Can you name three professors who know you well enough to write you a compelling letter of recommendation?
According to Spectator's recent news coverage, many Columbia students can't. This phenomenon is symptomatic of a larger issue: There is, quite simply, a strong sense of disconnect between students and faculty at Columbia.
Many of us first set foot onto campus excited to learn from and be mentored by Columbia's award-winning professors. But those of us enrolled in Columbia College or the School of General Studies—where juniors and seniors are not assigned major-specific faculty advisers—might have been a little surprised to learn that in those undergraduate schools, student-faculty interaction is largely limited to the classroom.
While student experiences with and expectations for academic advising at Columbia obviously differ, we believe that every student should have access to a faculty adviser.
Faculty advising has many benefits. For one, it allows students to have valuable one-on-one time with professors who are experts in their fields of study. Faculty members are also the best sources of major-specific advice—after all, almost no one is more intimately acquainted with Columbia's academic departments than the professors who teach and conduct research within them.
Though the advisers at the Center for Student Advising are undeniably valuable resources for Columbia College and SEAS students, they are not faculty members and are therefore unfamiliar with the intricacies of Columbia's academic departments. As a result, CSA advisers often end up connecting students with the "appropriate faculty members" rather than providing major-specific advice themselves.
But the preeminent benefit of faculty advising is that it gives students a better opportunity to form close relationships with faculty members who would perhaps be otherwise be disengaged from student life—something Columbia College and General Studies students have expressed to Spectator they feel is lacking.
Among our peer institutions, student-faculty interaction and community life are clearly prioritized. Harvard and Yale, for example, not only assign faculty advisers to all undergraduates, but also have residential systems that foster close relationships between students and faculty.
Furthermore, lack of faculty interest does not seem to be an issue. In a recent Spectator piece, nearly all of the faculty members interviewed indicated that they would be "happy" to take on the task of advising undergraduate students. And at Barnard, where each student is ensured a faculty or administrator adviser, many professors see advising as a necessary component of their professorial duties. Some even see it as a privilege.
Given the community-oriented benefits of faculty advising, the main issue the administration must contend with is not justification, but implementation, even in places where versions of faculty advising are already in place.
For example, Spectator has reported that SEAS students, who are assigned faculty advisers after they declare their respective majors, have been able to foster close faculty ties in some, but not all departments.
And while Columbia College's biology department separates its students into three groups by alphabetical order and assigns faculty advisers accordingly, this results in a concerning student-adviser ratio: There are over 100 biology majors in Columbia College, but only three biology faculty advisers.
All this aside, faculty advising has the potential to bring about great change on campus, perhaps most obviously by improving students' experiences with Columbia's academic programs. More importantly, however, faculty advising could help foster a stronger sense of community among the students and faculty here.
Dean Valentini has already expressed keen interest in "facilitating stronger and more formalized advising relationships between faculty and students." But merely expressing this interest isn't enough. If maintaining Columbia's community is truly a priority, administrative interest must be converted into real administrative action.
The authors are members of Spectator's 140th editorial board.