years, their varying backgrounds and limited knowledge of the College’s curriculum faced student scrutiny.

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Several of those present at the May training said a contentious question-and-answer period followed Sousa’s announcement. Some PAFs questioned whether academic advisers would be able to provide sufficient guidance to freshmen and said they did not think PAFs gave directive advice.

College spokesperson Aaron M. Goldman declined to comment on Sousa and Lambert-Sluder’s behalf.

Martinez said he thinks many PAFs responded negatively to the change because they believe the change had been made without their input.

“The biggest [concern] was that there would be a net loss for students who, despite the changes that people made to the advising network, wouldn’t have a strong adviser,” he said. “[Sousa and Lambert-Sluder] said that’s valid, and it could happen, but we don’t expect that it will. I don’t think that necessarily satisfied people.”

Claira Janover ’20, who works as a PAF, said she thinks PAFs previously served as a central resource for freshmen confused by the array of resources available to them.

“There was a very big pushback from returning PAFs,” she said. “It’s very hard for first years when they don't know anything to not have a streamlined resource, which is supposed to be your PAF.”

Janover and other PAFs said the APO directed them to point freshmen with academic concerns toward their freshman advisers or individual academic departments. Several PAFs said they worry some advisers may not be as well-equipped as PAFs to answer questions about day-to-day academic concerns.

Kaitlyn M. Greta ’20, said she believes her fellow PAFs’ experiences as Harvard students may help them advise freshmen better than other advisers.

“I worry because academic advisers are notoriously not knowledgeable about the nitty-gritty of the academic system in a way that students are because we've gone through it,” she said.

Despite the pushback, Jenna D. Lang ’21 — a current PAF — said she does not think the change will significantly impact how she interacts with her advisees.

“I don’t think the advice I’ve given has really changed,” she said. “But I think I’ve added into my little course spiel the importance of getting multiple perspectives, especially because I know that academic advisers have a wide range of experience and knowledge about the curriculum.”

—Staff writer Shera S. Avi-Yonah can be reached at shera.avi-yonah@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @saviyonah.

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at delano.franklin@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter at @delanofranklin_.

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