Students need to see advisers, not friends

Terry McCreary
professor of chemistry
I’ve been on the University’s Academic Appeals committee for a few years.  A little background: when your GPA falls below a certain level, you are on academic probation. If you don’t improve you may be suspended, meaning that you have to sit out a semester. A second suspension is for two years. Third suspension — academic dismissal — is forever. But you always have the right to appeal a decision.
Most of the committee’s work involves hearing those appeals. We read, we listen, we vote, we make a recommendation to the provost. (Incidentally, the members of that committee deserve a hearty round of applause.  Meetings can run six to eight hours and we may hear 30 or more appeals in a meeting.)
It’s occurred to me that many of the appeals have certain characteristics in common, some of which are entirely avoidable.  You avoid them by getting advice.
The main rule on advice is simple:  get good advice, which means getting it from the right place. If you’re trying to decide whether to take me or Dr. McEvil for chemistry, by all means ask students who have already taken us.  They’ll tell you that I don’t curve while McEvil might. That McEvil gives some essay problems while mine are mostly multiple choice. Stuff you want to know.
But for crying out loud, when you need to know whether it’s OK to substitute PHY 120 for PHY 235, do not go to your roommates, the gal in English class or the guy with whom you’re playing one-on-one basketball.
In an appeal, it’s truly discouraging to hear a student say “I thought I only needed to <insert action here>.” It’s sad when the information came from a well-meaning friend who was wrong. And the one who pays the price isn’t the well-meaning friend; it’s the poor guy/gal now sitting in front of the appeals committee, who took an opinion as gospel.
So, where do you get good advice?  My opinion: the second stop on your fact-finding tour is your adviser. That title is descriptive. Learn your adviser’s name and visit him/her regularly. He/she may not know it all, but the source is far better than your basketball buddies.
But the first source is the Undergraduate (or Graduate) Bulletin. Yes, sometimes it’s confusing. Yes, it’s more work because you have to read it (and read it carefully). But it governs your academic life, so get on the web and bookmark the Bulletin.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get advice from your adviser. That’s what he/she is there for. But the Bulletin is the final word.  Your MAP report uses the criteria in the Bulletin. When it comes to graduation, your curriculum must be compatible with what’s demanded in the Bulletin.
Get good advice. Because we don’t want to see you at the next appeals meeting. We want you to be successful.