If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
April 21, 2023
Editor’s note 04/21/2023 at 1:08 p.m.: This article mistakingly reported that the last faculty meeting was on March 6. This has been corrected to reflect that the meeting was on April 7. An original version also implied that the Academic Fair would be retired. This has been clarified to indicate that the Academic Fair that typically happens before first-year student course registration would happen after their registration.
During the last faculty meeting on April 7, the Committee of Governance and Faculty Affairs (GFA) proposed revisions to the current first-year advising program. The proposal contains four different options, with three of them requiring first years to make their course selections during the summer. Options one and two involve compensated faculty volunteers advising first years on course selection from late July to early August. Option three replaces one-on-one advising with an online tour of Bowdoin academics and requires first years to rank 12 courses—of which they will later be assigned four by the Office of the Registrar. Option four retains the current first-year advising program.
We urge the faculty to vote for option four and keep the status quo. Though the newly proposed models for first-year advising extend the timeline for course selection, they diminish the vital in-person element of advising, and, in option three specifically, severely reduce students’ agency over their choices.
Above all, the pandemic has shown us the value that an in-person interaction can carry. For individuals entering the daunting world of Bowdoin academics for the first time, being assigned a human face to answer their questions is paramount. The current system is unique for this reason—though its timeline may be shorter, the human element of the process is invaluable.
Options one and two still provide students with an advisor to assist with registration but do not introduce them to their pre-major advisor until they arrive on campus. This model also eliminates in-person conversations with faculty across academic departments before the first round of registration, making this process inefficient compared to the current model.
We are most concerned with the GFA’s third option where no faculty interaction takes place before selecting courses. Picking twelve courses without talking to anyone could be daunting for students, and this option gives the Office of the Registrar more control in a student’s courses than the student themselves. For students who must take prerequisites for their intended majors or pre-professional tracks, option three could make them fall behind their peers.
The GFA’s third option also replaces the pre-registration Academic Fair with an online tour of academic departments. In doing so, this model takes away the opportunity for new students to have personalized conversations with faculty members about their academic options before selecting their courses. Though the online tour will certainly be informative, the one-sided nature of a website or video takes away from the vital conversational element.
The Academic Fair is a place for students to ask questions about specific departments, course options and placement before registration. This event encourages students to explore all of the different departments as they table across the fair and get an individualized course registration experience tailored to their level of comfort. The in-person model releases students from the expectation of having an academic plan before arriving on campus. allows students to come into Bowdoin having no idea of what they want to try in their first semester, a perfectly crafted plan or something in between. On-campus advising encourages intellectual freedom and curiosity.
All of these concerns regarding the GFA’s first three options are amplified for first-generation college students, who may not be able to receive registration guidance outside of Bowdoin. For these students, the course selection process may already seem like an intimidating experience surrounded by a large cloud of uncertainty, and in-person advising is crucial for easing these anxieties.
For these reasons, we urge the faculty to vote for option four and maintain the status quo—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is composed of Andrew Cohen, Catalina Escobedo, Kaya Patel, Maile Winterbottom, Juliana Vandermark, Halina Bennet and Seamus Frey.
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