Campus & Community

Reconnecting academic support services

4 min read

Home again, Bureau of Study Counsel returns to College oversight

After five years of gathering input from students, faculty, and staff, after lengthy planning, and after careful thinking about the best way to support undergraduates, the Bureau of Study Counsel (BSC) will return to Harvard College oversight starting July 1.

According to Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay Harris, the transition offers multiple opportunities to enhance the strong academic support currently provided at Harvard.

“To support our students, we need an academic learning center that can help them engage fully in the educational opportunities of Harvard College,” said Harris. “The transition of the bureau back to College oversight is the first step in renewing the bureau’s role as the College’s primary learning center.”

The BSC, which has been part of Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) for the past 11 years, was created by faculty vote in 1947 and long has been a central component of the learning and academic support system at Harvard. Students arrive at the College from widely diverse academic, social, and cultural contexts; once here, they pursue a vast array of interests and ambitions. Academic support services are designed to help students develop the capacity to engage in the intellectual, social, and personal transformation that represents the essence of a liberal arts and sciences education at Harvard College.

In keeping with the College’s efforts to foster these transformative educational experiences, Ann Gaylin was hired in August 2014 as associate dean of undergraduate education for academic support in the Office of Undergraduate Education (OUE). For seven months, Gaylin has been working to align and integrate Harvard’s academic and student support services to enable all students to thrive intellectually at the College, with the first step being the shift of the BSC’s administrative oversight back to the College.

“The mission of the College starts with intellectual transformation. It forms the bedrock of the broader transformation that is the goal of a liberal arts education at Harvard,” said Gaylin. “By enhancing our support for students’ intellectual transformation — and their ability to reflect on and understand their own learning as individuals and as members of our community — we hope to foster the conditions for social and personal transformation as well.”

Just as the shift in oversight of the BSC and the resulting renewed emphasis on academic support enables the BSC to expand and enhance learning support services, it also allows its professional staff to consult more easily with other individuals who help students in their academic and personal development at Harvard, including deans, faculty members, advisers, and administrators. More generally, the shift will facilitate enhanced collaboration with other offices charged with supporting students — especially the Accessible Education Office — and better sharing of aggregate data to understand student trends and identify academic support needs.

The transition of the BSC also places it under the privacy standards of an educational environment, instead of the confidentiality standards of a health care environment under which it has functioned for the last 11 years. In addition, clinical licensure will no longer be a prerequisite for joining the BSC professional staff, allowing the bureau to further expand its range of expertise and to continue to evolve as students’ needs evolve. The BSC will continue to work closely with HUHS Counseling and Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to ensure that students with mental health concerns are appropriately referred to CAMHS resources.

“The BSC has always been a valuable part of the academic support we provide to students here at Harvard,” said Director of Harvard University Health Services Paul Barreira. “Over the years as the student population has changed, the College needed to expand these services, and the BSC transition is an important step in this process. At HUHS, we look forward to continuing to work closely with the BSC to provide the best services and resources possible to all Harvard students.”

During this transition period, the BSC plans to enhance and extend its already robust array of services, including workshops and one-on-one conversations about the challenges students face, such as time management, procrastination, reading, and exam preparation, as well as more reflective programs about intellectual engagement and resilience. The BSC is already working to create an online version of the Reading Course (expected publication this fall), which will allow students to fit the course into their busy schedules, and to work at their own pace. In response to student feedback about tutoring, the bureau plans to enhance the capacity and quality of its peer tutoring and will further develop its partnership with the Accessible Education Office to ensure that students with disabilities continue to thrive in Harvard’s rigorous educational environment

The bureau’s shift in oversight will be gradual, with full integration into the College’s administrative structures anticipated in early fiscal 2016. The BSC will continue to serve students at its current physical location at 5 Linden St.