Today in UNC Academic News

Not a trophy for excellence in academic advising.

Are you tired of hearing about the Department of African and Afro-American Studies yet? I am, and I skip about half the reports the News and Observer put out, mostly because they add little to the story. This week two things hit the digital news stands; first from The Big Lead, and the second from the N&O.

The Big Lead's piece is a classic of the "I really wanted to find a big story and didn't, so let's make something of what we've got" genre. Brian's already rebutted it pretty well at Tar Heel Fan blog, so there's no point in me repeating it. Basically, they try to correlate Wayne Walden, longtime Associate Director for Academic Support both at Kansas and UNC, with the decline in AFAM majors, despite the fact it occurred years earlier. (And in fact, as I recall was a temporary upswing in enrollment in that major with one class. Toss in a willfull misreading of a Sean May interview –he talks about changing his major while in the NBA from a double to just AFAM to graduate faster, which is somehow seen as perfidy by the author — and you've got an article that exists to rile up Internet trolls.

The second bit is slightly more newsworthy. A UNC faculty committee has released their report on the problem, and have come to the conclusion that, well, the faculty needs more control. But not the rogue faculty member at the heart of the scandal; the other, responsible faculty members. Basically, they say academic advising has to be overhauled, and the athletic department has too much control over the athletes. The latter is a bit of a bold statement in an age when too many people are claiming athletic departments don't have enough control over the players under their purview. Yes, I know the report is specifically looking at athlete course selection, which can be heavy handed. But they're also dealing with eighteen year-olds learning time management for the first time while holding down a full-time job, in a situation where grown men's jobs hang on whether they pass they're classes. It's a system with some perverse incentives when you think about it.

As for academic advising, they seem to overhaul it about as often as they change Dean Dome ticket distribution policies, never with any success. It was done once during my time there, when "fostering an academic climate" was all the rage, and many times since. My personal experiences? I arrived at Chapel Hill with a Chemistry professor as an advisor. (Professors do all the advising, despite they're not wanting to.) He gave me some good advice on the classes I was considering for my undeclared major in the sciences. After a year, he was switched out for a French professor who knew nothing of the side of campus where I was taking classes. He punted, handing me the requisite forms and brochures and leaving me on my own. After the second year, I was in a small department where we all got advised by the department manager, who knew what we should take in the major and had no idea how we should fulfill our general requirements. We fumbled around, choosing classes based on rumors of how easy they were (Shocker!) until I'd done enough to put on a powder blue gown and walk through Kenan Stadium.

So yes, academic advising is bad at UNC. And it will continue to be so for everyone, athletes and non-athletes alike, until they devote resources and people who actuall care to the problem. I doubt that will change anytime soon. In the meantime, we'll continue to get embarrassing articles in the paper every few weeks. Yay.

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