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Dept. of Academic Affairs updates policies

Ann Marie Jakubowski | Monday, April 29, 2013

The Department of Academic Affairs within student government spent the past year as a liaison between undergraduates and Notre Dame administrators, and department director Maxwell Brown said a newly-developed mission statement has offered direction for the group’s future initiatives.

“The Department of Academic Affairs is the official link between students and administration through articulation of resolutions and promotion of academics in and outside of the classroom to enhance the undergraduate-student experience,” Brown said.

Brown, who is serving his second term as director of Academic Affairs, said several of last years major initiatives involved collaboration with the University’s Academic Council, a group headed by University President Fr. John Jenkins. The Council oversees the Academic Code, among other things, and Brown said he attends the meetings as a full voting member with speaking rights, representing the undergraduate student interests.

As a result of one of the revisions to the Academic Code this year, Brown said students will now be able to take the first course of a minor pass/fail.

“[This initiative] is really to allow students to be able to comfortably explore things, to encourage this intellectual exploration,” Brown said. “You can take a course pass/fail if you’re interested in it but don’t want to negatively affect your GPA, … and then you can continue [the minor] and use the first course even though you took it pass/fail.

“That way, you can just take the four other courses required to complete the minor instead of having to do all five, when that might not fit into your schedule if you’re a junior or senior,” he said.

Brown said the new legislature does not overly pad GPAs but instead provides students with a chance to safely explore the academic options available in a “highly competitive research and career environment.”

Another key development was improving the advocacy for students put on academic probation, Brown said.

“We’re working to make the academic system and the Academic Council as a whole more transparent [so] students know what changes are happening,” he said. “Overall, with these changes there is a lot more attention to advocacy for students and not only streamlining language to make it more efficient and effective, but also to really support the students and advance their interests.”

The upcoming library renovation plans were another major accomplishment for the department, Brown said, which was committed to making sure “students’ voices are being heard.”

“The survey that went out was extremely helpful … and we had a very effective response [from students],” Brown said. “The information really provided a positive framework to move forward, and it’s really been taken under advisement not only by the librarians themselves who are organizing the renovations, but also the architects who will actually work on it.”

Brown said the survey showed student feedback on both the physical aspects of the library and the “intangible resources” available online.

“This is one of the parts of the survey that was really interesting, [because] the students who were able to effectively use the [online] resources and meet with the research librarians found that to be overwhelmingly useful,” he said. “But then the other group of students had just never used them or not heard of them, so that’s something that’s really important for us to work on.”

In additions to renovating the library building, Brown said the department is also planning to expand the librarian in-residence program in dorms.

“The program brings a librarian to the dorms, someone who is available to help with research or answering questions about library databases,” he said. “We just want to help students become more familiar with and utilize the resources available them.”

Brown said his department welcomes comments and suggestions from students on all initiatives pursued by student government.