This fall, about 750 first-year students arrived at Mount Allison – an increase of 74 from last year. Many of these students were likely enticed to attend this university because of its size, reputation and its ranking as the ‘number one’ undergraduate university in Canada. Mount Allison’s president, Robert Campbell, sums it up by writing, “we believe that human-scale interaction provides the foundation for personal and intellectual development.” When I decided to attend Mt. A, I was excited by this factor of genuine human interaction.
While studying at McGill University, I found myself craving more out of my educational experience. I no longer wanted to feel like a number – one of over 22,000 full-time undergraduates. As I began the application and transfer process, I was excited to receive handwritten notes from the registrar’s office welcoming me to Mt. A. After my experience at a university with nearly 10 times as many full time undergraduates, I was thrilled by the prospect of attending a university where they seemed to generally care about my well-being and academic success.
With these expectations, I arrived on campus a few days before my first class. In search of advice surrounding my degree, I contacted the registrar’s office and was informed that the next available meeting would be in a week’s time. I was shocked and disappointed to discover that the whole of Mt. A’s academic advising services consisted of one advisor. It did not seem possible that a school advertised as being unique in its immersive approach to education would have the entire student body rely on one lone generalist academic advisor.
I had my appointment with the advisor, Shane O’Neal, on Sept. 9. He told me that he had been working non-stop since the arrival of students for the fall semester. He then gestured to his computer screen, where there were over 60 unread emails from students in need of guidance to which he would be trying to respond between phone calls and appointments of my nature. While O’Neal was genuine in his effort to help me, he was unable to give me the time, attention and guidance that I was in search of. This is not surprising when you consider that he alone is expected to accommodate the needs of every student seeking non-program specific academic advice. I left frustrated, unclear about my academic future and let down by a school that was not living up to its own reputation of individualized support.
Being the beginning of the academic calendar, it is likely that many of students have inquiries regarding their degrees; one can only try to imagine how many people are seeking O’Neal’s time and assistance. In light of this ratio, it seems impossible that any advisor could successfully “provide guidance in formulating and realizing academic goals” – an unrealistic service promoted by Mt. A that is provided by a lone academic advisor.