News / February 12, 2020

Faculty Briefing: F­aculty discuss advising, new faculty

In the second Faculty Meeting of the term, Knox faculty discussed student advising, revisited the ongoing conversation on the academic calendar redesign and debated over the potential addition of a new faculty category which intends to bring career professionals into class curriculums.


After first reminding faculty to wear smiles during the upcoming Admitted Students Day, Feb. 17, Computer Science Professor Jaime Spacco discussed how flagging attendance at the week three mark and at midterms is an early red flag a student is at academic risk. Spacco emphasized advising throughout the term and during these key periods can be a major tool for retaining student retention.

Spacco reviewed the results and conclusions of a survey on student advising that 62 faculty members completed. Spacco said that the advising load is not evenly distributed between faculty members, citing that 6 faculty members reported having over 30 advisees and 6 faculty members reported having under 10.

The survey showed that the average number of advisees across departments is between 13.7 to 16.7 percent. However, Spacco said the survey indicated some departments have more major advisees than others, resulting in an uneven distribution of undeclared freshman or sophomore advisees upon faculty between departments.

The survey also showed that 70% of advising meetings fall within a duration of 25 to 35 minutes. Spacco discussed how while registering for classes is what gets the student into the faculty’s office, advising itself can have a broad scope. Over 90% of faculty reported discussing major requirements but 85% also regularly discuss post-Knox careers, 82% regularly discuss nonacademics such as clubs and sports.

Outside of routine advising, Spacco said faculty reported “crisis advising” as the most difficult and emotionally draining advising work they do. Then the burden of “extra or informal advising” — work beyond registering for classes — fall disproportionately on faculty of color, LGBTQ faculty, women and younger faculty.

Spacco pointed out that there is not a systemic process for understanding advising. Seven faculty members responded to the survey that more than half of their advisees come unprepared every term. If this trend persists because students do not know how to be prepared, do not know how to get help, it may be a systemic problem. Spacco expressed he would like to narrow down three or four effective advising philosophies moving forward.

Faculty members chimed in, requesting more urgency because creating better support for students may be more important to retention than what classes are offered and many potential students desire mentorship. They voiced concern that faculty with greater expectations can end up taking on more than other faculty members, or that those self-imposed expectations increase because of other faculty members who do not step up.

Associate Dean Tim Foster continued this conversation on the subject of “proactive counseling”, encouraging faculty members to steer students into the Knox community instead of focusing on home or their previous school.

Foster said faculty are only required to meet with students once a term but that is not enough to build a relationship with a student. The Dean said students will only care to visit their advisor’s office if they believe their advisor cares. He recommended faculty be seen in the Gizmo or at sports games to show they are part of the community.


Academic calendar

In a “Thorough Calendar Review” report Provost and Dean of the College Michael Schneider layed out the priorities for creating a new academic calendar: retain the distinctive quality of Knox’s system, improve the student experience, support the curriculum, improve faculty work life and retention.

Though the Executive Committee is not close to making their recommendation, one potential option being floated is a 12-3-12-3 calendar.

Schneider discussed how a calendar with 12 week terms could then help facilitate “baked-in” immersion courses such as language studies, single-author course or “skill boot camps” in the 3 week sessions.

Still undetermined is how such a calendar may increase class sizes, whether faculty would receive credit for teaching such an immersion course and how the length of class periods may change. Adjusting to a calendar change may be less forgiving to curriculums such as chemistry that have limited facilities in comparison to philosophy.

Schneider said 12-3-12-3 calendar would result in a 11% drop in classes — students would have to take eight a year instead of nine. Classes would likely meet four times a week. The Provost said this would require greater intention in how First Year Preceptorial is taught, since the class would become more important and has not been redesigned in over a decade.

The Executive Committee found it was of high value to both students and faculty that they continue to teach and take only three classes each term. The 12-3-12-3 calendar preserves that desire.

Faculty raised doubt that the “distinctiveness” of the current quarter system is beneficial to the college. Amott supported that Admissions does not think the current calendar is helping as it is difficult to explain to prospective families.


New faculty category

Associate Professor of Biology and member of FPC Jim Thrall gave a report on the potential addition of a category of faculty titled “Professor of Practice”. The position intends to attract people with professional expertise in certain fields to enhance curriculums beyond what is provided through the lens of academia.

Thrall said the position could be an opportunity to bring experienced professionals into the classroom who otherwise would be unable to without a Masters or PhD. A professor of practice could improve student career placement with their employment contacts and give advice to students who want a job in a field outside of becoming a professor in that field.

The position could work on a long-term basis to influence the curriculum, on a revolving basis or opportunely. Thrall said it would provide a formal category with predictable expectations for individuals who may already teach at the school in a vague status. The position would hold rank through renewable contract but not in tenure.

Some faculty thought this idea was innovative but others were concerned that this new category could be a slippery slope towards refilling empty positions that were previously tenure-track with a second class category of convenient, temporary replacements. Some faculty questioned why they could not be tenured and thought the idea could further erode tenure positions when so many professors are already “visiting”.

Thrall said the FPC recommends only a 10% max of the faculty would be of this category. Other faculty raised the point that the category would mainly be intended for people who have careers outside of academia, who would supposedly not want to teach long term and for people who would be of the moment of student demand.

Sam Lisec, Co-News Editor
Co-News Editor
Samuel Lisec is a junior majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism and philosophy. During his sophomore year, he worked as a staff writer. At the start of his junior year, he became a news editor. He is the recipient of the Knox Theodore Hazen Kimble Award for best feature story in 2018, and the Illinois College Press Association Honorable Mention Award for a Comic Strip in 2018. Email:

Tags:  academic calendar faculty briefing Michael Schneider

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