Interview of Virginia N. Gordon by William J. Studer
Creators:Gordon, Virginia N.
Contributors:Studer, William J., 1936-
Subjects (LCSH):Gordon, Virginia N. -- Interviews
Ohio State University. University College -- History
Counseling in higher education -- Ohio
Ohio State University -- History -- Sources
Subjects (Other):OSU student life, campus life
MetadataShow full item record
Publisher:Ohio State University Archives
Series/Report no.:Ohio State University. University Archives Oral History Program. Ohio State University Oral History Project
Dr. Virginia Gordon, nationally recognized for her innovative work in the field of Academic Advising, served University College (UVC) at Ohio State for 21 years, including some years as Assistant Dean. She began her career in student advising while a graduate student herself when she proposed creation of an advising position for the General Baccalaureate Curriculum (GBC), and was hired as its first Coordinator. Freshmen undecided on a major were particularly helped by this new office. Later Gordon co-authored the University textbook that was used in UVC 100, the required one-hour orientation course for all new students, and she developed with others the much-needed training program for academic advisors. The textbook helped facilitate a greater standardization of requirements for the course, generally taught, as it was, by graduate students. Gordon worked for three different Deans of University College, John Mount, Michael Curran, and Mac Stewart. She offers some brief comparisons of their leadership styles. For many years University College was widely considered a model for academic advising, especially in its innovative approach to advising freshmen and undecided students. Both groups could receive through the twenty Curricular Academic Programs (CAP) timely and accurate academic information and counseling about prospective majors. The College won several National Academic Advising Association (NACADA) awards. Other institutions regularly asked University College for its academic advising materials. In 1988 the offices of University College were moved from West Campus to central campus, a major improvement in accessibility to students. The College was no longer “those people out in that cornfield.” The relocation necessitated a major administrative reorganization, including separate Associate Deanships for Orientation, Advising, and Minority Students. There were six Coordinators who served as a liaison to individual colleges, and supervised the academic advisors under them. A major innovation at University College was the Academic Alternatives Program that counseled students, such as late sophomores or transfer students, who wished or needed to change majors. Such an administrative structure was particularly needed at a large institution such at Ohio State, but even so administrators, and the faculty, were divided on the merits of University College. Presidents Enarson and Jennings were very supportive; President Kirwan was determined to eliminate it. Some within the College of Arts and Sciences felt the College should be under its control. Some Colleges admitted freshmen directly, others did not. Students judged University College by the quality of their own advisors. Full-time advisors were best, but too expensive, and so many graduate students were hired temporarily. They brought enthusiasm, and many were fairly experienced. Some stayed for two years. All carried heavy advising loads. As a general rule Gordon found the graduate students to be “extremely capable” advisors. Salaries of the graduate-student advisers were less than what would have been paid in their own departments, but even so it was sufficient to keep many of them in school. Typically about 50 graduate students were employed. In rare cases when an advisor was not doing a satisfactory job, it was never easy to terminate that person. In the days of “open admission” to OSU, all advisors were challenged by the many poor students who were unprepared for the rigors of college study. Many needed remedial courses, and other special tutoring and counseling. Since “open admission” ended the university has gotten much better students. Every year there were between 6,000 and 7,000 entering students, and with the returning students, there were between 12,000 and 15,000 students at any given time. University College offered some 20 CAP areas, and each one required its own advisors. In GBC information was provided about all majors, and sessions also were scheduled on particular majors so undecided students could shop around. If they were thinking of business, for example, they could go to a session from the Business College, or similarly for Nursing, Allied Medicine, or Law, among many others. Gordon was convinced that for many students the UVC program substantially improved the early undergraduate experience, although some functioned well on their own, and others ignored offers to help. There were regular evaluations by students. It was not unusual for students, and parents, to give thanks for the help that was provided. Many were especially grateful for the help they received in the Summer Orientation Program. There was a separate advising area for minority students, and within that area some advisors needed to handle as many as five separate CAP programs. This was not easy. In addition to its primary function in advising, UVC played a major role in recruitment. Coordinators would go with the admissions people to high schools to help with recruiting, and they organized many “college nights” in those schools. Gordon participated in many of those. Another major responsibility was the UVC-100 course. It helped freshmen understand what the University resources are, where to find academic information, and how to schedule. Students’ attitudes toward the course improved when it was changed from “pass/fail” to a graded one-credit course. In looking back over her own long and successful career, Gordon took pride that the model for undecided students, which she had helped to create, became recognized as a national model. She also wrote the manual for the advisor-training program, and developed much of its content. One of her proudest achievements was establishing the Academic Alternatives Program. The steady improvement in the graduation rates was evidence of the success of UVC. University College was eliminated rather suddenly at the end of fiscal year 2001. It was apparently a Provost decision, made by Provost Ed Ray. Gordon, however, assigns much of the blame for that decision, which she deeply regretted, to ineffective leadership in University College. Defenders of the College were hampered by the lack of research and statistical analysis that might have shown what the College was accomplishing. Perhaps it could have been retained under a revised format, but such was never considered. Some other universities, such as Michigan State, have disbanded similar programs to UVC, but Gordon does not think it has become a national trend. One promising change, however, is e-mail, which makes it much easier for advisors to reach students. Gordon, in addition to her innovative work at UVC, was also active in the National Academic Advising Association, and served as its President in the early 1980s. She continues on the editorial board of their Journal. She also established at OSU the first national clearing house for academic advisors, which is today housed in the NACADA national office at Kansas State University.
William Halverson: Associate Dean, University College (p. 2) -- Thomas Minnick: academic advising program at University College (pp. 3, 5, 11, 31) -- John Mount: Dean of University College, VP for Regional Campuses (pp. 4, 9, 11, 19) -- Michael Curran: Dean of University College (pp. 4, 13) -- Mac Stewart: Dean of University College (p. 4) -- John Gardner: Univ. of S. Carolina, innovator in academic advising (p. 5) -- Harold Enarson: President of Ohio State (p. 11) -- Edward Jennings: President of Ohio State (p. 11) -- William “Brit” Kirwan: President of Ohio State (p. 12) -- Ed Ray: Provost (p. 25)
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