When one group of freshmen sat down with their faculty adviser for the first time three weeks ago, the conversation did not revolve around Yale College academics. Instead, the freshmen patiently listened as their adviser talked about another topic — bookstores around Harvard.
“Faculty advising at Yale is pretty worthless, if you ask me,” said one of the group’s freshmen, who asked to remain anonymous. “It just doesn’t seem to accomplish very much. The particular faculty advisers don’t know very much about a lot of the subjects or the requirements.”
In addition to questioning the usefulness of the faculty advising system, some freshmen have complained about the lack of communication with advisers and the quality of the advice they receive. But other freshmen said they believed the faculty advising system was helpful during their first few weeks at Yale.
In addition to faculty advisers, freshman counselors and residential college deans can give freshmen academic advice. While some freshmen believe having a variety of sources for advice is an advantage, others said they have received contradictory pieces of advice that can result in confusion.
Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said inadequacies in the freshman advising system may be a result of an advising culture that focuses too much on paperwork and not enough on the larger academic picture.
“The trouble at Yale and every other school like it is that advising tends to get localized around schedule-signing time so it turns into a bureaucratic exercise,” Brodhead said. “The best kind of advising would be a deep and cautious discussion of the question ‘How are you building your education?'”
Some students said the root of the problem with freshmen faculty advising is the lack of communication between students and their advisers. While the relationship often depends on the individuals, students and professors said the current structure does not facilitate much communication between the two parties.
“There is no such thing as academic advising here at Yale,” Beatrice Amaya ’06 said. “I had to pick out my courses, I had to design my schedule, and not once did my faculty adviser help me.”
Ethnic counselor Richard Nobles ’03 said he has received mixed reviews about the faculty advising system from his freshmen, but added that the fault does not lie entirely with professors.
“I think the burden falls on both parties,” Nobles said. “Freshmen are very busy, and faculty are also extremely busy. It becomes a job for both people to really establish a connection. — I think freshmen forget about their faculty advisers after their schedules are signed.”
Nobles added that he would like to see faculty advisers take a more proactive approach by sending e-mails to their freshmen throughout the course of the semester.
But physics professor Subir Sachdev, who has met twice with each of his four freshmen advisees, said the responsibility should fall on the freshmen.
“I value the contact with the freshmen and I try to be as available as possible,” Sachder said. “I wish the freshmen were a little less hesitant to contact me on their own. — I’m certainly happy to be there in case I’m needed, but I think we should leave it up to the individual.”
One potential cause for the lack of communication is the disparity between the academic interests of some students and their advisers, said Edward Kamens, a professor of East Asian languages and literatures.
“Beyond a certain point, it becomes difficult for a freshman adviser to give specific advice unless it’s in their own field,” Kamens said.
But Yumiko Sheard ’06 said professors with a variety of academic interests can provide useful advice.
“The faculty advisers are very experienced, and even if they’re not experts in the field you’re interested in, they’re very knowledgeable about how the system works and what you need to take or not take,” Sheard said. “They also supply some advice that the Blue Books don’t give.”
A Solvable Problem?
Although some students expressed discontent with the current system, others said they like the system because it gives students the independence to make their own decisions while giving them the option to seek additional advice.
Freshman counselor Jacqueline Farber ’03 said that independent decision-making is an important part of a freshman’s personal development, and that freshman counselors and faculty advisers are only there to assist the students.
“If a student comes in with the expectation that they’re going to be told what to take, then I think that student will inevitably be disappointed, because that’s not the goal of the program,” Farber said. “The goal of the program is to let them make their own decisions and help them along the way.”
Students at Yale’s peer institutions have also questioned the effectiveness of freshmen academic advising.
“For freshmen, we just have a random person assigned to us and that person stays with us for the course of the year,” Princeton freshman Chris Lloyd said. “I’ve heard positive and negative things. I had a very negative experience with my adviser. It just depends who you get and how you work with that person.”
While Princeton’s system is strikingly similar to Yale’s, Harvard assigns a group of 20 freshmen to one adviser, who is usually a graduate student. The adviser often lives in the dorms with the freshmen and serves a dual purpose as both an academic and residential adviser. Harvard also has a prefect system similar to Yale’s freshman counselor system.
“[My academic adviser] was not especially useful,” Harvard sophomore Emilie FitzMaurice said. “I met with her a couple times during the year and she offered more general advice that your parents can give you. She didn’t really know anything about classes. When I had questions about what classes to take freshman year, there wasn’t anybody to really answer those questions.”
With Yale students and professors agreeing that there is room for improvement in terms of advising, the Brodhead-led Committee on Yale College Education is reviewing the current system, although it has not yet reached any conclusions.