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Commentary: Alternative resources do not fill gaps in faculty advising

a/Opinion by

At the March 18 Senate meeting, Arts Senator Jacob Greenspon raised a question concerning the ratios of faculty advisors to students across faculties. Statistics exposed disparities between faculties—the greatest difference being the Faculty of Arts, with 843 students per advisor, and the Faculty of Law, with 88 students per advisor. In their response to Greenspon’s question, Provost Anthony C. Masi and Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens only briefly acknowledged the disparity, instead focusing on other resources available which help to ensure that “all students have equal access to the same quality of advising.”

However, there are two issues at hand. First, it should be unnecessary to even consider alternative resources in the discussion. The disparities show that all students do not have equal access to faculty advising, and thus, are not being provided with equal opportunities for success. Moreover, the listed initiatives are an inadequate substitute when compared with faculty advising. In the end, providing these alternative resources for all students does not solve the disparities between faculties.

A discussion of the merits of alternative resources may show that despite having their own value, alternatives are not adequate substitutes. Masi and Dyens listed the Ask an Advisor program and the McGill 101 initiative, which include videos explaining different types of advising, as resources to better triage student needs and improve the efficiency of the system. While the two are helpful services, many students will ultimately be referred to faculty advisors—and here, the issue of the lack of access to advisors reemerges.

Given that advising services are essential for students’ academic success, it is only right that these efforts be made to eliminate disparities between faculties and promote interpersonal faculty advising.

The advising checklist, AskMcGill database, and McGill app are other resources cited by Dyens and Masi, but these too cannot compare to the services offered by faculty advisors. The Staff-Student Mentoring Program most closely matches the individual and personalized nature of faculty advising, but is instead geared towards sharing knowledge and exchanging insight, rather than degree-related information. The initiatives listed may reduce the number of students who require faculty advisors, but this fact is irrelevant when considering equal opportunities across the faculties. Faculty advisors can provide information and offer guidance to students, while also giving assistance with managing students’ academic situations during difficult periods. Altogether, these resources cannot match faculty advisors, who have a wealth of knowledge and unique abilities to provide human, personalized service to students.

Greenspon noted recognition of this issue at the Senate meeting. Referencing student satisfaction and the issue of faculty advising, Dyens stated, “It is on our radar […] and we’ll keep progressing on this topic.” Unsatisfied with this response, Faculty of Law Senator, Dan Snyder, posed a question to the Senate, asking how the other initiatives could bring the ratios to equilibrium. After discussing the importance of academic advising to student experience, Dyens responded, “Our focus is to try to get a few more advisors specifically for Arts to narrow that problematic ratio.” In addition, Dean of Arts Christopher Manfredi also added that the faculty has secured a recent philanthropic gift that will support the hiring of at least one additional faculty advisor.

Senate’s discussion gives hope to students in faculties that fall on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of the ratios of advisors to students. While other initiatives are undeniably valuable, they cannot compare to the one-on-one benefits of faculty advising. McGill should increase the number of faculty advisors available in coming years. Given that advising services are essential for students’ academic success, it is only right that these efforts be made to eliminate disparities between faculties and promote interpersonal faculty advising.

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