Dr. Kim’s presidential review

By Andrea Salcedo, Campus Editor

In the summer of 2013, Dr. Kwang-Wu Kim assumed the job of president and CEO of Columbia College Chicago, succeeding former President Warrick Carter. Kim, who holds degrees from Yale and Johns Hopkins University, previously held administrative positions at Arizona State University and the Longy School of Music in Massachusetts. Following the end of his 2013 contract and his unanimous contract extension, The Chronicle is marking this milestone with a review of key events and accomplishments throughout Kim’s time at the college.

Three years into his presidency, Kim is armed with a contract extension through June 2020, approved unanimously by the board of trustees, as reported Oct. 27 by The Chronicle. Kim said he is excited about his contract extension because a president should have a good relationship with their board.

“The vote of confidence gives me the inspiration to keep going,” Kim said.

Bill Wolf, chairman of the board of trustees, said the board unanimously voted for Kim’s contract extension because he has done an “outstanding” job in moving the college forward with Strategic Plan implementation.

“He deserves a chance to continue to implement the things he has started to build for the future,” Wolf said.

One of Kim’s biggest accomplishments was transitioning from the previous presidency, during which the chairman of the board was running the college, Wolf added.

Reinventing Columbia  

When Kim arrived at the college in 2013, he said the college needed to emphasize a 21st century learning experience and rethink structure to get back on the road to success. On May 7, 2014, approximately one year into his presidency, Kim put out the “Redefining Our Greatness” memorandum—a 14-page document outlining his vision for the college, which he said he hoped would be completed by the end of that year. In the document, Kim expressed discontent with the college’s organization and practices including alumni relations, communication, spending and the now eliminated “First-Year Seminar” course.

“I see myself [being] responsible for getting this school to move,” Kim said in a May 8, 2014, article by The Chronicle. Kim outlined goals in the document, including a plan to elevate standards for faculty members applying for tenure, increasing Columbia’s freshman-to-sophomore retention and six-year graduation rates, and replace the “First-Year Seminar” course with classes introducing students to the campus community and the city.

In May 2015, Kim launched the Strategic Plan—a five-year plan with six main pillars calling for revamping the college’s curriculum and increasing enrollment through the implementation of six committees. The committees include Universal Learning Outcomes; Columbia Core; Integrated First-Year Experience; Registration and New Student Orientation; and Community Engagement. A separate Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee was created later that year to implement the last pillar in the plan.

Kim said he considers the Strategic Plan one of his main accomplishments because it is a clear statement outlining where the college is going and how it should allocate funds. Without it, he said the college community would experience change without knowing its purpose. Greeted with opposition from certain groups in the college community, the plan sparked an 11.5-hour sit-in in front of the college’s administrative offices before its adoption by the board of trustees in 2015.

Curriculum Reform and Departmental Organization 

During the 2014–2015 winter break, the college announced the merger of the Advertising and Public Relations programs and the Journalism Department into the Communication & Media Innovation Department to consolidate and synergize the departments. Marketing had formerly been combined with Advertising and was moved to what became Business & Entrepreneurship in 2014, formerly known as Arts, Entertainment and Media Management Department.

During 2015, the “First-Year Seminar” course was eliminated and replaced with the larger, lecture-oriented “Big Chicago” courses, as reported March 30, 2015, by The Chronicle. The failure to renew the contracts of the program’s lecturers with no prior notice drew criticism from the Faculty Senate and sparked new faculty manual bylaws.

In the Fall 2015 Semester, the college announced the division of the Art & Design Department into two separate Art & Art History and Design departments.

The Fall 2016 Semester began with the merger of the college’s Portfolio Center and career and internship services into the Career Center, which was announced during the spring. Curriculum proposals in the Fashion Studies Department and the Theatre Department—which went through an administrative merger with the Dance Department over the summer of 2016—were criticized by students, faculty and staff who opposed the changes and advocated for a more transparent curriculum review process, as reported Sept. 26 and 0ct. 31 by The Chronicle.

Diana Vallera, adjunct professor in the Photography Department and president of the part-time faculty union, said Kim’s inaction regarding these curriculum proposals and her criticism is “unforgivable” and “unethical.”

“It’s irresponsible not to have taken such actions and to make a statement about his commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Vallera said. “He can’t pick and choose what that means.”

Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden, one of Kim’s first major hires, made curricular review a focal interest as he worked with committees to create Universal Learning Outcomes that would influence the college’s Core Curriculum. Part-time faculty union members are now involved in these processes as members of the departmental curriculum committees.


Kim inherited a 5.6 percent enrollment decrease from the Carter administration—dropping from 10,783 students in 2012 to 10,142 in 2013. In 2014, as tuition increased, enrollment went down again. The college experienced a 6.9 percent enrollment decrease compared with 2013—from 10,142 students to 9,442. Despite the enrollment drop, the college’s freshman retention rate increased by 3.6 percent, as reported Feb. 17, 2014, by The Chronicle.

Next year, the college experienced another enrollment decrease—this time by 5 percent—from 9,442 students to 8,961—as reported Sept. 28, 2015, by The Chronicle.

