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Advising’s Role in Tenure

There’s been a whole lot of talk lately about advising at Beloit College—and not of the “I sure wish I didn’t have to do it” ilk. A task force has spent much of this year focused on how to push advising at the liberal-arts institution beyond the basics. In fact, one of the task force’s goals has been to introduce a culture change at Beloit to help professors think of the advising they do in a way that doesn’t boil down to how many students lined up each semester to get guidance from them on what courses to take next.

“When professors talk about their teaching, they go into detail about curriculum planning, the ways they engage students, or what students go on to do,” said Kathleen F. Greene, chair of the education and youth studies department and chair of the advising group. “What people do when it comes to advising isn’t articulated to the same degree. We’re trying to bring some of that complexity to advising.”

The advising group’s efforts have also brought new attention to the role advising plays in the tenure and promotion process at Beloit. Although advising has long been an area of evaluation for faculty on the tenure track, Beloit’s Faculty Status and Performance Committee recently revised and expanded the language on advising in the document that pretenure faculty members get about the review process at the institution.

So how should junior faculty at Beloit explain what they do as advisers in their self-evaluations? According to the the new document, some things to highlight include how they they have helped students “connect with the mission, goals, programs, and resources of Beloit College,” what advising materials they’ve constructed or tweaked to make better, what assessment instruments they have used in advising and mentoring, and how they have responded to advising and mentoring challenges, among other things.

The faculty-status committee also rewrote the guidelines to underscore the role department and program chairs play in helping faculty members become successful advisers.

Tenure-track professors are encouraged to to detail their advising records separately, but it’s also OK for them to weave some of their advising experiences into the teaching section of their self-evaluation. Ms. Greene said she has noticed that professors at Beloit “are thinking more about how advising is a form of teaching.”

And as far as Jennifer Joslin is concerned, that’s how it should be. But plenty of institutions, when they count an advising record toward tenure at all, lump advising under service to the university, she said.

“When faculty meet with students to talk with them about graduate work in the major or explain the next term’s courses—that’s a teaching function,” said Ms. Joslin, the president of the National Academic Advising Association. “It’s not an extra add-on. It’s something that faculty do before class, after class, in meetings with students, on e-mail, and on the phone. It deserves to be part of tenure and promotion.”

Ms. Joslin, director of the office of academic advising at the University of Oregon, commended Beloit for taking a fresh look at advising—how it’s done, how its effectiveness is measured, and how it should be evaluated when it comes to pretenure faculty. “We all have to think about advising in a more complex way,” Ms. Joslin said.

In early November, Beloit kept advising at the forefront by canceling classes for the day for its first-ever advising practicum. The daylong series of workshops and discussions featured advising on internships, careers, work-based study abroad, and more. The event, to be held every semester before advising week at Beloit, was a “major success,” Ms. Greene said. “That day hammered home that advising is some of the most important teaching that we do.”

If you’re a junior faculty member, will your advising record come up when you’re reviewed for tenure? And how would you characterize the work you’ve done in that area? For other faculty members, how does your university make it clear that the advising you do matters—or not?

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