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I am an international undergraduate student in the US. My university sponsors my visa. I will graduate this quarter as a civil engineering major.

Before the Spring term started, I met with my academic advisor (who is also a professor in my department) to ask if he could remove the prerequisite for a class that I wanted to register for. He offered me a placement exam, but refused to let me schedule it at a convenient time. I had to take it right then with no preparation, and I could only use half of the allotted time due to a preexisting appointment. Despite this, I still managed a 40%.

The advisor decided that not to waive the prerequisite, but said that he would let me audit the class. But this was not a good option for me, due to my scholarship and other factors. Further, he said I would not even be allowed to talk to the professor, turn in homework, or take exams. So, I told the advisor that I would not take the class.

When the term started, I attended the first lecture and talked to the actual professor of the class. He interviewed me and agreed to waive the prerequisite. So I went to the registrar and they added the class.

The very next day, the advisor sent me an email and went off on me. He then scheduled a Zoom meeting, where he yelled at me some more. He said I was disrespecting him and the department. I apologized and tried to explain, but he threatened to report me for misconduct, and said that if I were his employee, he would definitely fire me.

That happened 3 days ago. I am so concerned and stressed about this. I have two main concerns:

  1. I am not sure if the advisor will or will not drop me out of the class. So far I am still registered for the class. I will not drop the class.
  2. This advisor is also my professor for a capstone class. I am worried that this will be awkward and that he will retaliate.
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  • Welcome to Academia.SE. I suggested some revisions -- feel free to make further edits if I botched anything, but please try to keep the length under control.
    – cag51
    Apr 4 at 7:16
  • "I wanted to register for" I do not get it: you could attend the course, you could learn all the material, but you still wanted to take the exam? Has this exam any relation with your visa?
    – EarlGrey
    Apr 4 at 7:39
  • It sounds like OP has a scholarship that will cover regular courses, but not audited courses.
    – cag51
    Apr 4 at 7:41
  • @EarlGrey This is in the US, where the course would not just constitute and exam, but also likely a series of long assignments, and it makes complete sense that the student would want to take the course for credit, in order to receive graded feedback for those assignments and have access to the professor. Additionally, if the student had to take ANOTHER course to fulfill his visa requirements instead, naturally they would have less time to devote to this course. Of course, the student may want this course on their resume, too, as it may be more directly relevant to their interests. Apr 4 at 15:41

2 Answers 2

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No one likes it when you go over their head and get their decisions overruled. However, it sounds like your advisor has no one to blame but himself: he does not teach this class, so why in the world did he take it upon himself to give you a placement exam? Particularly a haphazard one? And his threats about "misconduct" seem equally bizarre: he may not like what you did, but he must know that accusing you of misconduct would not go anywhere.

At any rate, to your questions:

  1. I am not sure if the advisor will or will not drop me out of the class. So far I am still registered for the class. I will not drop the class.

By definition, it's hard to predict what irrational people will do. But it seems like this decision is up to the course instructor, so I rather doubt that the advisor will try to drop you. Even your advisor probably realizes that having a disagreement with another faculty member over something as trivial as this would not make much sense. It's possible the advisor will try to convince the instructor to drop you, but this is unlikely, and even more unlikely to be successful.

So: I think there is not much to do here; this matter seems like it is already resolved. If an opportunity presents itself, you could consider whether to preemptively warn the instructor about this issue. I would definitely not go into all the details as you did above. But you could say something brief like: "By the way -- I had a bit of a misunderstanding / conflict with Prof. X when I tried to register for this course. No need to go into all the details here, just wanted to give you a heads up in case he says something."

  1. This advisor is also my professor for a capstone class. I am worried that this will be awkward and that he will retaliate.

This one is more difficult. Normally, the best response to something like this would be to avoid the professor for the next 10 weeks. But if he is teaching you in a different class, that obviously won't be possible.

Is there another professor who you trust? If so, it may be worth asking them for advice. You'll need to do this carefully: it is not their job to solve this mess. But if you keep it fact-based and concise ("Prof X shouted at me for 10 minutes and threatened to report me for misconduct, so I'm not sure how to deal with him in my capstone class"), you may get some useful insight.

Other than that, I don't think there's much to be done here. Trying to explain to the advisor seems to be making matters worse, not better. And going over his head to complain about him is a last resort. So, all you can really do is move forward under the assumption that he will treat you fairly despite his personal dislike of you. If he continues to be abusive, or if he does something that is correctible (like giving an unfair bad grade), then you won't have much choice but to complain to higher authorities. But it's hard to students to win in such scenarios, unfortunately.

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  • Update: if I understood your comment elsewhere correctly, the advisor did in fact drop you from the class. In this case, I recommend discussing with the course instructor -- they should be pretty ticked off that someone else dropped you from their class after they approved you. Discussing with a trusted professor as recommended above seems like a very good idea too.
    – cag51
    Apr 5 at 9:18
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No student should tolerate being "yelled at" by their advisor, certainly not an undergraduate advisor and especially not over something as trivial as a prerequisite waiver.

Luckily, since you are an undergraduate, changing your advisor is very simple. You may find you are much happier if you ask your head of department for a new one. You could explain the abusive behavior, or you could simply say you didn't feel that you were a good match. It happens all the time and shouldn't be any trouble to switch. I'd suggest doing this before your current advisor takes it upon himself to behave unprofessionally a second time.

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    This is a bit naive. Not every university makes it easy to switch advisors. And it leaves out the issue of the capstone course that is taught by the current advisor. Yanking in their chain isn't likely to make them happy.
    – Buffy
    Apr 4 at 15:20
  • @Buffy it may be true that this is a case where changing to a new advisor is less straightforward than it is in some places. However, the alternative course of action (or lack thereof) exposes this student to further abuse. The advisor began the punitive behavior when they administered the placement exam with no notice, and it has only accelerated since then. Upholding the status quo that students have to accept this type of abuse from professors is everything that is wrong with academia, and I won't support it. In many cases, students have more options than they realize.
    – psithurism
    Apr 4 at 18:48
  • I have been dropped by the advisor (he requested from the department as the registrar told me). This class is so important to the field I am working on and is directly related to it. I don't know what options I have that can fix or allow me to register for it. Apr 4 at 23:11
  • @AcivilengineeringStudent just to clarify, you are saying that the advisor went to the registrar and told them to drop you from the class, not that he dropped you as an advisee? I would go to the head of advising or the department head, explain the situation as you have done here, and formally request another (scheduled) opportunity to take the placement exam. If they deny you, then you will have to accept their decision. I would still explore options to switch advisors, as this one seems to be intent on making this a power struggle when it really is a triviality.
    – psithurism
    Apr 5 at 0:32

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