This August, Associate Professor of English Robert Zamsky began his tenure as the new dean of studies, a new position which replaces and expands upon the duties of the associate provost. Zamksy hopes that the position will afford him the chance to offer students courses to hone their writing skills, help improve student-adviser relationships and bolster retention rates.
Zamsky first came to New College in 2007 and served as a member and chair of the Educational Policy Committee (EPC), a group of faculty members and student representatives who set academic policies.
Since beginning his tenure as dean of studies, Zamsky said that he has come to see the school in a new light.
“It’s like looking backstage,” Zamsky said. “As a faculty you’re living in the trenches and not thinking about broader institutional challenges. I feel like I understood the school a lot better.”
Professor of Music and Provost Stephen Miles said that the decision to replace the associate provost with the dean of studies was made to expand the role that this position would play in supporting academic success and student-faculty relationships.
“These issues, of academic success, are so crucial,” Miles said. “We need to make sure that there is someone whose job it is to deal with students, faculty and advising. That those issues are never put on the back burner and that students and faculty get immediate attention.”
Zamsky said that he is making information on academic advising and services more easily available to students and faculty.
“One of the things that students and faculty have found is that information has been disparate,” Zamsky said.
In August, Zamsky collaborated with a web designer to create a web page for information about advising that anyone could access through the New College website. Zamsky and Miles hope that providing faculty with basic outlines of criteria and forms will make the advising process go more smoothly for students and faculty alike.
Nicole Ouellette, thesis student and a student EPC representative, said that faculty should be offered more information and training to help them better negotiate their role as adviser.
“Adviser-advisee relationship is a very personal thing,” Ouellette said. “Not every student has the same needs.”
With a host of new professors joining the faculty this year Zamsky has been focused on providing faculty with resources and workshops that will help them negotiate their role as adviser.
“One thing that’s funny about the college is that it is an advising-intense place and yet we have left advising almost to chance in the past” Zamsky said. “It’s more or less saying that good people will do it well. It’s not as easy with that.”
Although his new position is keeping him busy, Zamsky will continue to sporadically offer courses.
“The thing I miss most is not meeting students in the context of a classroom,” Zamsky said. “This was the first time since the fall of 1997 that I haven’t been preparing for classes. It was a bit weird.”
During the first year of his tenure, Zamsky will focus on providing students with academic support to ensure that they are prepared for the demands of thesising.
Zamsky is collaborating with the Writing Resource Center (WRC) to draw attention to the services the center provides and expand its offerings to include workshops and offer mod length courses, led by WRC staff members, that will help students refine their writing skills.
Zamsky and Miles both hope that providing students with more academic support could potentially improve retention rates.
“When we let a student into the college we are telling that student that we think they can succeed here,” Zamsky said. “So it’s incumbent upon us to provide them with the opportunity to do so. We need to do what we can so that, if they leave, it’s not for the wrong reasons.”
Miles said that the dean of studies will collaborate with the WRC and other on-campus offices to promote retention by anticipating the needs of students and providing them with relevant services.
“We are looking at the range of services that we offer and anticipate when certain services are going to be needed,” Miles said. “We know that there are certain issues that first-year students will face that third-year students will not. We want to make sure that we have done everything we can to minimize the possibility [of students transferring out].”
New College does not report transfer-out rates. However, according to the 2011-2012 accountability report by the Board of Governors, the current six-year graduation rate was approximately 68 percent. Although by no means the lowest retention rate in the state, New College continues to trail behind larger institutions like University of Florida and Florida State University in retaining students.
Zamsky said that, although the school’s academic rigor will always cause some students to seek out other opportunities, increased academic support could help more students graduate.
Zamsky also hopes to make interdisciplinary studies easier for students and faculty.
“A lot of our faculty has interdisciplinary expertise,” Zamsky said. “On one hand the real strength of the college is we have very strong disciplinary programs for our size but I would like to see us be able to foster interdisciplinary studies.”
Although the school is sometimes short on resources, Zamsky is confident that New College can continue to meet the demands of its expanding student body.
“We have a very small infrastructure and a very small staff, it is always our challenge to do a lot with a little” Zamsky said.