Advising Students across Specializations

We are a department of World Languages with majors in 7 languages. As to be expected, students are not distributed evenly across the different majors, and student:faculty ratios vary greatly. Our majors used to be advised by a professional advisor with subject expertise, but advising of our campus is switching to a generalist model, which means that department faculty will need to pick up the advising related to the major. We will not receive any money to ease the transition, so cannot hire a dedicated person to advise, or offer part time faculty a stipend to help advise. If we assign students only to faculty in their language, it will create great workload inequity for the Spanish faculty, who will have as much as 10 times more advisees per faculty member than some in other languages. I could offer course release to Spanish faculty, but our full time Spanish faculty teach only upper division courses for our majors and MA students, and those classes are full. Students would then not be able to take the courses they need to graduate in timely fashion. I can assign faculty in lower enrolled languages to advise Spanish majors, but is it fair to Spanish majors that they have advisors from faculty in Chinese or Persian, while every other group of majors has an advisor in their area? I know that no good solution exists. I am just looking for something that causes the least harm to both students and faculty. Any suggestions?–Advice Needed

Dear Advice,

First of all, I’m very impressed that you have students who want to take Persian! In some ways, you’re facing the same issue that many English departments wrestle with. As the recent ADE report on the English major showed, English departments can and often do house a number of disciplines: literature, of course, but also composition and rhetoric, creative writing, professional/technical writing, linguistics, theatre, film, secondary English education, ESL, and so on. In such departments, faculty advisors don’t need to have expertise in all fields, but they do need to know the requirements for each track of the major, who the faculty in the track are and what they teach, and whom to consult with especially tricky questions about transfer credits and equivalencies. While it’s true that your faculty in Chinese or German might not have expertise in Spanish or French or Japanese literature, they do have an understanding of language and literature pedagogy, and can learn the specific requirements of the various language concentrations.

I’d recommend that you get a little money for refreshments from your dean for a morning- or afternoon-long training session for faculty who’ll be doing the advising (it’s not clear from your question whether you have specific faculty advisors, or that all faculty do some advising).  There faculty can train each other in the various concentrations and cover some frequently asked questions that might come up. You should get some folks to volunteer to be the point person for their specific language concentration, with the understanding that they’re the last resort for queries that need subject-area knowledge. Then in your first department meeting of the semester, spend some time talking about what’s going well with advising and what needs working through, and make adjustments as necessary.

I know this feels like a huge shift, but if the faculty commit to working with each other, with the curriculum, and with students, it can be smoother than you might expect.

The Chair