Presidential address foreshadows profound changes

By Assistant Campus Editor

Columbia is making a dent in its financial deficit, which reached $3.5 million in the 2013–2014 fiscal year.

“We are inching toward zero with the good will and participation from people,” President Kwang-Wu Kim said in his first State of the College address on April 8. “The college is also finding small pockets of discretionary funding that for the time being are not necessary.”

However, Kim said his main financial challenge this year was working with three different chief financial officers during his brief 282 days in office, which he said has been “personally frustrating.”

The deficit was one of many issues Kim touched upon during his hour-and-15-minute address in the Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave.

Kim said Columbia is currently searching for a permanent CFO who understands the “power of transparency in the budgeting process,” because he said that is the norm in higher education. Kim also said he wants multiple-year plans, instead of “year-to-year” budgeting, which makes strategic planning difficult.

Kim framed his address around the college’s mission statement “to educate students who will … author the culture of their times,” and stressed that the college should use it to guide decisions about curricula, resource allocation and hiring.

“We need to develop … a decoder ring with the lens as the Columbia College Chicago mission statement, at least as a starting point,” Kim said. “That is how we are going to go about this process.”

Kim also addressed the college’s flawed communications systems, saying Columbia’s current structure is the most “decentralized I’ve ever seen.”

He said everyone in the audience was some form of communication director under the current system.

To improve its structure, the college must reflect back on its mission statement, Kim said. He thinks that the current three-school structure, which isn’t receiving much positive feedback from administrators, is not “serving the school well” and the distribution of departments “could be questioned,” because they may not be divided in the correct subdivisions of study.

“There is opportunity for some radical conversations,” Kim said about discussion with future provost Stan Wearden.

He said these conversations will center on whether or not “I believed Columbia College Chicago is open to more than the usual incremental adjusting of structure and my response to Dr. Wearden was, the sky is the limit,” Kim said.

Kim also spoke about the need to refocus every major on busi- ness principles, explaining that renaming the Arts, Entertainment & Media Management department the Business & Entrepreneurship department was in line with that goal.

Having been the president of a classical conservatory of music, Kim said he watched students’ skills reach an exceptional level but they were helpless when it came time for them to find careers in the real world.

“We have an obligation to make sure that every student that graduates from this college, as part of their education, regardless of their field of study, has a basic understanding of business skills, knows something about what it means to market themselves in the world [and] hopefully has had some significant entrepreneurial experience where they take a concept and translate it into something that is real,” Kim said.

Philippe Ravanas, chair of the Business & Entrepreneurship Department, said Kim’s speech was eloquent but he would like to know more about the timeline for changes in Kim’s proposal, adding that he is excited about Kim’s emphasis on giving Columbia students a business-centered education.

“I think it’s a confirmation of the curricular options [that] we have been teaching for the past 40 years,” Ravanas said.

Kim also discussed a potential change in departmental structure. He said that during his early conversations with Wearden, the two assessed whether the college was open to adjustments, including the elimination of some departments.

“One of the natural fears in a community at a moment like this— when decisions have to be made about relative values that are not personal and they are not personality based— is, ‘What is the basis going to be?’” Kim said. “The first [fear] is it’s going to be about money … and that would be a disaster because that would have nothing to do with our mission statement.”

Later in his address, Kim said he was going to have an “intense” partnership with Wearden, who attended the address, but understands that Wearden will need time to settle into his position. Wearden said he is on a mission to learn as much as he can and that Kim laid the groundwork for his goals as provost.

“All of the things Dr. Kim was talking about have a place in academic affairs,” Wearden said. “We also talked about issues with the structure of the college, which is something I will be dealing with as well.”

Kim also discussed expanding the college’s online education presence using Wearden’s expertise.

While Kim said the number of applications Columbia received for next fall remained stagnant compared to last year, he touted a 3 percent increase in Columbia’s freshman retention rates, from 64 to 67 percent. He said his goal was to further increase retention rates to 80 percent. Kim said that he thinks the increased investment in recruitment activities was paying off because of increased interest among juniors thinking about applying next fall, but the college doesn’t know if they will be able to convert students interest into a bigger number of applications.

“We had hoped there would be a lot more, but we are not going to stop working on it,” Kim said. “You keep working at it, but you don’t necessarily know what the result is going to be.”

As well as raising retention rates, Kim also plans on making the college more selective to enhance creative diversity, but admitted he is unsure of how to assess a student’s “creative potential.” Although it is not official, Kim said he is thinking about converting the Johnson Publishing Company Building, 820 S. Michigan Ave., into a student center where students would be able to hang out, study, collaborate and experiment with new technology.

“This would make sure that students aren’t pinballs bumping all around campus to get things done,” Kim said.

Kim said he would also like to focus on improving Columbia’s performance spaces. He said that when he first came to Columbia he was astonished that a school with such talented performers had nowhere to perform. He said he’s watched lines of students who wanted to watch a performance be turned away because there was not enough room for them. Sophomore audio arts & acoustics major Derrick Williamson Jr. said he was taken aback by some of the topics Kim brought up during the address, such as the $3.5 million program deficit.

“There were some pretty crazy facts that I didn’t know about the school and it’s kind of unsettling,” Williamson said. “I hope that Kim sticks to his word and gets [the deficit] back up to zero.”

Kim said he plans to refocus on fundraising as part of his plan to close the gap, acknowledging the “stops and starts” that occurred in the Department of Development, formerly known as the Office of Institutional Advancement.

In February, the college fired half of the employees in Institutional Advancement shortly after the office’s vice president Patrick Sheahan resigned after only four months on the job.

“I’ve decided to simplify it, to bring us back to reality because we need to raise money for this school and we have to do a much better job connecting to our alumni, who are one of our great treasures that we have been ignoring for a long time,” Kim said. Next year Kim will be focusing on improving communications at the college and that he will not be as present on campus as he was this year because he will be directing his focus on strengthening the college’s reputation and fundraising.

“[Fundraising] is actually a lot of fun because I get to talk about how great the college is,” Kim said.