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Date of Award

8-2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)

Department

Social Work

Supervisor

Jane Aronson

Language

English

Abstract

This research project examines the experiences of women working as Academic Advisors in universities in southern Ontario. Uniquely positioned at the interface between individual students and institutional systems, Advisors are often the first persons struggling students turn to for assistance. Along with these students, faculty, and other staff, Advisors have been caught up in the market-driven changes to post-secondary education that have occurred over the past 30 years. This reconstitution of universities as corporate cultures has negatively impacted Advisors' ability to provide this critical support to students, and it is this narrowing of the opportunity to provide caring work in this changing educational environment that is the focus of this study.

Semi-structured, in-depth interviews with Academic Advisors revealed that their one-on-one work with students is seen by Advisors as a critical support. However, the individualizing imperative of the neoliberal discourse restricts such access, leaving Advisors feeling 'caught' between the needs of students and the managerialist push toward measurable efficiencies that seek to limit those connections. As ever greater numbers of students bring forward increasingly complex issues, Academic Advisors are left trying to 'fill the gaps' in these under-resourced institutions. Despite the complexity of the work they do, Advisors have internalized the negative images the dominant discourse associates with caring work, and therefore both argue for the importance of the work they do, and dismiss the level of skill involved - thus participating in the devaluation of that work.

In parallel to the experiences of those in other human services organizations, the work that Academic Advisors do is frequently at odds with the institutional cultures in which they are employed, resulting in a tension between what they see as important and what the university is willing to support. This study sheds light on these little-studied workers, and gives voice to the concerns of those involved in it. By naming the tension they describe as feeling 'caught', it provides an opportunity for developing strategies for change both through daily acts of microresistance, and by encouraging the development of a community of like-minded individuals who can support one another in seeking change on a grander scale.

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