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July 5, 2007

Two new councils bring UW advisers together to collaborate, consult

For years, academic advisers at the UW have been paid to advise students. Now, thanks to two new councils, they’re getting a chance to advise administrators, and each other. Representatives of advisers in the College of Arts and Sciences have been meeting in the College Advisory Council on Advising and Student Services (CACASS), while representatives of advisers throughout the campus have joined the Undergraduate Academic Advising Council (UAAC), based in Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

The councils are just one manifestation of a new emphasis on advising at the UW, brought about by a whole series of reports. A report to the provost on “The Academic Progress of UW Seattle Undergraduates” in September 2004 said, “Effective and accessible advising is essential to improving students’ progress to degree,” and recommended a major self-study and external review of advising. That self-study, completed the following year, noted that communication among advisers and between advisers and administrators was a particular challenge. And the Committee on the Organization of Colleges and Schools, reporting in December of 2006, recommended the creation of a university-wide council of academic advisers.

The A&S council began even before the latter report, in the spring of 2006. Judi Clark, director of academic advising and student services in the School of Art, explained that A&S advisers felt they had no way to communicate with each other about issues that affected their students.

“We were also a bit removed from the dean’s office,” added Carrie Perrin, director of academic services in the Department of Psychology. “We were in our departments, which is where we work, but we felt a couple steps removed from the decision making end.”

So some of the advisers got together and approached A&S Assistant Dean Paul LePore, suggesting it would be good to have a council. “We thought this would be a great opportunity to facilitate communication up and down and keep us in the know,” Perrin said.

LePore was happy to oblige, since he frequently contacted advisers informally when he had questions about the student experience and thought a regular meeting would be convenient. “Invariably when we in the college would have task forces or committees come up with recommendations, it was advisers we turned to for implementation,” he said. “It took us a while to decide we should really tap into that expertise.”

Clark and Perrin are two of eight advisers from around the college who are currently serving on CACASS. They represent different academic areas in the college, and each representative is expected to report back to other advisers in his or her area.

The council meets an astonishing once a week.

“I told the advisers I would not do this unless we made a commitment to it,” LePore said. “I want them to be leaders on campus, and that means they need to be really up to speed with the changing dynamics of what’s going on. So if, for example, we know that the enrollment profile’s going to change because we’ve taken additional transfer students in the winter or spring, the advisers need to get that information right away. E-mails don’t elicit the real back and forth that I need in a selfish way to make sure the dean’s office operates as efficiently and as well as it can.”

In its first year, CACASS has spent a fair amount of time meeting with advisers from other areas, such as the Office of Minority Affairs, Admissions and the Gateway Center that serves students who have not yet declared a major. The idea is to share what they are doing so that all advisers are equally well informed and are consistent in what they’re telling students.

CACASS members have also had the chance to advise the A&S dean about what to do with extra money available for advising. The money came to the University from the state earmarked for advising, said Provost Phyllis Wise. It was in turn entrusted to A&S, Undergraduate Academic Affairs and the Office of Minority Affairs. A&S used some of the money to beef up critically understaffed departments, and some of the rest went into a series of four professional development sessions.

One of those sessions, billed as “Liberal Arts Education in the 21st Century,” featured a panel of faculty members. “One of the things that’s been important to us as advisers is to establish avenues of communication with faculty,” Clark said. “Since the one issue that all advisers and faculty in the college share is the importance of the liberal arts message, this seemed like a good place to start an adviser-to-faculty conversation.”

The professional development series concluded with a retreat last month, during which advisers identified issues and projects they’d like to work on in the short term. Among them are the development of college-based adviser mentoring to be part of upcoming professional development efforts, as well as moving forward with a pilot program to establish an advising hub — which might also be called a learning community, Perrin said.

UAAC was created in January of 2007 by Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Ed Taylor. Clark and Perrin are two of 15 members on this council — which also meets weekly. Though the members don’t represent every academic field in the University — a council that large would be unwieldy — they are drawn from many different schools and colleges.

The idea for the council really dates back to before Taylor was hired for his current job. During the public forums that were held during the dean search he repeatedly encountered advisers. “They showed up at all the forums and they spoke for students,” he said. “They wanted to make sure I understood the importance of advising.”

Once installed as dean, Taylor didn’t forget what he had heard. He sought and received nominations to the council, he said, to provide a venue for advisers to come together and talk about what they do. “The focus is on leadership,” he said. “In the end, our work will be defined by evidence that we have served students well. The advisers set the agenda.”

UAAC has been meeting with a variety of individuals and groups, including Provost Wise and Executive Vice Provost Ana Mari Cauce. After a short retreat to consider goals, the group got feedback from their constituents and then decided on short-term and long-term projects.

“One of the short term projects is to develop a mission statement for academic advising on campus,” Perrin said. “We think we need to clearly define who we are and what we do. So many things depend on that. We have a draft to bring to our community over the summer and hope to have it finalized by fall.”

Taylor said that mission statement will eventually go to the Provost’s Office, where it can be integrated with the larger mission statements crafted by that office.

UAAC is also working on identifying decision and policy-making bodies at the University as a way of thinking about how information could most efficiently flow, and creating an academic advising Web portal for the campus.

Taylor said that ultimately, he expects advisers to be recognized as central to the University’s academic mission. “We take pride in striving to be world class in teaching and research; we should take equal pride in advisers that serve students as well as any institution in our nation.”

The councils are not the only way in which communication among advisers is being beefed up. Provost Wise said plans are under way to consider moving the advisers from the Office of Minority Affairs and the Gateway Center into the same space in Mary Gates, possibly within a year. “We thought if we could get the advisers all together, they could learn from each other,” she said. “Ed Taylor and Sheila Edwards Lange [vice president for minority affairs and vice provost for diversity] and Eric Godfrey [vice provost for student life] are working so beautifully together to coordinate things so that students know what scholarships are available, what loans, what work study, as well as the academic requirements. If we can do that in one place, the chance of that synergy is greater.”


Advisers are, of course, excited about all these developments. The chance to work with their peers, to get professional development opportunities and to have an influence on decisions has been gratifying. But in the end, it comes back to students. Said Clark, “I think organizationally we feel stronger than we’ve ever felt before. Now we have the ability to help students across campus in ways that we’ve always wanted to.”