Linda Chalmers, (formerly of the) University of Texas-San Antonio
I have long heard a saying that I would chuckle over, “Those who can’t teach, consult.” Mind you, I am neither formally a teacher nor a consultant (as of this writing), so I beg the pardon of the author of this quote because I think the truth is quite the opposite, “Those who consult, teach.”
It was almost one year ago to the date of this publication that I eagerly awaited a consulting team that my university had contracted through the NACADA Consultants Bureau. These three individuals, noted in their fields of teaching, technology, administration, and academic advising, were coming here to help us illuminate the perceived challenges within our advising structure.
The need for contracting consultants was decided at an advising fee advisory committee meeting some months prior. When a fee increase was requested to hire more personnel to assist with the rising amount of administrative workload of the advisors, the student members requested a review of how well their current monies were being put to use before any future monies were approved. As the committee chairperson and the Executive Director of Advising, I was asked to move forward with contracting consultants and the committee approved the funding for it.
After I pondered a beloved Covey (1989) principle, “Begin with the end in mind,” I started drafting what we wanted to learn from the consulting visit. These objectives would be the guiding light for the consultants. We needed to know how well we were managing our internal processes, utilizing technology, supporting advisor morale, and meeting institutional expectations of advising. I knew it would take a team and not an individual to accomplish these objectives, and they would only be allotted a few days to do this, according to my funding.
Following the institutional processes for bids, we were happy to award the consulting contract to the NACADA Consultants Bureau. It was imperative that I had the objectives defined in as much detail as possible in order to select the consultants with the most expertise. We settled upon three outstanding individuals for the team.
The NACADA Executive Office secured the commitment of the individuals, and we discussed a proposed visitation date, approximately three months from the awarded bid date. I served as the institutional contact, and the Executive Office contact asked one of the consultants to lead the team and work with me directly.
After settling upon a visitation date, I gathered information to send to each consultant. This information consisted of the University catalog, advising statistics and summary data, the initial document from '99-'00 that framed the reorganization of academic advising and expectations of improvement, summaries of meetings with the advising fee advisory committee, advising directory online website, organizational charts, student advisee satisfaction survey summaries, and any other documents that I deemed helpful to give the consultants the advising contextual framework at my institution.
Prior to the consulting visit, I gathered together the advising center directors and their associate deans in a meeting about the upcoming visit. I gave them copies of the consultants’ resumes and all materials I sent to the team. They had an opportunity to assist with determining the agenda of the visit. In turn, they would prepare their staffs. It was important that there be a climate of trust and openness and not secrecy to assure a successful outcome.
The consultants received the agenda, and we discussed the “who, why, and what” of it. I was asked to include certain offices whose work impacted the advisors, such as the admissions office and registrar office. It was a jam-packed schedule for a three day visit, and it did not include students. The decision to focus solely on processes affecting the efficiency of daily routines and advisor expectations of their jobs was made collectively by the Advising Directors and me.
Once the team arrived, there was not a moment to spare. We initially met the evening of their arrival, so I could answer any questions that they had while preparing for the visit. I dedicated a staff member to seeing that the team was escorted to and from their appointed locations. The consultants maximized their time by determining in advance who would visit with the director, the advisors, and the support staff and in what order. The consultants met together with the Associate Deans, AVP and VPSA in order to determine what the expectations and concerns about advising were from the upper administration.
It was a whirlwind visit to cover six professional staff advising centers and various other institutional groups that impacted and interacted with advising; however, the consulting team accomplished their mission. Within a few weeks of their visit, we had a lengthy but meaty report detailing what these experts in advising observed and recommended concerning our processes, technology usage, advisor morale, and other factors impacting the delivery of advising. It also taught us to trust our own instincts about procedures that were not quite what they should be and that we were right to question how they were measuring up. It was then up to us to use their advice to improve and to highlight the delivery of our advising services.
As I said in the opening of this article, it’s been a year since their visit and ten months since we received the report. We did select the areas we wanted to concentrate upon and divided into workgroups to further examine them. Recommendations upon the consultants’ observations have been submitted to upper administration, and we trust they will soon be acted upon. As we well knew going into the process, the wheels of higher education grind slowly – but we are confident of a positive long-term outcome.
Editor's note:In March of this year, Linda – former NACADA Advising Administration Commission Chair – left her position at the University of Texas at San Antonio to become a technology consultant at a private corporation. We wish her all the best in her new endeavors.
Covey, Stephen R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Inc.
Cite this article using APA style as: Chalmers, L. (2006, June). Those who consult, teach. Academic Advising Today, 29(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]