A. Advising

The academic advising system at Hamilton should help students to make responsible, informed decisions about their intellectual development. Working with a faculty advisor, students craft an educational plan reflecting their particular interests and abilities, and the College’s purposes and goals. A student’s educational plan, which typically evolves over time, balances the freedom of an open curriculum with the breadth of a liberal arts education.

As a department chair, you will be responsible for your own advisees and also for overseeing the advising by colleagues in your department. This includes facilitating the fair and equitable distribution of advisees, ensuring the availability of faculty for student advising, making sure that advisees are assigned to another faculty member during leaves and after retirements, and fielding questions and issues that surface during the registration periods. You may also serve as a general advising resource for prospective students and/or prospective majors.

You will find that some students will seek you out as chair for specific information about your department’s curriculum, for questions about studying abroad,for approval for course transfers and for issues they might have with particular faculty. Holding regular office hours as a chair, and otherwise making yourself accessible, are especially helpful.

B. Concentration Declarations

Students are expected to declare a concentration in February of their sophomore year (see Academic Calendar for deadline). The schedule for declarations is determined by the Registrar's Office and students must submit a "Declaration of Concentration" form, to be signed by the major adviser and by the department/program chair. Once a concentration or minor is declared, it must be completed or officially removed prior to graduation. A student may declare up to two minors only after declaring at least one major. A major and a minor may be declared simultaneously.

C. Disability Accommodations

Notices for disability accommodations (e.g., extra time on exams, a low distraction testing environment) come from Assistant Dean of Students Allen Harrison to the student’s course instructors for that semester. Academic accommodations are granted in the form of an official accommodation letter that these students must discuss with faculty at the beginning of every term. Faculty must comply with the accommodations noted in the letter, and should not go beyond those noted or beyond the scope of what has been granted (e.g. unlimited time on exams). Additional leniency, beyond those accommodations detailed in the letter, can create problems. In some cases, a struggling student (unbeknownst to faculty) may have been denied an accommodation because the condition was determined not to qualify under the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and college policy. If a student requests an accommodation from faculty based on a learning disability, or another diagnosis and does not have an official disability accommodation letter, the student should be referred to Allen Harrison. Please do not offer an opinion about a possible disability to a student or advisee based on your own observations. Suggest that the student have a conversation with Tara McKee, Associate Dean of Students, or Allen Harrison. Remember that information about a student’s disability is confidential and cannot not be shared with others.

As a department chair, please remind your faculty members to be familiar with the disability accommodations policy and procedures and to understand their responsibility when students approach them with accommodation letters. This is especially important for new tenure-track and visiting faculty. They may be familiar with disability procedures on other campuses that are very different or they may not understand disability accommodations generally. Most importantly, please make sure faculty know that they should not grant accommodations on their own initiative. It is not the role of faculty to diagnose learning disabilities.

D. Prizes, Awards, and Scholarships

Nearly all departments and programs have awards for students in their concentrations and/or classes. You will periodically receive emails from Kim Reale in the Dean of Faculty office asking you to submit names for your various awards. In choosing recipients for awards and prizes, consult with your departmental colleagues so that all deserving students are considered. You can request a complete list from her. If your department or program lacks an endowed fund for student awards, you should not repurpose operating funds to pay for a prize.

E. Student Conflicts/Disputes

As a department chair you can expect to be contacted about grade disputes, faculty members’ problems with students, and students’ problems with faculty members. Please keep in mind that your most effective role is that of a sounding board. There is value in listening and allowing faculty members and students to express themselves. What you should not attempt to do is identify a solution for every problem or take it upon yourself to respond personally. As the department chair, you must maintain an impartial attitude and keep the interests of the overall department in sight. You should not dismiss criticisms outright nor jump to conclusions without evidence. More often than not, you will be called upon to clarify and mediate. Remember that you can help those involved in disputes help themselves solve the problems.

Faculty should be counseled to resolve student issues in order to maintain appropriate control of their courses. If the problem appears to go beyond a particular course, academic or student affairs deans should be consulted or engaged. In the case of student complaints, your role will often be to simply explain to the student that the faculty member's decision stands. Asking to review the course syllabus often resolves student appeals quite effectively. Encourage faculty to have their grading policies in their syllabi; help new faculty protect themselves by reviewing their syllabi before the term begins.

It is in your best interest as well as the department's to be forthright, honest and approachable. Avoiding or ignoring student complaints only exacerbates the situation. In some cases, you may need to do some reconnaissance to rule out inappropriate or ignorant actions. Gathering information and using it either to make a dispassionate judgment or to pass on to an academic dean for resolution often falls to the chair. Complaints or interventions from parents should be passed along to the Associate Dean of Students for Academics.

F. Student Crises

Department chairs frequently encounter a variety of issues related to struggling students. Sometimes students are having difficulty meeting course requirements due to issues that are easily resolved. In other cases, student struggles are more complex and involve physical and/or mental health issues. In past years, there has been a significant increase in the number of students struggling in one respect or another and in the complexity of these cases.

As a department chair, the odds are very high that you will be approached for advice by other faculty, particularly new or visiting faculty members. The following information is provided to help you address student crises.

Many faculty are very diligent in bringing struggling students to the attention of the academic and student affairs deans based upon observations in class. Others observe troubling behavior but feel unsure about who to contact and when. If there is any hint of academic performance problems attributable to physical or mental health issues, faculty should contact one of the Associate Deans of Students, Tara McKee or Lorna Boyer Chase (x4600).  They will determine if the problems are particular to one course or more widespread. If a pattern of neglect or failure is beginning to surface, it needs to be identified early on, in part so that the Dean of Students Office can determine if it is an issue in just one class or in several. This is also why faculty should respond promptly to an inquiry about student academic performance made by one of the associate deans.

Faculty should continue to hold the student responsible for meeting all course requirements and obligations. Granting requests for extensions on assignments or for make-up exams may seem compassionate, but this can actually complicate and compound the situation by delaying work for a student who is already struggling to keep up, often in multiple classes. As the work is deferred, it piles up even more, leading to academic gridlock. These extensions may also give the student a false sense of security. It is very common for a student to perceive academic difficulties as minor and something easily resolved. In reality, the student isn't willing to admit there is a problem and is even more reluctant to seek help or accept it.

In cases where students are struggling in the extreme, the deans overseeing such cases need accurate records of attendance. This is why it’s a good idea for all faculty  to keep accurate class-by-class attendance records, whether attendance is factored into grades or not. Estimates of attendance without clear records present problems when evaluating administrative withdrawal cases.

Finally, faculty should be reminded that incomplete grades are only approved by the Chair of the Committee on Academic Standing (the Associate Dean for Academics) and are for discrete, short-term issues with a clear resolution, not for prolonged inability to manage basic class expectations. If a student has shown a longer pattern of missed deadlines, failure to submit work, or other sorts of struggles, an incomplete is probably not warranted. Multiple incompletes only compound the situation for a student already in academic trouble. Again, good intentions on the part of faculty may translate into an insurmountable obstacle for the student, who in appealing individually to three or four faculty members may receive that many incomplete grades.

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