Roland Hoover and the Role of a Great Faculty Adviser

Joshua T. Katz

The first disappointment I felt when I entered Yale as a freshman in August 1987 came when I learned who had been assigned as my faculty adviser. An academic child through and through, I wanted nothing more than to become a professor myself. Dreams of just which eminent scholar would guide my early months had sustained me through the summer: would it perhaps be that force of nature in the English department or any number of historians whose books I admired? But there on a piece of paper was the terse answer: Roland Hoover, University Printer. A member of staff, not faculty! Someone without a Ph.D.! Oh, woe!

Within a minute of meeting Mr. Hoover, however, I had put my prejudice away. By the end of our first get-together—a group dinner of his ten or so advisees at my residential college, where he was a Fellow—whatever person or machine had matched us had my great thanks. And by time I graduated, Roland (as he had become) was a friend.

Some of the chemistry between us had to do with our shared interests. Roland was an outstanding letterpress printer; I was a bibliophile who at that point didn’t know anything about the mechanics of printing but cared about fonts. In fact, I cared—and still care—so much about the visual presentation of language that one of the (smaller, but not entirely insignificant) things that had made me choose Yale was the official typeface, which looked so elegant on its letterhead and in the “Blue Book,” as the course catalogue is known. Furthermore, Roland and I were also both pedantic and Eeyorish.

But more important than the personal connection was the fact that Roland had an encyclopedic knowledge of Yale as well as a seemingly instinctive understanding for how it actually operated. He had graduated from Yale in 1949 with a B.S. in Industrial Administration (of all things) and appeared to know everyone, which was perhaps not surprising since his job meant that he was in charge of the public face of the university while himself staying behind the scenes.

He knew the old-timers and the brash young folk. He knew when a course was new and which departments were in trouble. He knew whether a given professor, administrator, coach, or conductor would respond well or badly to some offbeat request from one of his advisees. And because it was the 1980s and not the censorious 2020s, he was candid. It would never have occurred to students back then to report an adviser for suggesting that professor X was an idiot, a philanderer, or someone who had risen from nowhere to the heights of academic power. On the contrary, we were grateful for all this information, fact or opinion as it may have been.

In the spring of 1998, I joined the faculty of a different but similar university, Princeton. (Its official typeface had not moved me when I was in high school and didn’t excite me later either.) That fall, I took on the role of faculty adviser for underclassmen who had not yet chosen their major. I did so in part because I wished to be a Roland Hoover-type figure to the next generation. But since I had not myself been an undergraduate at Princeton and had been on the faculty for all of one semester, I had a lot to learn. And so I combed through the course catalogue and every administrative document I came across in order to have at least a basic idea of what was going on in fields about which I knew little to nothing, as well as of how the various parts of Princeton fit together, from the university press to the men’s and women’s basketball teams to campus organizations for Evangelicals. I also perused histories of town and gown, read all the student publications, and made an effort to meet as many colleagues and administrators as possible. Say what you will about me, but I was a very good adviser.

One thing that became immediately clear—from observation and from what students told me—was that most faculty advisers were pretty bad. There were of course wonderful exceptions, but many of my colleagues had such a narrow understanding of the university that they could barely recite the requirements for their own department, never mind comment on any other aspect of curricular or extracurricular life. I found this baffling: surely even people who don’t advise freshmen should want to be responsible citizens and understand their environment! It is telling, I think, that one of the two best and most evidently adored advisers with whom I interacted for the better part of a quarter century was a bibliophilic member of the staff—not a professor—who had himself graduated from Princeton decades before.

Roland and I corresponded for some years after my graduation but then lost touch. I deeply regret this, for his mentorship shaped my life—and thus, at one remove, also the lives of the hundreds of undergraduates I advised in my years at Princeton. He died in 2018 at the age of 89, which prompted my Yale contemporary Glenn Fleischman to write a lovely blog post. I am glad now, far too late, to say publicly myself how much he meant to me.

Imagine if American colleges and universities were to prioritize freshman advising rather than hiring ever more DEI flunkies who should not be anywhere near impressionable young people. Imagine if many more faculty—and the odd extraordinary staff member—cared enough to gain and pass along broad institutional knowledge to incoming students and thereby instill in their charges the idea that everyone shares a community. The memory of Roland Hoover allows me to imagine it—and to hope for a better future.


The National Association of Scholars brings you contributions from our members in this new weekly newsletter, bringing you stories and advice that give perspective on the world of higher education. To read the guidelines and learn how to submit your story, click here.

Photo by Kristian Strand on Unsplash

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