2015–2016 Year in review

By Campus Editor

Implementing Strategic Plan objectives, rallying against police brutality in Chicago and adding 18 murals to the Wabash Arts Corridor were just a few of the changes and challenges of the 2015–2016 academic year. 

The year opened with Vice President of Student Success Mark Kelly’s annual “Hell Yeah” liturgy at Convocation during the new student welcoming in August.

The annual celebration welcomed 2,700 new students to the college, but Columbia’s enrollment dropped for the sixth consecutive year. The decline resulted in an additional round of budget cuts following those at the end of the 2013–2014 academic year when the FY16 budget was being created.

The college failed to meet its projected enrollment—a loss felt by faculty, staff and students—some of whom lost their on-campus jobs as a result. 

Financial uncertainty continued to plague the student body as the Illinois state budget impasse persisted in the New Year, causing the state to withhold students’ financial assistance from Monetary Award Program grants.

Students affected by the budget impasse were relieved when Columbia announced April 4 it would cover the cost of MAP grants for the current year but were taken aback when they learned the college would be unable to do so for the 2016–2017 year. 

Despite Columbia’s limited resources, the college surged forward in initiating major changes, including the early stages of implementing the Strategic Plan, as reported on Page 10–11. 

Columbia bid farewell to long-term, high-ranking employees during the year, such as Michelle Gates, former CFO and vice president of Business Affairs, who left the college in February. However, the college also welcomed new faces to the community, including six new board of trustees members with backgrounds in media, music, technology and investment. 

Other major changes included the elimination of Columbia’s Story Week festival just shy of its 20th anniversary, a 4 percent tuition increase and the hiring of several high-ranking administrative employees, including Robert Green, vice provost for Digital Learning; Byron Nash, chief information officer and associate vice president of Technology Services; and Miriam Smith, executive director of Alumni Relations & Annual Giving. 

A range of initiatives went into effect during the year, such as the beginning stages of planning for Columbia’s long-awaited student center and a student movement for more gender-inclusive bathrooms.

Throughout the year, Columbia welcomed many high-profile visitors as well as familiar faces. In honor of Black History Month in February, the Office of Multicultural Affairs welcomed activist Father Michael Pfleger, actor Jussie Smollett and State Rep. of the 5th District Ken Dunkin.

The Office of Alumni Relations also invited successful alumni to visit the college, including actor and comedian Jeff Garlin, director and cinematographer Michael Goi, and President of HBO  Films Len Amato, who is also a member of the board of trustees.

National conversations regarding race and diversity were ongoing as protests against racially charged cases of alleged police brutality broke out. As students at University of Missouri united to protest racism at their college, members of Columbia’s community gathered to show solidarity  with Mizzou students and confront diversity-related issues at the college.

Columbia students also engaged with the greater Chicago community during presidential campaign events and rallies on behalf of Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

In addition, students weighed in on alleged police brutality on Chicago’s South Side, budget cuts within Chicago Public Schools and demands for an increased minimum wage.

The 2015–2016 academic year was an era of letting the voices of those previously silenced become heard—both on campus and throughout Chicago.