Mandatory advising moves slowly ahead

Portland State continues to inch toward mandatory student advising, but the slow rate of progress suggests the program won’t establish a solid foundation before fall term.

This week the Faculty Senate, which in January applied the brakes on the introduction of compulsory advising, took the program one measured step forward by approving the formation of an advising implementation team.

The implementation team is to give a status report to the senate at its June meeting. Even at that point, there is no guarantee the plan will move forward at a pace which will allow full implementation by the 2003-4 academic year.

The latest action was moved by Walter Ellis, associate dean for academic programs in the College of Urban and Public Affairs. Ellis has been a member of the advising action council which formulated the student advising action plan. His motion passed by what appeared a unanimous voice vote.

The approval seemed to affirm that some form of mandatory student advising will eventually be instituted. Until this week, the future of mandatory advising seemed in jeopardy. Faculty Senate meetings in January and February had generated considerable questioning and resistance to some features of the idea.

This week, the elements of Ellis’ motion and the workings of an implementation team were detailed to the senate by Cathleen Smith, coordinator of child and family studies and co-chair of the action council. The council was created by PSU President Daniel Bernstine in 1999 to devise a workable student advising program. Bernstine wanted the program to take form with all possible speed.

The original plan would require all students to undergo orientation when admitted as freshmen or transfer students. They would further undergo advising during their first year of enrollment or before they attempted 24 credit hours at PSU. Once students had earned 90 hours they would be required to meet with an advisor in their chosen academic major department or in the Information and Academic Support Center.

The original proposal would have added five academic advisors to the staff of IASC to provide advising prior to the student choosing a major. Thereafter, advising would be taken over by the major department, with the assistance of a liaison person assigned from IASC.

The action council had proposed to implement the plan over four years, with implementation for freshmen in the 2002-3 academic year and full implementation by fall 2003.

However, it was not presented to the Faculty Senate until January, at which time action was delayed first to February and then to March. Some senate members expressed the view that they should have had the plan presented to them sooner. The plan was published in October 2000.

At the January and February meetings, and again this month, faculty raised numerous questions. There was an objection to sending all the resource money for hiring advisors to the IASC, that some of those funds should be distributed to the departments. There was the question of how the policy could be enforced against students who chose not to participate. There was the complaint that faculty members are already overloaded, and to expect them to take on additional work with no additional resources or rewards is unrealistic.

Smith attempted to respond to all questions, although in many cases, she conceded that many of these matters would have to be dealt with by the new advising implementation team.

One proposal in the original plan was completely shot down by Smith. It had called for a $12 per-term tuition or fee increase by the next academic year.

“The idea of a designated fee to pay for advising is gone,” Smith told the senators. “We have folded the initiative into the budget, with no designated fee or increase in tuition for advising.”

The idea of an implementation team grew out of questions at the earlier senate meetings. Since the February meeting, the action council convened three meetings to consider the comments and concerns of senators. The result is the implementation team. It will be composed of members of the advising council, chairs of the academic requirements committee, the scholastic standards committee and the curriculum committee, along with members of the senate.

Formation of the implementation team is an obvious attempt to bring all potentially dissenting forces to the discussion table. The team will examine eight issues.

A big one is the resource issue. The council saw that many faculty believe a part of the money designated for the central advising office, located at IASC, should be distributed among the departments. Also, there is concern about how to evaluate resource needs to implement departmental advising teams.

There is an issue of how the program is to be sustained and what may be the potential role for a Faculty Senate constitutional committee. After the February meeting, one senator, Ansel Johnson, professor of geology, had declared the need for a constitutional amendment to cover issues raised by discussion of the proposed program.

The question of incentives for students to use the program will become a central issue.

At the briefing, Smith declared, “We believe it is not in the best interest of the students or the university to place registration holds as a sanction for not fulfilling advising checkpoints.” Departments will be asked for their ideas on how to enforce the mandatory requirement.

One faculty member complained that too often students take on their own self-advising. They then hand the major department all the problems at the end when the student is struggling to graduate and finds the required credits aren’t there.

The implementation team will consider the need to provide incentives to faculty for their work in delivering and improving advising.

A number of housekeeping questions will be raised: How many advising sessions? What is the accountability for incorrect advising? When should students be required to declare a major? How should transfer students be advised, especially “special case” transfers?

Major field identification needs to be clarified, especially for students who in their early years are considering a number of different majors.

The team also would designate pilot programs in a few academic units. This was a feature of the original council plan, which envisioned starting pilot programs this year in a few selected areas. They would involve the science cluster of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, and the architecture department.