Students had the opportunity to raise their concerns surrounding Harpur Advising during the “SA Let’s Talk: Harpur Academic Advising” forum on Thursday, but not a single one showed up.

On March 12, the Student Association’s (SA) presentation and public forum saw empty chairs. The event aimed to allow students to discuss problems and concerns with the advising center. “Let’s Talk” is a series of regularly held forums that discuss pertinent topics around campus, with previous talks this year including mental health and textbook affordability. The presentation focused on addressing appointment scheduling, wait times and lack of assigned advisers, and featured Michelle Jones, director of Harpur Advising.

There are four academic advising centers at Binghamton University: School of Management Academic Advising, Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences Academic Advising, Watson School Advising and Harpur Academic Advising, with the latter focusing on assisting Harpur College undergraduates. The advising centers help students explore academic and co-curricular interests on campus, create plans to meet degree and major requirements and offer connections to other campus resources. Harpur Advising, aside from general advising, offers prelaw and prehealth advising, giving prospective law and medical school students resources and guidance to meet their personalized goals. Harpur Advising allows both walk-in appointments and scheduled appointments via Starfish.

The “SA Let’s Talk” series was spearheaded in the 2019-20 academic year by SA Vice President for Academic Affairs John Santare, a senior double-majoring in biology and comparative literature. He said he believes it is important for the SA to create a platform for students to voice their concerns on hot button issues and give ideas on what to help facilitate reform on campus.

“One of the things I ran on and wanted to improve during the campaign trail was outreach and how we connect with students and get feedback from them,” Santare said. “For a few other members of our staff and I, it’s very hard for us to develop new ideas when it’s just us here without students constantly getting feedback, so we developed the series called ‘SA Let’s Talk.’ [It] pretty much sprung from a lack of outreach and feedback.”

Although Santare said he commonly hears complaints about Harpur Advising from the student body, there was no one in attendance at the event. He credited the poor turnout to recent events relating to the coronavirus. Nevertheless, the presentation continued and addressed issues that students have brought up to the SA in the past such as wait times, making appointments and quality of help.

Noah Axinn, an undeclared freshman, missed this “SA Let’s Talk” event, but said he’s had several experiences with Harpur Advising. He said he needed help to reorganize his schedule and decide a track for a possible major following his first semester. He sought help from Harpur Advising and described both positives and negatives from his experience.

“They were kind of helpful as they have helped me reform my schedule when I needed to switch up my classes at the beginning of the semester,” Axinn said. “When I was talking to the adviser, however, they were very pessimistic about my situation at the time, and somewhat hinted that I would have to leave [BU] to get the degree I wanted due to my academic and financial situation.”

Axinn said he hopes to see some improvements in scheduling and wait times for academic advising in the future.

“I hoped they were better about making appointments,” Axinn said. “I found it difficult to find information on when I could schedule an appointment. They mostly just had walk-in hours, and it took almost an hour to actually talk to an adviser.”

Jones wrote in an email that her time at Harpur Advising has made her well aware of certain issues that exist in the advising center. She wrote she is continuously working with the Harpur College Dean’s Office and the Office of the Provost to resolve them.

“I know wait times have been an issue in the past and that is something we’ve been working on,” Jones wrote in an email. “Our current student to adviser ratio is roughly 670-to-1, which is still too high for us to be able to help all of our students navigate our complex and exciting academic world. With strong support from the Harpur College Dean’s Office and the University, we plan to continue to expand our advising team and operations to provide high quality service to our students.”

Jones wrote that feedback from students through daily and annual surveys, as well as Harpur College student focus groups and lunches, is an essential part of Harpur Advising. Jones wrote that the feedback allows the staff to learn new ideas and develop programs to make advising more effective and efficient for students.

“The entire Harpur Advising team takes great pride in assisting our students and being a part of their BU experience,” Jones wrote. “We have a number of initiatives underway that we know will increase advising accessibility and will also continue to help enhance our student experience. I’m proud of the innovative and thoughtful ideas they come up with every day that stem from working with our students.”