Advisors are, willfully and intentionally, in an odd position. They are not parents, nor are they teachers or therapists – but they perform some of the functions of each of those, if need be. They are, more than anything, people to be made use of – for guidance, for advocacy, and even for instruction. It is their job to know what forms need to be submitted where and when. It is their job to be able to point their advisees in the right direction, for specific kinds of information and support, academic or spiritual or psychological.
A successful advisor/advisee relationship can only rest on honesty and respect, on both sides; and upon a free and full exchange of information. At most institutions, academic warnings go to the advisor as well as the student (but not, under current law, to parents – advisors are not conduits of information to home – something that they and parents may need to be reminded).
But in most cases, trouble is apparent to the student long before it becomes “official” – and effective corrective action is always best undertaken early. If the worst-case scenario develops, and the student faces disciplinary action or official punishment for academic dereliction, a good advisor can be of great help as a spokesperson; but only if they can honestly say, “X and I have been working on this situation for some time, now, the following steps have already been taken, and we’ve worked out the following corrective plan of action.” But that argument only works if the student has been forthcoming and frank in reporting anything which might be problematic.
One other thing that can be a useful role for the advisor derives from the peculiarly hierarchical nature of colleges. Students can visit office hours or try to call instructors or administrators; but the sad fact is that such efforts are often met with a closed door or a busy signal. It is remarkable how quickly and effectively a call or an e-mail from a faculty member gets through and is answered.
Advisors, usually, are volunteers. They do the job because they want to be helpful. To be helpful, they need to be kept informed, early and fully. And they need to be made use of, politely of course, but clearly nonetheless. And listened to, since they have almost certainly developed a certain empirical sense of how a particular institution operates, which courses or departments are legendary mine fields, and what balance of classroom and extracurricular activity has, in the vast majority of cases, been productive and happy.