Collegewide death notices should not be an afterthought

By Editor-in-Chief

Members of the college community have recently raised concerns about the school’s failure to announce the deaths of former members of the community.

The subject most recently came up at the first Faculty Senate meeting of the Spring 2016 Semester, held on Feb. 12, when Professor Eric May of the Creative Writing Department noted that no announcement had been made of the death of Betty Shiflett.

Shiflett, professor emerita of the Creative Writing Department, played a major role in introducing students to the Story Workshop Method, for which the department was nationally noted.

While Columbia focuses its energy on reinventing itself and laboriously and expensively addresses the task of “telling our story,” we should not forget that Columbia has a rich and proud history in which Shiflett and so many others played an important part. 

Announcements should be guaranteed to those who have devoted their careers to contributing to Columbia’s identity and excellence as a college. 

The school has seen many departures among faculty and staff throughout the last few years, and keeping track of who has come and gone and how long each person may have been affiliated with the college might not be an easy task. 

However, sharing the news of  the deaths of former faculty is a fundamental responsibility and should not be left up to the discretion of the college’s higher-ups. That being said, college spokeswoman Cara Birch clarified this is not a new “policy” of the college’s at all. 

“We currently do not have a policy or college-wide channel for sharing news about deceased faculty or staff. However, we are developing plans for a more robust internal communications platform for faculty and staff to share important information for the campus community, including news about deceased faculty or staff members,” Birch said in a Feb. 12 statement. “We anticipate rolling out this platform next fiscal year. In the meantime, departments are encouraged to share this information as appropriate with those who worked with the faculty or staff member.”

Yet many platforms are already available to share such news: emails, the college website and the Weekly 3, a weekly rundown of campus news. 

Faculty and staff should take it upon themselves to request  that the administration share this news in any of these internal media.

 The lack of a consistent communication method for providing information is not a valid excuse to ignore the deaths of faculty or staff, and it is unfair to the deceased, their loved ones and their former coworkers who likely feel wronged by a college that neglects to share such information.

Not acknowledging any deaths at all is unforgivable and disrespectful to Columbia’s community as a whole.

Students, staff and faculty need to know if someone they worked with or learned from has died, and those who pass away during Spring 2016 should not be ignored because a method won’t be available until the fall. 

As the college administration continues to work out what types of announcements come from which higher-ups, they need to ensure that those members of the college who pass receive the recognition and respect they deserve.  

No one should be lost in the shuffle simply because the administration wants to streamline communications.