Academic Team’s letter endorsed by Faculty Senate, Chairs Council

By Lindsey Woods

An open letter written by the Blueprint | Prioritization Academic Team in response to President Warrick L. Carter’s prioritization recommendations has been officially endorsed by both the Faculty Senate and the Chairs Council. The letter was read by Suzanne Blum Malley, associate professor in the English Department and member of the Academic Team, at the listening forum held May 25. The Faculty Senate announced its endorsement in an email after they met May 25. The Chairs Council also announced its endorsement in an email, sent June 6. The full text of the letter can be read below.

An Open Letter to the Columbia College Chicago Community from the Blueprint Prioritization Academic Team in Response the President’s Prioritization Recommendations:

The members of the Academic Team are hard pressed to find in the President’s recommendations evidence of the results of the large-­‐scale process that we all just went through. Certainly we recognize the ONE Columbia term we coined, but we do not find the thought or spirit of ONE Columbia nor do we find the voices of the faculty and staff that that we were asked to represent as stewards of the College. In our comprehensive review of the Columbia academic portfolio, the Academic Team discovered a critical need to change our “business-­‐as-­‐usual” practices in the areas of leadership, student persistence and graduation, finances, collaborative structures, and opportunities. It is clear to us, your colleagues on the Academic Team, that active steps need to be taken to create “managed change” in these areas to achieve lasting effects on our success as an institution of higher education.

What needs to be done extends far beyond 2016 and requires a dramatic shift in our financial, structural, technological, & pedagogical models. These issues require a major rethinking, a rethinking that we respectfully feel the President’s Focus 2016: A BluePrint for Action recommendations do not begin to address. A simple rearranging of programs in the absence of significant cultural and leadership changes will not have the necessary impact on the future of the College. The members of the team are disheartened to observe that the majority of the President’s recommendations seek to eliminate what he, in his own words, at the beginning of this process, characterized as “low-­‐hanging fruit.”. The Academic Team believes this a risky, short-­‐term focus and we are deeply troubled that after a full year, expensive consultants, the tireless work of hundreds, and the costly damage done to our reputation, the President’s recommendations do not stray from what many in the community feared would be predetermined decisions. Focus 2016: A BluePrint for Action does not encompass a vision for transforming Columbia and positioning us for success over the next 10-­‐20 years. We believe that our students, our faculty, and our staff, in other words, our ONE Columbia, have earned better.

One area of fundamental disagreement between the members of the Academic Team and the President is in the value of shifting from a “bodies-­‐in-­‐the-­‐door” model to a “recruit-­‐retain-­‐and-­‐graduate-­‐students” model. Both models recognize our tuition dependency as an institution, but have distinct value propositions. The Academic Team wholeheartedly embraces the recruit-­‐retain-­‐and-­‐graduate model as the only model that allows for our long-­‐term institutional success and financial stability. The President notes that he believes financial gains from increased retention are modest, but that is because our increases in retention across the board have only been modest. Real work on retention, not exhortations to faculty to “do better,” is where our energies must focus.

We also want to clarify for the entire community what seems to be a misconception of the Academic Team’s recommendation that we explore more selective admissions for some programs. By selectivity, we do not mean simply the recruitment of students with higher standardized test scores or higher incomes. Rather we advocate for the opportunity to carefully attend to the talent and preparation of incoming students and ensuring that when we bring them into our programs, we have the resources available to offer them the education that we market to them AND that they are prepared to take on the challenge of our demanding programs. As we note in our open letter to the Columbia Community, “our student body is increasingly diverse; our students come to us more academically prepared than ever before; our national and international reputation has never been higher.” We can continue this trend but also choose to do our work in a far more ethical manner.

Additionally, some of the best and most visionary thinking we encountered in the Prioritization process involves a much more cohesive conceptualization of learning than that represented in the President’s report. This thinking embraces the College as a “student laboratory” which crosses program, department, and school boundaries. It reinforces the building of students’ bodies of work and interdisciplinary practices. This kind of learning, however, requires a critical examination of and shift in several areas. These include the role of the Deans and Chairs, and a fresh perspective on applied research, civic engagement, and service learning activities at the College. The Academic Team found these areas to be among the most promising for the future of the College, yet we did not find any of this thinking in the President’s report.

Finally, we note that there are several misrepresentations and/or misunderstandings in the President’s recommendation document of how curriculum and academic programs are currently structured. We are keenly aware, as well, of similar mistakes in the previous levels of recommendations, which is why what happens next is so important. We cannot implement recommendations that do not have the facts right.

The President indicates, “The college will take up the team’s “One Columbia” recommendations in the implementation of this plan.” We see tremendous opportunity, then, in structuring the implementation process as a community, as ONE Columbia. As the Academic Team points out in the ONE Columbia document:

The program-­‐level resource allocation recommendations …cannot be read or understood as distinct from the larger and more urgent recommendations, which suggest the necessary path for the College and a sense of shared vision and values. …The Academic Team believes, however, that specific details about such things as additional possibilities for close collaboration or program combinations, the names of programs, and/or curricular modifications, are best managed in collaborative conversations, research, and thoughtful and timely planning by Deans, Chairs, faculty, and staff. We remind everyone that college-­‐wide conversations, research, and thoughtful planning should be the next steps and that every member of our community must pay very close attention to (and have the opportunity to pay very close attention to) whether or not we are working from accurate information. This is not an invitation to protect turf by shouting “foul,” but a call to get it right as ONE Columbia.

The results of the communal experience of the prioritization process offer us an extraordinary opportunity to transform our institution. To do that, we need time, collectively, to take stock of all that has come out of this process, time to deeply consider how to make the necessary structural changes to equip us to BETTER serve our students, and time to move away from what has been the high-­‐anxiety trauma of this year. We need to get into a headspace that allows us to see this moment as the possibility for not just doing what we already do, not just saying things will get better because people have been asked to “communicate better,” and not just thinking that we will be fine if things stay the same. The world of higher education is changing as we speak. We need radically imaginative thinking to respond to and, ideally, be ahead of those changes. We need to implement ONE Columbia AS ONE Columbia.

Your Colleagues on the Academic Team:

Shanita Akintonde, Associate Professor, Marketing Communication

Suzanne Blum Malley, Associate Professor, English

Jan Chindlund, Director, Library

John Green, Chair and Professor, Theatre Darrell Jones, Assistant Professor, Dance Terri Lonier, Assistant Professor, AEMM

Brian Marth, Director, College Advising Center

Murphy Monroe, Executive Director, Undergraduate Admissions

Larissa Mulholland, Director and Senior Lecturer, Early Childhood Education

Program, Education

Michael Niederman, Chair and Professor, Television

Betsy Odom, Adjunct Faculty, Art and Design

Dominic Pacyga, Professor, HHSS

Don Smith, Associate Professor, Film & Video