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Commission on Undergraduate Education looks at advising

STANFORD -- The Commission on Undergraduate Education would like to find "a bold new answer" to the question of advising, but it is still trying to define the question clearly, said history Professor James Sheehan, commission chair.

The commission focused on advising and residential education at its Friday, Nov. 19, meeting.

The commission had gathered information about how advising is done at other universities and members talked about various possibilities, Sheehan said.

At the University of Chicago, for example, advising is handled by full-time professional advisers, each of whom is responsible for about 300 students. The advantages of such a system, Sheehan said, include having advisers who are well acquainted with the details of the curriculum. But some commission members felt that under such a system students were less likely to get the kind of mentoring that faculty might provide, Sheehan said.

The commission also discussed the advantages and disadvantages of requiring that every faculty member advise a certain number of students. Some commission members worried that "a reluctant adviser is an ineffective adviser," Sheehan said, while others argued that faculty should not have the option of not participating in undergraduate advising.

Advising, Sheehan said, is the issue "I myself feel most uncertain about. I think there is something very wrong with the system, but I have trouble imagining what a good system would look like."

While the commission probably will form a subcommittee to look further into the question of advising, it may not do the same with residential education, Sheehan said. Commission members are very much aware of the importance and value of residential education, he said. However, they are not sure that residential education comes under their purview, particularly in view of the number of issues with which they have to be concerned.

The commission has broken into groups that are trying to draft charges to subcommittees, Sheehan said. The Dec. 3 meeting will be devoted to that task, and by the end of the meeting, he said, "I hope we will have a clear idea of what some of the subcommittees will be and what issues they will explore."

Sheehan said he expects to give an interim report to the Faculty Senate in January.


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