Assuming that the university will continue to operate for the remainder of the school year and into the future, we will have a number of practices left over from the past administration to clean up or eliminate entirely if we are to recover from the precipitous enrollment declines of the past six years.
In my estimation, our recently mandated advising procedures stand right at the top of that list. They are not only a failure, they are a complete disaster. Frankly, as poorly conceived as these practices are, it is a wonder any students continue their studies at Chicago State University. I have already discussed this issue in earlier posts, but I spoke recently with someone (a former CSU employee) who has first-hand and very recent knowledge of what goes on in the Advising Center. Here is the story:
With recent staff departures, the number of advisors working in the Advising Center has been reduced to 6 persons. According to administrative fiat, these persons are supposed to do all the undergraduate academic advising at Chicago State (with the exception of First Year Students). One year earlier, the workload now handled by these 6 people was spread among 40 faculty and staff (excluding administrators) doing undergraduate advising in the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, and Health Sciences. Needless to say, the phenomenal reduction in staff has created a number of operational problems (as a caveat, many faculty continue to do advising in spite of the administrative fiats).
Students endure long wait times, up to 5 hours in some cases. Often, advisors are called upon to advise students in programs with which they are unfamiliar. The former employee described the university catalog as the only real source of information available to the poor persons charged with advising our students. When someone becomes an advisor, the training period is negligible, s/he is basically thrown into the water to see if they can swim. The advisors are unable to give students hard copies of their programs or other information because the equipment is broken down. Often students are advised out in open areas, a clear violation of FERPA. The advisors often work long shifts, far in excess of their assigned 7.5 hours and are not compensated with overtime pay. The advising staff is demoralized with predictable results like high absenteeism, putting further strain on other employees.
The consequences for our enrollment should be apparent. How many students have experienced this fiasco and decided to look elsewhere? How many students have been discouraged by the process and just dropped out for a semester? Why on earth are we putting students through this? When the advising staff bring their concerns about the process and its effect on our students up to administrators they are told that “we’re not going back to the old system.” This rigid administrative belief that somehow by force of will these 6 persons can turn this debacle into a functioning system represents a textbook definition of insanity.
Many years ago, when I began my law enforcement career, I worked the 4-12 shift in the intake area of the Alameda County Jail. During the shift, buses arrived constantly from the various Municipal and Superior Courts in the county. Those buses contained both prisoners returning from their court appearances and newly remanded prisoners who had to be processed or “booked,” a procedure that involved placing them into a large holding area, then calling them individually into an area where we typed up a booking sheet, took a photograph, and rolled three fingerprint cards. It was not unusual for 1 or 2 Deputies to process up to 75 new remands in an 8-hour shift. It was not atypical for people remanded to wait for several hours to be processed. Because of the pace of the work, it was highly unusual for me to be able to sleep until around 4am.
Why am I talking about this? Because when I go up to the Advising Center during peak business hours, I am viscerally reminded of the old booking office. Substitute a huge holding cell for the chairs on the fourth floor, long waits to be “processed,” and a separate processing area for the fourth floor offices used by our advising staff and voila! You have the Alameda County Jail of 1971 instead of Chicago State University. Substitute harried and overworked Deputies trying to wade through dozens of tired, hungry people who simply wanted to get a bunk and something to eat for the advising staff trying to provide service to dozens of tired, hungry people waiting to sign up for classes, and again I am reminded of a four-decades old custodial experience.
I am appalled by the way we exploit our advising staff and mistreat our students. Let’s stop treating our advisors and students as if they were staff and prisoners at the local county jail or state prison. Let’s act like we’re running a state university instead of the Stateville Correctional Center or San Quentin State Prison. I realize that these comparisons should not be overdrawn, but I urge everyone to visit the Advising Center and see for themselves the conditions under which our staff and students must function. For the sake of the school, our colleagues, and especially our students, why don’t we scrap this system and come up with something sensible, and dare I say, humane?