Last year, the administration of Columbia College was restructured to more closely integrate faculty with students through the new position of a dean of Academic Planning and Administration. A year later, undergraduates have yet to see the benefits of these reforms.
Currently, there is no standardized advising structure across Columbia departments to foster connections between faculty and students, which has long been a concern for students. Last year’s administrative restructuring, which brought the Center for Student Advising, the Core Curriculum, and the academic administration together under Dean Lisa Hollibaugh’s purview, was intended to integrate faculty and students.
Previously, the CSA reported to Columbia College Dean James Valentini and School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Mary Boyce, while academic administration was under the jurisdiction of Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis, whose position was eliminated following her departure last year.
Hollibaugh came to Columbia after serving as the dean of international and global strategy and first-year class dean at Barnard. It was hoped that her seven years of advising experience at Barnard, where the advising system is more personalized and includes one-on-one interactions with faculty members, would be put into practice at Columbia.
But since being named to the position in March 2016, Hollibaugh described her goals as being “still in process,” and, in an interview with Spectator, Valentini said that he “can’t gauge right now how much progress” has been made to change the advising systems.
“Right now, it’s important to start small so we know how things work,” Hollibaugh said in an interview with Spectator. “I think the goal right now is to determine what faculty already do and how students are interacting with it.”
Hollibaugh has been “learning the cultures” of different Columbia majors, she said. Set within the greater research university, Columbia’s departments are much larger than the liberal arts college environment of Barnard’s departments.
Spectator spoke with faculty members last year who expressed their support in participating in personalized advising. Hollibaugh acknowledged this faculty interest, and said she has spoken to “many faculty who have expressed directly or indirectly how interested they are in talking to students.”
Hollibaugh offered few specifics, but said she hopes to establish “pilot programs” in which interested students interact with faculty members. However, these would not be expected to begin until the next academic year.
“There are already talks with a couple of small student programs that are already in existence; they kind of enhance faculty engagement, and I think they're great places for me to start to see what needs to be put into place to support them,” she said.
The structure of Columbia’s advising system is less centralized than Barnard’s, with no standardized structure for assigning personal faculty advisers to students across academic departments.
Additionally, according to Dean of Advising Andrew Plaa, Columbia students do not have any mandatory meetings with their advisers beyond NSOP, unlike at Barnard, where students must meet with their advisers once per semester.
“I think you get what you put into it with your adviser here, because they're not necessarily personally invested in your education,” prospective history major Matt Munsil, CC ’19, said.
For students at several peer institutions, however, there are more advising options available beyond faculty members to help students with academic planning and concerns.
At Harvard, first-years are assigned to four advisers, including both a first-year dean and peer advisers, while upperclassmen are encouraged to reach out to their professors, as well as to the Allston Burr Assistant Dean in their residential house. Sophomores are also assigned a sophomore adviser to guide them in the transition to advising in their chosen academic department.
Yale students are assigned a freshman adviser and must choose a sophomore adviser. They can also seek advising from residential college deans. First-years are required to meet with their advisers three times before finalizing their course selections.
Several CC students interviewed by Spectator pointed out the benefits of interactions between faculty and students, particularly for those who have yet to declare a major.
“I think one thing that could be more effective is trying to set up students with advisers within their major earlier,” Munsil said. “Other than talking with professors, I haven’t actually talked to many advisers specifically from the history department.”
Plaa noted that the “shadow declaration” process launched last year, in which first-years would receive emails and notifications regarding their potential majors, was successful enough to be continued this year.
“I think that will be another thing we did last year that we'll be continuing this year that's an effort to bring students into contact with faculty in their particular department,” he said.
Barnard students have a more personalized system as a privilege of the college’s smaller liberal arts environment. First-years are assigned a faculty adviser, and upon declaring their major, students have the option to either choose a major adviser or be assigned one in the department.
There are also designated first-year, sophomore, junior, and senior deans who are available to provide advising to students.
In an interview with Spectator in October, Barnard Asian and Middle Eastern Cultures Department Chair Rachel McDermott said that she has found that advising creates the possibility for closer student and faculty relationships.
“At the very least, the baseline is good one-on-one opportunities, and if the students want, they can develop much closer academic relationships,” McDermott said. “Over the years here I have found that students warm to professors wanting to take an interest in them.”
Hollibaugh said that she hopes to encourage similar interactions for Columbia students.
“I think it's about finding … which opportunities allow students to engage with faculty, whether it's one on one or whether it's in small groups,” Hollibaugh said. “I think we want to maximize how faculty can engage with students and figure out what kind of purpose we can build around that.”