Administrators Approve Advising Overhaul Plans
When the Dean of Studies office dissolves at the end of this semester, its duties will scatter among the offices of the Deans of Students, Arts and Sciences, the Conservatory and a new office set to launch this summer: the Academic Advising Resource Center. The center will take over the space vacated by the Admissions office in the Carnegie Building when the office moves to the Peter B. Lewis Gateway Center.
Among other tasks, the Academic Advising Resource Center will condense all College advising-related services into one location, handling the functions of the Registrar, first-year advisor assignments, personal leaves and withdrawals, part- and over-time permissions, incompletes and the 3-2 Engineering Program.
“The idea of one-stop shopping is critical,” said Tim Elgren, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “What I really had hoped is that we would put all aspects of academic planning and support services into one place.”
Elgren added that while the Dean of Studies office has served as an intermediary for other deans, this “redefinition” provides a more direct mode of advising to students — a goal established in the College’s Strategic Plan last year.
“One of the things that happened in the Dean of Studies office is that we had a handful of people doing many, many tasks,” Elgren said. “Part of pulling those things apart was trying to make sure that there wasn’t a blending of these roles, so now those roles come out in differently defined structures. … We don’t need there to be an intermediary role.”
In this reconfiguration, the dean of the Arts and Sciences will embrace responsibilities like managing College students’ academic standing, study away and academic leaves, Winter Term processing and projects involving the Bonner Center for Service and Learning. The Dean of the Conservatory’s office will cover Conservatory students’ academic standing and advisor assignments and support English for Speakers of Other Languages services.
Meanwhile, the Dean of Students office will absorb the Career Center and issues revolving around the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System program for processing student visas and medical leaves.
When the three deans’ offices adopt new individual roles, they will also find themselves overlapping in certain areas. Double-degree advising and Musical Studies, for instance, will move under the wings of the deans of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory, while work around student fellowships will be shared by the deans of Students and of Arts and Sciences.
Dean of Studies Joyce Babyak said that although there are many changes underway, the principles and functions of advising will not change other than anticipated improvements in processing data.
“I think it’s just a different way of accomplishing the same goals,” Babyak said. “It’s hard when you’re used to a system one way to imagine a system working differently yet still be effective, and the whole point is to look at this from a student experience and make sure that resources are available to students.”
As the administration considered restructuring the existing advising system, Elgren said input from Student Senate and campus-wide surveys came into play, adding that he has also been in touch with Oberlin’s Center for Information Technology to develop more efficient software to make academic planning easier.
“Prestissimo was done by Ben Kuperman, a faculty member, who thought that there has to be a better way of accessing [academic] data,” Elgren said. “You should be able to do a lot of your academic planning just by looking at what the available options are. Our goal is to make that much easier to access. We shouldn’t be spending all of our time dealing with the transactional piece of this conversation.”
Still, the overhaul will not come without changes in employment. Elgren said that while some staff members in the Dean of Studies will transition into new locations and positions, others will not.
“Some of those people will be moving on; others won’t,” Elgren said. “For some of them, some of the jobs that we’ve envisioned are not the jobs that they’ve done, so they’re not the right person for that other job. Part of it is a true restructuring and finding the right people. Some of the people are the right people, and some of the jobs have really just moved on to very different functions.”
Some members of the Dean of Studies office will return to old positions, like Babyak, who will move back into the Religion department as a faculty member once the office closes. While some face positional eliminations, Elgren added that other job opportunities on campus will become available.
“Change can be challenging, but change is undertaken for very good reasons, so we just have to be patient with ourselves going through the process of change and transition,” Babyak said. “But I think students will be absolutely fine.”
Moving forward, faculty members are also hopeful that the new advising structure will continue to benefit students and their advisors.
“I am hopeful that the changes [Associate Dean of the Curriculum] David Kamitsuka described at the College faculty meeting will streamline advising and help maintain the already good systems and relationships that some faculty have, while improving and making more efficient the work of others,” Shelley Lee, professor of Comparative American Studies and History, said in an email to the Review. “I don’t know how the changes will affect my own day-to-day life and relations with advisees, but I trust that the committee undertook its work with thoughtfulness and thoroughness.”
With the Dean of Studies office leaving Peters Hall, Elgren said that the plans for its new occupants remain uncertain, but the administration has been considering moving the Undergraduate Research, Study Away or Comparative Literature offices into the space.