For years now, many students have labeled the freshman advising experience at Stanford unhelpful. Significant resources have been thrown at the problem, but few seem to have made much of a difference. Pre-major advisers lack knowledge of any academic discipline that is not their own; Academic Directors are associated most often with their countless emails rather than their advice. And yet, resources continue to pour into these outlets with seemingly little regard for their actual effectiveness.
In fact in recent years, the freshman advising system has increasingly emphasized the importance of the two aforementioned positions. In a letter to the Stanford community, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education John Bravman proudly boasted of his department’s efforts to “foster increased contact between pre-major students and professional advisors.” Yet these efforts simply don’t tackle a critical issue: students seem averse to scheduling meetings with said “professional advisors.” As one former HPAC told us, “I have discovered that for better or for worse, freshmen simply are more comfortable consulting their peers for advice rather than finding faculty advisors or visiting Sweet Hall.”
Unfortunately, the peer advisor, who provides perhaps the only sought-after advice on campus, may be permanently eliminated as a result of VPUE’s new “professional” emphasis. In responding to a now strapped budget, Vice Provost Bravman has eliminated both the Head Peer Academic Counselor (HPAC) and Peer Mentor (PM) programs. While we certainly acknowledge that economic conditions have forced difficult choices, this decision signals a permanent abandoning of the peer advisor rather than a temporary fix for a budget crisis. The pay for these positions could have been reduced; the training periods could have been cut short. But the decision to eliminate the HPAC and PM reveals an Administration disconnected from its student body.
The situation is straightforward: students prefer to seek advice from an approachable HPAC residing just down the hall rather than an Academic Director who requires scheduled appointments and has not attended university in the previous two decades. Peer advisors have a unique ability to help advise students. Just two years removed from their first years, they can relate to freshmen lost in the seemingly infinite opportunities of Stanford University. They have friends across academic disciplines that can be called upon to help. They are awake at 11:47 pm to help a student register for classes just before a deadline. Academic Directors simply cannot do any of these things. By choosing to follow theory over practice, the Administration is actively ignoring what has proven to work.
With even more freshmen pouring into the Stern and Wilbur complexes, the problem will become further exacerbated. These highly concentrated freshman communities will be surrounded by extremely few upperclassmen, who may have been able to help fill the void left by the HPAC. Now RAs will be the only older presence in the midst of a freshman oasis filled with confusion and naïveté. But RAs are already overworked – they must constantly attend to issues that inevitably arise from the occasionally overwhelming transition to college life.
So who will be there to help this freshman mass? That would be the Academic Directors, whose ranks have been increased from one to a grand total of two in the Wilbur complex. Does that mean two times the amount of advice or two times the number of annoying emails? With a few fresh faces joining the AD staff, this newspaper cannot be sure, but we are confident that the combination of high freshmen population density and overstretched peer advising resources can result in few positive outcomes. We urge the Administration to reconsider its decision and the new freshman class to demand a freshman advising system more suited to its needs.