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Rice must review academic support systems: an appetizer

By Nicholas Hanson-Holtry and Meera Namireddy     3/15/16 8:54pm

As seniors who have been both Peer Academic Advisors and Academic Fellows, we have developed some critical opinions of these programs. Both are highly regarded at Rice, and we would like to preface this op-ed by expressing our gratitude and admiration for the leadership and members of these organizations and for the noble work they do for our community. However, there are serious problems that need to be addressed. Communication is low, progress is slow, and accountability is nonexistent. Insofar as we have not yet been able to have a meaningfully productive dialogue with the people in the position to change the system, we resort to publicly airing our grievances, concerns, and suggestions to the Thresher and the Rice community.

The full version of this op-ed, authored by Meera Namireddy, can be found on the Thresher’s website under the title “Rice must re-evaluate its academic support systems.” You can view this op-ed as an appetizer for the main course of Meera’s article; as such, I shall continue writing in my own voice, adding to the summary of thoughts and perspectives on these issues augmented with information gleaned from conversations with our peers.

First I ask you: what are the goals of these two programs? From my perspective, the PAAs aim to provide practical academic advice related to scheduling classes, changing majors, transferring to Rice, applying to med school, etc, and the Fellows aim to provide subject-specific knowledge to help students succeed in individual classes. And second I ask you: are these programs actually achieving these goals, or are structural problems within the two organizations preventing our PAAs and Fellows from reaching their full potential? Given the nature of this op-ed my answer is obviously “no,” but let us investigate why.



Most of the problems I see seem to stem from one central shortcoming: the nature of Rice’s academic support systems are at issue. The definitions of our goals, duties, and responsibilities are not commonly understood or agreed upon, and there is virtually no communication between the leadership and membership of these programs to resolve this disparity. The Head PAAs and Head Fellows assume they can fairly and accurately represent us to the OAA and college A-Team, but this is not the case; the lack of PAA events held this year (despite extensive “planning” at the beginning of last semester as to the direction of the program) and the recent fiasco at Sid Richardson College (with the un-Constitutional appointment of the entire incoming class of Fellows and complete and utter disenfranchisement of the current body of Fellows) evidence this.

Instead of spending our time contributing to the Rice community in meaningful ways, we are instead bogged down in menial and insignificant tasks assigned to us by the leadership. So we raise a few “common sense policy” questions… Why isn’t everyone trained with the academic skills of a PAA? (Honestly, the knowledge I have as a PAA beyond that of an average student is pretty insignificant.) Why is there not a standardized Fellows program across all of the colleges? (Why do colleges sometimes accept Fellows applications from rising sophomores and sometimes they do not?) Why is it that the well-regulated PAA program does not have a graduation award associated with it, while the completely unregulated and vigilante-like Fellows program does? And what visible or tangible work have the campus-wide Head PAAs and Fellows done to address these issues other than sending us some emails?

Clearly there must be a better way to incorporate all of the PAAs and Fellows into the academic life of the colleges. However, when trying to raise our concerns about the lack of democracy, the lack of accountability, and our displeasure over the requirements and expectations placed upon us, we have been met with nothing but resistance and excuses (and, at one point, insults, when our Junior Head Fellow berated us for being “bad Fellows” and blamed us for the poor state of the program). But in actuality, the OAA has neither the desire nor the power to regulate the college Fellows programs. Perhaps the Student Association should step in, if they deem these concerns worthy of consideration and investigation.

To conclude, it is both Meera’s and my goal to ensure that all Rice students can benefit from our academic programs, but in order for this to become a reality we need to stop patting ourselves on the back, recognize that there is a problem, and seriously re-evaluate our academic support systems.



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