Updated: May 16, 2016 at 6:23 p.m.
Eleven members of the business school advising center’s staff have left the office over the last 14 months, according to archived versions of the center’s website.
Only two out of the six academic advisers currently in the business school have been at the University for more than a year. One former employee said that the high rate of turnover is due to a misleading job description, a chaotic environment and a “climate of fear” within the office.
The former employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said four employees have left the office this year. The former employee said the turnover began in May 2011 when the advising office underwent massive restructuring.
Under this reorganization, academic advisers became “Undergraduate Student Experience Advisors,” and took on additional responsibilities like teaching sections of a two-semester, one-credit course required for freshmen on basic business practices.
That former employee said advisers were required to reapply for their positions after the changes to the office. A University spokesman declined to comment on this information.
Larry Fillian, the director of undergraduate advising at the time, left the University less than a year after the restructuring.
Six former employees of office declined requests for comment.
University spokesman Jason Shevrin said in an email statement that the University does not comment on individual personnel matters, but welcomes student feedback regarding their undergraduate business experiences.
“The GW School of Business is committed to ensuring every student has a positive and productive experience with their adviser,” Shevrin said.
Shevrin declined to say when the business school hopes to fill the empty adviser positions or if the office is exempt from hiring freezes.
When Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou became associate dean for undergraduate programs in May 2012, advisers were working at least 10 additional hours every week, the former employee said.
The former employee said Bajeux-Besnainou implemented “super Saturdays” once a month, requiring advisers to come to work on a Saturday to catch up on administrative tasks. Advisers were also required to do administrative work for Lemonade Day, a program that started in 2013 that pairs business school students with local elementary and middle schools to teach children about entrepreneurship.
The employee estimated that advisers were working between 50 and 60 hours per week, while the job description advertised 40.
“It’s so much more than published,” the employee said. “It’s completely false advertising. The job description is an absolute joke.”
The employee described Bajeux-Besnainou as “out of touch” with the employees who worked under her and said that she communicated with the office mostly through her assistant, rarely speaking with center employees directly.
Bajeux-Besnainou said in an email that she was “shocked” by the allegations and said that none of them were true.
She left the University last September to become the dean of the business school at McGill University.
Leo Moersen, the associate dean for undergraduate programs in the business school, said in an email that the claims about Bajeux-Besnainou are false.
“Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou was a highly-valued leader who collaborated with students, faculty and staff to accomplish a significant amount during her time at GWSB,” Moersen said.
The advising center’s website lists one spot as open. Some of the former advisers have gone onto positions at other universities, while a few have remained employed within the University, taking positions in different offices.
Natalie McLemore is the most recent employee to leave the office. In an email to her advisees sent on May 5, she said she will leave at the end of this month. McLemore was hired in August 2013.
The former employee had been actively searching for other jobs during his last two years in the office and “aggressively” pursued them for six months before leaving. The former employee said one current employee is actively seeking other jobs.
Seventy percent dissatisfaction
The employee said the current executive director of undergraduate advising and programs, Mirasol Española, has also pushed undergraduate advisers to leave.
“Her lack of leadership ability and her lack of mentorship leaves the advisors with a sense of betrayal, since she does not advocate for them,” the former employee said in an email.
The former employee said he discussed the high turnover rates with Española. The former employee said Española used feedback against the former employee in his annual review and gave the former employee paper copies of job openings at other universities.
In 2014, employees underwent an office-wide survey of their experiences in the position. The employee said while colleagues gave “copious” responses about office morale, they never saw the full results.
One of the slides, the former employee said, showed that nearly 70 percent of the respondents reported being dissatisfied in their positions and that they would not recommend the job to a friend. The University spokesman declined to give the results of this audit.
Although the employee said many of his colleagues were distressed by this information, Española did nothing to indicate that the office would work on changing the negative climate.
“We don’t talk about what’s not working,” the former employee said.
Española could not be reached for comment, but Moersen, the associate dean, said Española is “widely recognized for the professionalism and collegiality that exist within Undergraduate Programs and Advising.”
Effect on the students
Alan Benson, an assistant professor in the Department of Work and Organizations at the University of Minnesota’s business school, said while high turnover is never something that offices hope for, it can be especially toxic in a field like academic advising where job success depends on advisers building long-term relationships with students.
Benson said that when advisers act as references for students, they are asked to account for how long they have known the applicant.
“If people are turning over within two years, it doesn’t give counselors enough time to develop a relationship,” Benson said.
He said the office should take this rate of turnover as an opportunity to restructure itself and improve the culture among employees.
Benson said the office should consider “repositioning itself, perhaps figuring out how it can attract the right kind of person and retain them and promoting a work environment that works for them and works for everybody.”
This post is updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported the undergraduate advising office underwent restructuring in January 2010. It was in May 2011. We regret this error.