New president envisions Columbia’s future

By Campus Editor

President Kwang-Wu Kim has already spearheaded some of Columbia’s most pressing problems. He helped settle a 3-year contract battle between the college’s part-time faculty union and the administration, initiated a search for Columbia’s next provost and updated Columbia’s slogan from “create change” to “redefining greatness.”

Though he tackled various tasks during the summer, Kim still had time to conceptualize goals for the college. 

Kim has made clear his plans to increase transparency, boost admission and enhance student-administration-relations.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Kim said his plans include a more open administration on campus. To achieve that, he said he will spend this year listening to the college community and building a plan to improve the college. 

A major piece of Kim’s plan is launching a new website that will allow him to more effectively communicate with the college community and redesigning his

presidential suite in the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building.

“We should be a community that builds trust because we talk to each other,” Kim said. “I intend to do a lot more talking to people and listening to people. There has to be a lot more written communication from this office to the school.”

According to Dayle Matchett, Kim’s chief of staff, renovation plans for the presidential suite include the installation of glass panels, the removal of the office’s keypad entry system and a gallery showcasing student and faculty showcasing student and faculty work in the suite’s main lobby.

“[These changes] allow us to tell the story of our students and faculty when we have visitors and allows us to promote the institution,” Matchett said. “It’s an important message and a very simple, but powerful, metaphor for what Dr. Kim is trying to do at Columbia.”

Stephen DeSantis, director of academic initiatives in Academic Affairs, is in charge of the redesign and plans to complete it by Sept. 18, in time for the Wabash Arts Crawl, Columbia’s community art fair that highlights student and faculty work. Part of his job is to help coordinate which pieces of work will be chosen from the college’s collection, he said.

According to DeSantis, the idea for the student gallery in the president’s office is in part based on a similar project completed in the provost’s office. Kim saw the design and liked the idea, DeSantis said.

The gallery will have an interdisciplinary theme, drawing work from various expressive mediums, DeSantis said. In addition to traditional artwork like photography and illustration, text-based work will also be

integrated, he said.

“One of the most important things we can be doing is not only crafting how people outside of Columbia view the school but also showing them the work our students are doing and how they will go on to be successful artists,” DeSantis said.

Kim has changed the college’s most recognizable tagline, which has been Columbia’s slogan since 2004.

The desire to transform the motto from “create change” to “redefining greatness” came from the perception that “create change” does not tell people anything specific about Columbia, Kim said. Any school in the country could have the same motto, he added.

“[Create change] is not a really strong value statement,” Kim said. “I like statements that are really bold and force people to ask, ‘What are you talking about?’”

According to Kim, “redefining greatness” is a model centered around results, particularly the work students create. Kim said the college’s greatness is more about value, specifically the college’s dedication to its students and student-created work. 

John Green, interim dean of the School of Performing Arts, said he appreciates the new slogan because of its focus on students. 

“I think it’s a bold move and it’s indicative of the support he is going to provide us,” Green said. “We want to attract students that want to be great and are confident that we can provide them with the tools to be great.”

Kim said he plans to review recommendations resulting from the prioritization process, which elicited  suggestions for the college’s future, some of which included phasing out the college’s nationally ranked cultural studies program.

Some recommendations from the process will stand, but some lost their applicability in the years since prioritization began, Kim said, adding that he plans to engage the college’s faculty to determine more timely ideas, he said.

“I’m going to build on top of it, not ignore it,” Kim said. “I’m not going to assume that the things discussed with prioritization are still relevant because three years is a long time.” 

Green, who served on the academic team that contributed suggestions during prioritization, said he is pleased Kim plans to review the recommendations and implement the ones he finds most beneficial. 

“Good ideas came from [prioritization], but there is no way we can implement all of those recommendations,” Green said. “I applaud the president that he isn’t going to take us through the process again but analyze the best ideas that came from it.”

Kim said the college’s admissions policies are in transition and that balancing being elite and open is a hard task. 

According to Kim, the college is exploring indicators that may better identify which students will succeed at Columbia. He said while the college stands behind access and diversity, the school wants to admit students that have the “creative potential to succeed.”

“I want the school to remain open to the broadest range possible, but I don’t want us to just admit students because we need the money,” Kim said.  

According to Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, the college moved away from open admissions to generous admissions 15 years ago, at which point the college stopped admitting students based on traditional academic performance indicators.

Some applicants were referred to a bridge program that was designed to better prepare them for collegiate work, but the college discontinued the program last year, resulting in several hundred students being denied admission, Kelly said.

“Overall, there is a relationship between high school success and college success; but that’s true at Columbia and colleges across the nation,” Kelly said. “Our thinking hasn’t changed, though. We aren’t going to create some absurd equation to deny admission.” 

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