Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, October 30, 2000
'Decoupling' freshman and sophomore advising considered


The university's director of undergraduate advising floated the idea of "decoupling" freshman and sophomore advising at last week's Faculty Senate meeting.

Lori White raised the issue during a presentation Thursday in which she pointed to the continuing shortage of faculty who serve in particular as freshman advisers.

"If we indeed have more nonfaculty than faculty advising freshmen, I just want to make sure that as a university we are upfront and clear about that when we talk to students about who their freshman advisers are going to be," White said. "Perhaps we should think about decoupling freshman and sophomore advising," she said, which could potentially increase the number of faculty available for sophomores, who generally have a better idea of their academic interests than freshmen.

White said that this year only 16 percent of freshman advisers are faculty members. "Put another way, looking at the raw numbers, only 42 of our 200-plus freshman advisers are faculty. Or taking it up a notch, only 42 of the 1,700 or so faculty at Stanford are participating in the freshman advising program," she said.

At the same time, however, the university is in the second year of a "sophomore mentor" program, an outgrowth of Stanford Introductory Studies ­ which, with its freshman and sophomore seminars, has brought many more first- and second-year students in contact with senior faculty. As a result, there are now 42 faculty who were not previously participating as freshman or sophomore advisers serving as sophomore mentors.

"Perhaps we should think about having a group of people, perhaps our volunteers, advise students in the freshman year. And then, as we encourage students to take courses in the Stanford Introductory Studies program, in their sophomore year, most students would end up with a sophomore mentor who would work with that student as the student begins to narrow his or her academic interest, helping the student transition into departmental advising," White said.

While the number of faculty serving as freshman advisers has decreased in recent years, Ramón Saldívar, former vice provost for undergraduate education, noted that at the same time more than 100 freshman seminars have been created. "One could argue there are now 100 faculty having close contact with freshmen who weren't having that contact five years ago," he said. "That makes me question, what is our current thinking about the best use of the limited faculty time for student advising, especially for freshmen and sophomores? Do we want them to serve as freshman advisers in the old format or do we want them to serve as teachers, mentors in the format of the freshman and sophomore seminars?"

One longtime freshman adviser, Roger Noll, economics, said the larger issue at play was "structural and institutional." He said the faculty had "never taken ownership" of advising at the freshman and sophomore level. "As a faculty, we don't have an advising policy. . . . I think that we have to take responsibility and ownership for it as a collectivity. It has to be something we're more involved in."

Lynn Hildemann, civil and environmental engineering, said that with enough publicity the university might have an easier time finding faculty to advise sophomores, as compared to advising freshmen, because sophomores are more clear about their academic interests and could therefore be better matched with faculty members.

And Serge Kassardjian, who was present at the senate meeting representing undergraduates, said the undergraduate senate was overwhelmingly in favor of such a decoupling.

White also discussed the shortage of advisers for students once they have declared a major.

"I don't have the same level of data about departmental advising that I do about freshman and sophomore advising. But I think we all know the challenges of advising in departments," she said, adding that she had heard of one department where 100 majors lacked a faculty adviser.

White suggested that the departmental advising system could be augmented with professional advisers ­ "not to replace faculty advisers, because you are too important to the lives of students, but to make sure what you can offer students can be augmented through a cadre of professional advisers who might be specifically focused on the major."