The same year, the college formed the Office of Enrollment Management headed by Jeff Meece to identify ways of improving retention and new ways to recruit. The college also launched a new branding and advertising campaign aimed at increasing enrollment and improving the college’s national brand during the Fall 2016 Semester. The strategy cost the college $686,500,  but Kim said he hopes the new branding campaign will lift the college up and increase excitement, as reported Sept. 19 by The Chronicle.

At the same time as the rebranding, the school reported a 20-year low enrollment with a 9.4 percent drop—from 8,961 students to 8,120.

Kim said he would like the college to be able to move faster and have more stable enrollment, but he knows the Strategic Plan implementation will take time and will require what could be perceived as “over-communicating” when discussing plans to improve the college’s services.

“I want everything to move fast,” Kim said. “That’s my natural impatience, but I have enough experience to know you can only make things move so fast because we’re working with people…. It would be nice to be a little more stable with our enrollment, but that’s not something I can influence directly.”

School Finances and Infrastructure 

In order to keep funds steady in the midst of lower enrollment, Kim announced a 3.3 percent tuition increase in 2014—approximately $752 for the 2014–2015 academic year—which was met with disapproval by some students, as reported Feb. 10, 2014, by The Chronicle. In February and November of this year, Kim announced a 4 percent tuition increase for the 2015–2016 and 2017–2018 academic years, which were both more than $900 rises.

However, Columbia’s endowment fund, the college’s savings, saw a substantial 12 percent increase, ending the 2013–2014 fiscal year with nearly $141 million, according to the 990 Internal Revenue tax form, as reported Nov. 30, 2015, by The Chronicle. The college’s endowment dropped 9 percent in 2015—from the $141 million reported in fiscal year 2013–2014 to approximately $132 million in the 2014–2015 fiscal year—because money is now being allocated from the endowment toward the college’s budget.

Although the full budget is confidential, a breakdown of allocations and expenditures was first made available on Columbia’s website beginning in 2015–2016 by former Vice President of Business Affairs and CFO Michelle Gates. This was in response to years of concerns about budget transparency and a desire to know how tuition dollars were being spent.

In the Fall 2015 Semester, the college also approved and announced planning and development of the new student center—a $40 million–$50 million endeavor, as reported Nov. 9, 2015, by The Chronicle. The student center, scheduled to be finalized for the Fall 2018 Semester, is an “independent funded” project that will not come from student tuition dollars, which Kim has reiterated after repeated concerns about how the college will find the money for the center.

The importance of funding the student center was cited when the college approved funding of the 2015–2016 Monetary Award Program grants but was unable to cover them for the 2016–2017 academic year when the Illinois budget impasse continued, as reported April 4 by The Chronicle.

“It comes down to [the fact that] we just can’t afford it,” Kim said in the article, adding that funding 2016–2017 grants would halt projects like the new building.

Kaela Ritter, Student Government Association President, added that the college’s decision to cover MAP grants last year was a “great call” for helping the students.

During the summer of 2016, the college announced the intention to sell the Johnson Building, 820 S. Michigan Ave., which the college never utilized. Wolf said the sale will help finance the student center, though the building’s

estimated revenue will only cover a fraction of the center’s cost.

The college also announced a $9 million renovation for the Getz Theatre, as reported Oct. 10 by The Chronicle. College spokeswoman Cara Birch said the funds will come from the college’s capital budget and will be split between fiscal years 2017 and 2018.

This year, the college’s departmental funding continued to drop while overall administrative expenses rose, according to the college’s official fiscal year 2017 budget, as reported Nov. 7 by The Chronicle. In addition to this, the college is allocating millions toward the Strategic Plan, according to the official fiscal year 2017 budget.

Despite this, Kim said in a Nov. 2 interview that he is satisfied with Columbia’s financial health.

“If my CFO said to me, ‘You can’t change anything in a positive way about Columbia this year,’ then I would feel like ‘Okay, now we have a problem,” he said at the time.

Hiring and Employee Relations 

In 2013, one of Kim’s first duties was the finalization of the previous administration’s ongoing negotiations with P-Fac. He signed the union’s collective bargaining agreement on July 29, 2013, according to P-Fac’s website. In May 2014 Terrence Smith, special counsel for labor relations, was hired to help with employee and union issues.

However, the Fall 2015 Semester, P-Fac gave an official vote of no-confidence for Kim and late, former Board of Trustees Chairman Dick Kiphart following what the union called “unilateral” decision making and the Strategic Plan’s finalization.

Vallera said while she is happy for Kim’s contract extension because it demonstrates continuity, she added that she is no longer excited about the contract signed in 2013.

“When I look at what actually occurred after the signing, [part-time faculty inclusion] is not what I’ve seen,” she said. “We want a leader who’s going to honor their obligation to P-Fac by honoring their commitment to the contract.” 

Kicking off massive changes within the college administration, Kim announced Wearden’s hire in a Feb. 26, 2014, email. Kim also hired Gates in the summer of 2014, who in February became the fifth CFO in five years to leave the college, as reported Feb. 29 by The Chronicle.

