This is the sixth installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

Consider the discussion of the proposed new vice president of student life.

Let’s start with the Dean of the College position, which is currently sprawling in its scope. It seems to me that it would be logical and sensible to focus it somewhat more on academic matters. We could do that by moving responsibility for Health Services, Safety and Security, Chaplains, and Campus Life (residential life and student activities) to a position that I’ll call for now Vice President for Student Life.

We have, in Vice President for Operations Steve Klass, someone who could take on this position, having done so previously at the University of Chicago. He’d retain the parts of his portfolio most relevant to students, namely Dining Services and Facilities. Naturally, he and Sarah Bolton, and those who report to them, would need to work in close collaboration. But she’d then be able to focus on many essential academic issues, such as strengthening our advising program and developing and integrating the programs that provide students with academic support. At the same time, his newly configured operation could focus on the quality of student life outside the classroom.

1) I have heard nothing but wonderful things about Steve Klass. The more things that he is in charge of, the better.

2) Again, it is interesting how Falk is, more or less, just announcing the decisions that he has already made. No independent committee. No survey of other institutions.

3) “strengthening our advising program?” How many times do I need to explain how I solved this problem years ago? Just create a Wikipedia webpage with the 500 of so most common academic advising questions. Allow anyone (students, faculty, alumni) to edit it but put a student-faculty committee in charge. Organize the questions in a sensible way, with lots of cross-linkage and easy searching. Example questions:

  • What is a good major for someone interested in medical school?
  • If I did poorly in AP Statistics in high school, should I take STAT 101 or STAT 201?
  • Should I go to the Williams-Oxford program?

And so on. None of these questions have correct answers. Reasonable Ephs will differ. But students just need to read a variety of answers from different perspectives. That is what the best academic advising amounts to. Fortunately, 99% of the questions asked each year were asked in previous years, and new questions can always be added to the advising Wikipedia.

Do this, and almost all the problems associated with academic advising at Williams will disappear.

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