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Faculty debate first-year advising options, changes to new faculty hiring

April 7, 2023

After an extensive review of the current first-year advising program and a prolonged effort to devise alternatives, faculty voiced their opinions about the future of first-year advising at this semester’s third faculty meeting. The meeting, moderated by Associate Professor of Government Jeffrey Selinger, was held on Monday in Daggett Lounge and continued prior discussions about changes to the faculty hiring process.

The Committee on Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA) first unveiled details of possible replacements for the current first-year advising program at the March 6 faculty meeting. Faculty will use a ranked-choice voting system to choose one of four options presented by the GFA.

The first requires a group of 25 compensated faculty volunteers to advise incoming first years on course selection from late July to early August. The second option—which is nearly identical to the first—instead relies on a rotating group of appointed faculty members to serve as advisors in the case of an insufficient number of volunteers. The GFA’s third alternative has incoming first years complete a faculty-designed online tour of Bowdoin academics. After being introduced to the curriculum virtually, students choose 12 preferred fall semester course choices. Then, the Office of the Registrar assigns the student to four of the 12 requested courses. The fourth voting option presented by the GFA maintains the status quo.

The vote will take place at the next faculty meeting on Monday, May 8.

After a vote approving the ranked-choice voting procedure, faculty were given an opportunity to ask the GFA questions and voice concerns about the proposed alternatives.

Associate Professor of Government and Asian Studies Henry Laurence raised concerns about the extent to which students could interact with and ask questions of faculty during course registration if the College were to adopt a program moving course selection to the summer. Associate Professor of Music Tracy McMullen questioned whether the third option—which allows the Office of the Registrar to play a larger role in course selection—diminishes student agency.

While some faculty expressed apprehension about certain elements of the new advising plans, others conveyed their excitement about the potential changes.

Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx Studies Nadia Celis noted the advantages of the interactive tour, which she argued would allow departments to present their curricula to students on their own terms.

Similarly, Associate Professor of Art History and Asian Studies Peggy Wang articulated her appreciation of the third option’s objective of challenging students to consider classes and disciplines they may not have encountered in high school.

“I greatly appreciate that kind of work of trying to push students to go outside of their boundaries or their expectations,” Wang said.

Professor of English Marilyn Reizbaum expressed her opposition to the current first-year advising program, urging faculty to vote to change the status quo.

“Students find the [current] process very pressurizing and very confusing. They come, they have Orientation and they have two days to register for everything and find out about everything before classes start,” Reizbaum said. “I want you to know that, if after all of this, you go back to the default … I think that would be very unfortunate.”

Faculty also discussed changes to the faculty hiring process, with Senior Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Jennifer Scanlon issuing a follow-up to the conversation from the previous meeting. The March 6 faculty meeting featured intense debate among faculty, ignited by Scanlon’s announcement of a planned changes to the faculty hiring process.

Departments will be expected to provide qualitative descriptions of candidates to the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs rather than a quantitative ranking system. While Scanlon argued that the shift away from the ranking-based approach would make the hiring process more equitable and holistic, some faculty expressed concern that the change would undermine faculty say in hiring.

Associate Professor of English Ann Kibbie noted the importance of departmental ranking in ensuring that the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs does not overstep in hiring.

“If we don’t rank, that transparency about our [assessment of the candidates] disappears,” Kibbie said at the March 6 meeting. “The dean can’t say, ‘I’m not overturning your decision,’ if you haven’t made a ranking. The dean can’t say, ‘I’m following your decision,’ if you haven’t made a ranking. It’s obscuring the [hiring] decision that the department is making.”

In response to backlash from the March meeting, Scanlon said on Monday that the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs had worked with faculty to address the concerns. Instead of completely eliminating the candidate ranking system, Scanlon announced that departments would have the option to rank candidates but would not be mandated to do so.

The next faculty meeting will take place on May 8, 2023, in Daggett Lounge.


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