Last week, the Thresher published a few op-eds expressing disgruntlement with Rice academic support systems. Perhaps the support systems themselves need support, they argue. Though these articles do raise some valid points and areas of improvement, the articulated dissatisfaction is largely overstated. I hope to clarify and discuss some of the concerns here.
First and foremost, Head PAAs and Fellows at every college have an open door policy, as does the Office of Academic Advising. If PAAs or Fellows ever have any concerns, questions or suggestions, they are encouraged to share them. In fact, every PAA and Fellow meeting at Sid ends with the heads asking, “Any issues, concerns or ideas for future events?” Moreover, the OAA regularly sends out surveys to the PAAs and Fellows at major landmarks in the semester for direct, anonymous feedback. Not to mention, the OAA implemented the OAA liaison program specifically for PAAs to give feedback for their college’s program. The masters at every college fulfill similar roles for the Fellows programs. All in all, we welcome criticism. But if that criticism 1) goes unvoiced, 2) is not disseminated through the proper channels or 3) in any other way is not acted upon, then the heads cannot help foster change. It is easy to point fingers at the Head PAAs, Fellows or the OAA when concerns regarding these academic programs arise, but if you want to effect change, you have to be proactive. Change comes as much from the bottom up as it does from the top down.
Second, the PAAs specifically work within a community of advising. It is not a PAA’s job to be able to cater to every student, which is precisely why we have a referral system. This very notion is emphasized at every PAA training event: You do not need to be able to answer every question. On the flip side, some argue that everyone should have access to the PAA materials to educate themselves, citing the age-old idiom: “You can give a man a fish or teach a man to fish.” However, students need only to drop a line in the water to find all of those materials on the OAA website, just a click away. Additionally, the General Announcements (aka the “official PAA handbook”) are available to everyone.
Third, the Fellows program has been criticized for being unstandardized across the colleges. Why not have one set of rules across the colleges? To this issue, the Fellows program can be likened to health care, education or environmental policy across the nation: It is up to the states (i.e. colleges), not the federal government (i.e. university as a whole). Leaving it up to the colleges allows for college-level flexibility and adaptability. Colleges still communicate with one another, but they can customize their programs according to their own cultures. It is a privilege that our programs are structured this way.
Clearly, I did not address every point raised in the aforementioned pieces, but I did hit the three main points I thought stood out. Additionally, I believe that most (if not all) of the concerns raised would be addressed by being proactive PAAs and Fellows, as mentioned in my first point. We must not become complacent. If you have an idea, shout it! If you think your heads need to be doing something that they are not, bring it up! When you get a survey, fill it out! Use the channels you have been given to make a difference in these programs, and I assure you they will only get stronger.
If you want to discuss any of the points I did not address in this piece, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cyrus Ghaznavi is a Sid Richardson junior and Head PAA.