Summer advising changes spark conversation about shared governance

Sara Marshall, News Reporter

In response to concerns about the preparedness of incoming students during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, the college implemented academic advising for first-year students during the summer. Summer advising has been going on for two years and the college announced it will continue to be required for first-year faculty advisors.

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Biology Kendra Golden has been the primary administrative faculty member facilitating the change.

The current model for summer advising consists of first-year advisors scheduling meetings before or during the second week of August, typically over Zoom, to meet with incoming students. Advisors are instructed to discuss registration for classes and answer any questions new students may have about life at Whitman.

Provost and Dean of the Faculty Alzada Tipton believes the preemptive outreach to students can better prepare students for college life.

“[Students] are not being asked to pick classes during their first days on campus, which can be a very stressful time because of adjustments like getting used to living away from home or with a roommate,” said Tipton. “Students, especially those new to college, can find identifying a schedule stressful, too, which is why we want to give them the opportunity to do that while they are in a more comfortable situation.”

According to the the Whitman College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the College made the decision to eliminate in-person advising from 2022 Opening Week activities without faculty consultation. Subsequently, the AAUP shared a statement addressed to President Murray, Tipton and the entirety of the faculty stressing the importance of shared governance between the president, the board and the faculty.

The statement, shared by Professor of Art History Lisa Uddin, began by citing the AAUP’s frequently asked questions section on Shared Governance, which reads, “[The president and board] should reject faculty decisions in those areas only in rare instances and for compelling reasons which should be stated in detail. In short, when it comes to academic matters, a faculty decision should normally be the final decision.”

Shared governance refers to the joint responsibility of faculty, administrations and governing boards to govern colleges and universities.

Emphasizing the impact of academic advising on student learning, the AAUP statement reaffirms the importance of reaching out to faculty voices on campus.

“Academic matters affect the faculty as a whole–differentially–and have real outcomes for student learning. In practice, this entails the college administration’s consistent consultation with the division chairs, department chairs and members of relevant elected committees.”

The AAUP’s statement affirms the faculty’s importance in the College’s decision-making process.

“[Minimizing inequities] means strengthening the conditions of job security and promotion, which includes support for scholarship, course development, faculty quality of life and excellence in academic advising.”

According to Tipton, faculty members were consulted before the changes to advising were put in place. The AAUP’s statement emphasizes faculty involvement in administrative decisions.

Faculty advisors with fewer major advisees are predominately asked by the administration to take on students who have yet to declare their major, with all incoming first-years technically falling into that category.

Some concerns have been raised about summer advising cutting into time for faculty research. Tipton acknowledges this concern but does not think it will have a substantial impact on research time for faculty.

“I understand this concern but firmly believe any effect on faculty research time will be minimal,” Tipton said. “Faculty connecting with students earlier to set them on the right course for their college career is our collective goal.”

Concluding with a call for collaboration across campus, the AAUP’s statement re-emphasizes the need for all parts of the Whitman community to work together moving forward.

“We are confident that the most productive and persuasive decisions about academic advising are those made collaboratively by the administration, faculty, staff and students,” said the conclusion of the statement. “We are likewise confident that decisions about academic advising should recognize and mobilize the faculty expertise, commitment and time required for its success.”