McGill, News

Reports of academic advisors misleading students surface online

On Sept. 7, a Reddit user posted a discussion thread to “rant” about receiving misleading information from an academic advisor at McGill. Several comments under the discussion thread and other posts under the McGill subreddit recount similar experiences. Some students allege that inaccurate information derailed their academic plans and delayed their graduation.  

Mateo*, BEng ‘21, had initially planned to graduate in May 2021. However, after receiving what they believe was flawed guidance from advisors in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECSE), Mateo had to enroll for another semester to satisfy all their degree requirements, ultimately finishing their degree five months later than anticipated. 

According to Mateo, Academic Advising had confirmed that they were eligible to exceed the Engineering Faculty’s 18-credit limit per semester as long as they did not fail any classes—which would have allowed them to graduate in May 2021. But when Mateo followed up in January 2021, they were told that they could not exceed the credit limit.  

“[They] accused me of cheating, or at least hinted at it, which is unbelievably discouraging,” Mateo wrote to The McGill Tribune. “Between me trying to explain, [them] repeating that [they] can’t allow me to go over the limit over and over again, and the bad connection, it was a horrible meeting. [They] threatened to leave the conversation a couple of times.” 

When Mateo contacted the Dean of Engineering to demand an investigation into their experience, Mateo received a short email in which the Dean agreed with the advisor.

“I have been given false information and lied to […] and not a single apology,” Mateo said.

Kaila Folinsbee, associate director of the McGill Engineering Student Centre, and Anthony Mittermaier, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Science, expressed their willingness to hear students’ advising concerns in statements to the Tribune. They encouraged students who have been affected by misinformation to report their experiences to them directly.

“I welcome any opportunity to improve our advising services and address perceived concerns about the information our advisors provide,” Folinsbee wrote. “I will investigate those situations to ensure students are getting appropriate, effective, and timely guidance.”

In an interview with the Tribune, Manuel Balán, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts, stressed that students and advisors share the effort and responsibility of degree planning. He also asserted that advisors don’t have universal decision-making power—a student’s path remains their decision, but they may consult with academic advisors who may recommend changes to a degree plan.

“Students are adults, the policies are public, and, therefore, even when they seek guidance from advisors in a collaborative way, ultimately decisions are made by students,” Balán said. “I do not think there is a process of misinformation. Far from it, all advisors mean well and try to help students.”

Article 13 of McGill’s Charter of Students’ Rights protects students from “vexatious” conduct by a university representative acting in an official capacity—such as an advisor, Dean, or professor. Vexatious conduct may be interpreted to include negligence, intentional harm, or other offensive acts. 

Students alleging rights violations can report their experiences through a formal grievance procedure, which would entail submitting evidence and attending a hearing before the grievance committee. While the grievance committee does not have the power to issue financial compensation, as per Article 8, Section 3 of the Charter, it can order a review of certain decisions if deemed appropriate. 

*Mateo’s name has been changed to preserve their anonymity.

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