The University of Michigan can help its most at-risk students by firing the majority of its LSA advisers and paying undergrads to sit on Reddit, waiting to answer questions. It won’t do it, because that’s not a cliff any bureaucrat wants to die fighting on – but it demonstrates the university’s organizational deficiencies and mission-jeopardizing bloat. The University will continue to privilege not ruffling feathers above improved educational outcomes and equity.
Caveat for the soft-hearted among us: yes, I know many advisors are good. We should not fire them. I said the majority, not all of them. Now let me speak some uncharitable truths:
Many advisers are academics who failed to obtain a tenure track position. As a result, advising is a cesspool of sinecures and spouses-of-faculty. Their primary motivations are not to help undergrads, but to fill seats in big classes like the U likes, and collect a check. This is why 1st gen students – or the otherwise disadvantaged, from poor households, uneducated households, bad city schools or bumfuck nowhere – get annihilated their first semester. They don’t have the social network or coalitions that higher SES (or more privileged, if you prefer) students rely on to make good academic choices. I’ll elaborate:
Low SES/1st gen students routinely wind up with an adviser who tells them it would absolutely be a good idea to take 17 credits, including Org Chem, Calc II, and Physics, their first term – or at bare minimum, fails to aggressively discourage it. They take advantage of these low-privilege freshmeat, who are used to being at the top of their class and have weird complexes about working themselves to death to prove their worth, to keep the U running, weeder classes full, and to maintain our comfortably profitable status quo.
Before I came to Michigan, my dad, himself a Michigan dropout, warned me: don’t listen to the counselors. I should have listened to papa Mark. My advisor deceived me into taking an unnecessary Spanish class (albeit with the excellent Professor Gonzalez), and he was utterly useless when I asked for his help in studying the Ford School’s requirements. He sighed at me and said, “I don’t know. You could check Google.” He was genteel enough to turn his monitor 30° towards me and pull up the Ford School homepage, though.
Again, I don’t think all LSA Newnan advisers are this incompetent. There are wonderful advisors who work there because they care about their students deeply, who work their butts off to protect and guide them. But that’s not most of them. Right now, every counselor offering bad advice or no advice is hurting a student. Crappy first year grades in important weeder classes can torpedo a student’s opportunities for med, dental and law school. This means another student, for whom the U purportedly serves, is losing an opportunity to advance their knowledge, wealth and stature in society. If we can’t count on higher-ed to not sabotage itself as a form of advancement, on whom can we?
Every day, an undergrad posts a question on the /r/UofM subreddit (reddit.com/r/UofM) begging for advice. They do this because they know their counselor is, more likely than not, utterly and despicably useless. They look to their peers for counsel and trust them more. Most of these questions get ignored or go unanswered for dearth of knowledgeable students and time. Start paying some undergrads to chill on Reddit and answer these questions, to make the University of Michigan a better environment for students – especially those without powerful coalitions of peers and family to guide them – to learn.