Wearden said Kim is the primary reason for him coming to Columbia.

“He’s an extraordinarily visionary college president,” Wearden said. “I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of different college presidents and I’ve never seen a president as student-focused as Dr. Kim is.”

Since Kim’s arrival, new departments have been created and staffed while layoffs resulted from budget pressures. The college saw its first massive buyout in 2015 with the Voluntary Separation Incentive Program that eliminated dozens of faculty and staff. At the same time, the school has expanded its roster of six-figure administrative positions.

“The school [student body] is shrinking, but a lot of the administrative positions have to be here,” Kim said Nov. 2 while discussing administrative costs.

During the Fall 2015 Semester, the United Staff of Columbia College, Columbia’s staff union, fought for a new contract as well as cost-of-living adjustments after almost four years of bargaining with the college.

Although US of CC and the college reached an agreement Nov. 17 and will vote on the new contract Nov. 21, the road was not always smooth, including rallies, informational pickets and petitions to bring attention to the long-touted negotiations.

Over the years, US of CC President Nick Hoeppner, as well as several union members, have expressed frustration with the college’s lack of speed, citing several issues with its rejecting of offers and offering incentives such as performance-based salary increases instead of cost-of-living adjustments.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 

During 2016, Kim spearheaded the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, appointing members who recently completed its mission statement, as reported Feb. 8 and Oct. 27 by The Chronicle.

In an Oct. 13, 2015, interview with The Chronicle, Kim said the college’s conversations about diversity will be more authentic because diversity holds more meaning at Columbia.

“We’re not fully there yet, but I think we’ll have a more honest and comprehensive discussion than a lot of other places,” Kim said in the interview. “I think we care about it more. There are schools, [for which] this is sort of on the checklist. I think we’re way beyond that here, which gives me a lot of hope.”

The committee, which plans to have ongoing conversations and continue adding new members, started behind schedule in comparison to other implementation committees. It is supposed to decide whether Columbia needs a chief diversity officer, which is outlined in the plan, as well as how Columbia could improve certain processes.

Though the college has not yet made collegewide diversity training mandatory, the Office of the Provost spearheaded an “Undoing Racism” session independent from the DEI committee during the summer of 2016 for selected faculty, staff and students conducted by the People’s Institute.

Onye Ozuzu, dean of the School of Fine & Performing Arts and DEI committee leader, said Kim has always talked about the central mission of the college and how that included diversity, equity and inclusion.

“He’s the first president that I’ve heard speak with such unabashed intention about diversity, equity and inclusion,” Ozuzu said. “It’s never left out. It was a signal to many  [faculty and staff] that we were at the right place.”

Student Relations 

Another notable accomplishment, according to Kim, is the close relationship he has developed with students—though he is not sure all would agree.

“When I met with students in the presidential interviews, consistently they said, ‘We want a president who’ll work to be there for us,’” Kim said. “I took that very seriously.” 

Ritter said she thinks Kim has a good relationship with students supported by his participation in bi-annual open forums with students.

Students at the forums often ask Kim questions about issues such as the continuing enrollment drop, tuition increase and funding for future plans like the student center. 

“He’s always trying to make sure he has as much context and as much information from the student body as possible,” Ritter said. 

While the president’s Strategic Plan was in its drafting phase with the help of a steering committee, Kim faced the #SaveColumbia coalition—a movement organized by students, faculty and staff that opposed changes at the college and made a list of demands, as reported April 13, 2015, by The Chronicle. Faculty, staff and student frustrations came to a head when they organized the 11.5-hour sit-in on the fifth floor of the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building, as reported May 4, 2015, by The Chronicle. The coalition protested the plan’s finalization, a tuition increase, larger class sizes, program reductions and the elimination of faculty and staff positions.

Prior to the sit-in, which had Chicago police officers lining the building’s exits until students left without speaking to Kim, who said he does not give into demands, the #SaveColumbia coalition announced its own “no confidence” vote and published an online petition demanding the removal of Kim and Wearden, a tuition freeze, a halt to all hirings of new vice presidents and smaller class sizes.

At the final Strategic Plan steering committee meeting, students accused Kim and Wearden of not addressing students concerns and “turning a blind eye,” but Kim moved forward with finalizing the plan and presenting it to the board of trustees, saying that concerns regarding class size increases, eliminations of majors and major tuition increases were not included in the plan.

“I do not hear anything today that says this should not move forward,” Kim said in an April 27, 2015, story by The Chronicle.

Ritter said she is aware that a lot of Kim’s plans are not yet complete but that most of them will be coming along with the completion of the Strategic Plan.

“We have to give him time,” Ritter said. “I’m glad they gave him another three years.”

Kim acknowledged that the college is in a “tough” time,” but pushed for the college community to stay focused on the Strategic Plan goals.

“I wouldn’t have stayed here if I wasn’t totally committed, but also excited and believed we’re making progress,” Kim said. “We’re going to get to where we want to be.”