The Preceptorial Program was implemented in 1973 to deal with the serious attrition problem that USD was experiencing at that time. The program was an immediate success and it grew year by year as the size of the first year student class increased. Through this period of development, the benefits for the student were elaborated and clarified but the primary goal of providing effective academic advising to first year students has remained unchanged. As stated at the institution of the program, the preceptorial program should:
- Introduce the student to the intellectual resources of the University
- Encourage the student to develop the inquiring habit of mind that is fundamental to the core curriculum of a liberal arts education
- Assist the student in planning a cohesive and productive program of study
- Provide for early and continuing communication between the student and the advisor.
While the advising focus of the program has not changed, in recent years various aspects of the responsibilities of faculty who participate in the program have become clearer. Their special role as the students' initial contact with the intellectual climate of the university enables the preceptors to be influential in instilling habits and values which will put the students on the right path for their years at the university and beyond. Indeed, reinforcing a positive orientation to intellectual values and academic achievement should be a primary purpose of the preceptor. The purpose of these guidelines is to review the primary responsibilities of preceptors so that faculty who are teaching (or are considering teaching) a preceptorial will be aware of the nature and extent of their commitment.
1. The Intellectual Atmosphere: An essential component of the preceptor's role is to foster and promote the intellectual atmosphere of the University. The students need to view the learning experience as the central purpose of university life. Through discussions with the students and/or the manner in which the preceptor approaches the subject matter of the preceptorial course, the students' intellectual orientation can be addressed. Preceptors should guide the students in both concrete steps, such as learning to make use of the resources of the library and making study time a priority in their daily schedules, as well as in less tangible approaches to enhancing their mental growth.
In an article in College Teaching* Overholser provides some important guidelines for the stimulation of intellectual inquiry:
- Help the students recognize the limits of their knowledge and motivate them to learn.
- Emphasize the process of learning instead of just the end product.
- Approach the learning experience as a collaborative adventure.
- Challenge the students and encourage the active and critical evaluation of their beliefs.
2. The Preceptorial Course: The preceptorial is an academic course that provides first year students with an introduction to some area of knowledge. Originally all preceptorial courses met some core curriculum requirement, and all were three or four unit courses. This is no longer the case--at the present time there is great diversity in the types of courses offered. Some preceptorials are traditional core curricular courses in a specific discipline while others are interdisciplinary courses examining a problem or issue from several perspectives. Still others are innovative approaches to traditional subject matter or courses of a more experimental nature. In spite of this flexibility, not all first year level courses are appropriate as preceptorials. In proposing preceptorials, faculty should consider whether the course and their own teaching style are compatible with the goals of the preceptorial program. Once a course proposal has been developed, it must go through the normal channels of curricular approval (department, curriculum committee, academic assembly) which all new courses undergo.
3. Advising - General Responsibilities: In addition to teaching the preceptorial course, the preceptor serves as the academic advisor for students in the course from the time they enter USD until the end of their sophomore year. By that time, students should be encouraged to either declare a major (where the advising responsibility shifts to the major department) or they should be referred to the Dean’s office, which provides academic advising for undeclared students.
In general, academic advisors work with the student both on procedures for completion of the degree and on development of the skills needed to make informed decisions. Academic advising is not simply directing students to go online with DARS. Advisors assist with information about academic policies, course selection, registration procedures, and graduation requirements as well as facilitating decision-making about educational goals, alternatives, and career needs. The preceptor must be available to provide counseling on an ongoing basis and must be knowledgeable about such matters as academic integrity and the support services available to students. The preceptor should assist in the student's orientation to the new academic environment and provide appropriate referral to campus offices that deal with specific student problems. Preceptors are encouraged to inform students of the various support services available (e.g., career counseling, personal counseling) and to work with these services as appropriate to promote their use by students. For example, the Library routinely contacts preceptors about making a presentation to students. Although preceptors are not required to do so, many make arrangements for their preceptees to tour the library facilities or to have librarians brief students about specific resources which are available. Preceptors are encouraged to consult the Preceptor Reference Call List as a brief directory of campus resources.
Since serving as a preceptor implies a long-term commitment to advising students, the absence or lack of accessibility of a preceptor creates a serious problem for students. If a preceptor is unavailable, the responsibility for providing advising rests with the preceptor's department. In the event that a preceptor is away from campus for an extended period (e.g., sabbatical leave) specific arrangements for a substitute advisor should be made prior to the preceptor's departure and these arrangements should be communicated to the preceptees and the Dean's Office.
4. Advising Specifics: There are certain occasions on which preceptors must be available. These are:
- During orientation: Preceptors are expected to meet with their class to discuss the course and general features of academic life at USD. Student schedules should be checked and any scheduling problems addressed at this time.
- General academic advising should be provided during the semester.
- Late in the fall semester, preceptors should meet with students to plan a program of courses for the spring semester. Preceptors will help students go online for the registration process.
5. Compensation: Faculty who teach preceptorials accumulate credit towards reassigned time. For every three preceptorials taught, the faculty member is eligible for one and a half course released time with the date of the released time determined by the Dean from the list of eligible faculty. Due to the increase in preparation that team teaching requires, faculty who teach cluster preceptorials receive $1,000 stipends each time the class is taught. Faculty participating in disciplinary clusters will receive $750 for their participation with compensation limited to three years. The differential reflects the predetermined focus of disciplinary clusters, the fact that most interdisciplinary clusters do not last beyond two years, and the likelihood that participation in disciplinary clusters will continue beyond two years. In addition, all faculty participating in clusters receive the same credit towards reassigned time as other preceptors.
* Overholser, J.C. (1992), "Socrates in the Classroom." College Teaching, 40 (1), 14-19.