YCC to survey effect of frosh advisers

The Yale College Council is set to launch a survey today investigating whether there is widespread discontent with Yale’s current system of freshman advising among undergraduates.

As the YCC’s investigation kicks off, the Yale College Faculty Committee on Teaching, Learning and Advising is in the middle of a similar inquiry into all aspects of the University’s advising infrastructure for undergraduates. Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs George Levesque, who oversees freshman faculty advising, said he would welcome the YCC’s investigation as a supplement to the administration’s own efforts to evaluate the system. But Levesque said he does not think the system will be overhauled significantly.

“We agree that there are problems but we also need to be realistic about what we can accomplish,” he said. “I will be surprised if [the YCC] discover[s] anything that we don’t already know about the strengths and weaknesses of the current system.”

The YCC’s survey will ask students how often they meet with their freshman adviser, how helpful they have found their adviser and where else they seek academic advice. It will be a section of a larger policy survey to be sent out today.

YCC Representative Tomas Rua ’10 said he suspects many freshmen get the majority of their academic advice from freshman counselors, who are not trained to serve in such an advisory role.

“It really feels like Yale is on the back end of freshman advising programs,” YCC Secretary Jasper Wang ’10 said. “We’re going to back that up with quantitative data.”

Freshman advising is not a new issue for YCC, which put the issue on its agenda last year but never progressed past conversations with administrators, Wang said.

“This year we’re approaching it — just like with so many of the other things we’ve done — more systematically,” Wang said.

It will be difficult to advocate for a large-scale overhaul of freshman advising in the current economic climate, Wang and Rua said. Instead, Wang and Rua said they are hoping the survey and conversation with faculty generates ways to cheaply improve the current system. One idea, both said, would be to designate high-achieving seniors in each department to serve as liaisons to freshmen interested in that department.

Levesque agreed that any changes made would likely not be radical.

Many of the issues Rua raised were also identified as weaknesses in advising in the 2003-2004 report of the Committee on Yale College Education. That report recommended certain changes to freshman advising, including assigning each student a teaching member of the Yale faculty, making a better effort to match the interests of faculty advisors and students, and extending freshman orientation by a number of days to focus on academic orientation.

“We have made significant progress on all of the above recommendations save the suggestion to lengthen freshman orientation,” reads a report Levesque is preparing as part of the University’s reaccreditation process.

But history of art professor Edward Cooke ’77, chairman of the Committee on Teaching, Learning and Advising, said freshmen are still occasionally advised by people who are not members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, although college deans try to avoid this.

Levesque said the University needs to do a better job of explaining to freshmen — and to the advisers themselves — the proper role of an adviser in Yale College. Freshmen, he said, often believe faculty advisers will be familiar with the undergraduate curriculum or represent their prospective major. This is not the purpose of a freshman faculty adviser, he said.

“They want a faculty adviser in their intended major, but that brings up many problems,” he said. “Half of our students are concentrated in six majors.”

The Committee on Teaching, Learning and Advising plans to meet with representatives from the YCC after spring break. The committee plans to release a report of recommendations on advising sometime in May or June.

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