Editor’s Note: Hiring for nonexistent department undermines college input

By Megan Bennett, Editor-In-Chief

If program changes are pending approval, but the college goes forward with them anyway, are they really pending at all?

Announced in a March 10 email from Dean of the School of Media Arts Eric Freedman, an internal search is underway for an interim chair of a merged Cinema and Television Department. The college is advertising for a full-time tenured faculty member who “demonstrate[s] a strong investment in fostering a climate of open collaboration.” The posting said the review will begin March 24, and gave a June 1 start date.

This post raises a glaring red flag: Columbia does not have a Cinema and Television Department.

Freedman announced a proposal for a possible merger of the Television and Cinema Art and Science departments, as reported Feb. 21 by The Chronicle, but the merger has not been approved by Senior President and Provost Stan Wearden. Students were also asked to give feedback through open forums, but those are yet to be completed. The first one occurred Feb. 20, which had incredibly low turnout, and the second is scheduled for March 15. Promoting this position not only shows student voices aren’t taken seriously if they do not support the mergers, but it also shows that the few students who showed up in February to express concerns wasted their time on a formality with little or no impact. College leaders will move forward with whatever projects they want without sufficient input.

College spokesperson Anjali Julka said institutions often search for job candidates whether or not a position exists at that time, but did not respond to questions regarding this specific incident as of press time.

Noted in a March 6 Chronicle editorial, most students are unaware of this merger proposal, which means Freedman should be considering additional steps to alert them of the actual benefits, whether that means going to classrooms  himself or having faculty or staff address them. The focus should be on awareness at this time, not on recruiting for a nonexistent position.

Another issue is where this leaves the current chairs of the Cinema Art and Science and Television departments. There has been no explanation of what will happen to their positions. The two likely scenarios are that the chairs either leave or return to full-time faculty. However, if they were to stay, Columbia cannot afford to pay faculty members a chair-level salary, which, indicative from the college’s Form 990 tax documents from the past several years, is what happens when someone at that level takes a lesser position.

Beginning this work already could be seen as proactive while the merger is pending approval, but it also could sway decisionmakers to give the seal of approval without hearing thorough feedback, especially if SMA is already putting time and resources into a chair search. It also makes it seem as if the decision is already made, which, in addition to disregarding student input,  may make some faculty and staff members feel as if their opinions are less important than those at the top.

When approving or denying these mergers, the Office of the Provost needs to take the thoughts of faculty, staff and students more seriously than those who have created this proposal. They need to wait until all feedback that has been asked for is given, potentially even requesting more from the college’s shared governance bodies, and move beyond the micromanaging.

Even if campus leaders are not doing so, the community should still treat this proposal for what it is: a suggestion rather than a fait accompli. There should be no pressure to move forward with it unless it truly is the best option for students. This premature chair search only adds to the college’s top-down atmosphere that detracts from the inclusion Columbia so often preaches about.