Deans propose program cuts

By Heather Scroering

Named one of the top 10 college radio stations in the country by the Washington Post, Columbia’s WCRX radio has won more than 100 awards for election night coverage, public service educational programs and in many other categories. However, these accomplishments did not spare the radio program from receiving a low ranking at the first scoring level on the academic side of the prioritization process.

Other departments with elements recommended for reorganization or elimination include Fiction Writing, Art & Design, Theatre, Photography, Music, Audio Arts and Acoustics and Interdisciplinary Arts. No programs in either the School of Liberal Arts & Sciences or the offices of Academic Research were recommended for elimination.

The first of three ranking steps based on academic Program Information Requests, informational forms that were filled out by chairs and center directors of every department and office on campus as part of the yearlong prioritization process, were completed by the deans of each school and made public to the faculty and staff Jan. 27.

The prioritization process—which began in the fall 2011—evaluates every aspect, both academic and non-academic, of the college to reallocate funds and determine the future of academic programs, clubs and other student services.

According to the School of Media Arts ranking sheet, the radio major ranked in the “phase out or eliminate” category, along with many other programs. School of Media Arts dean Robin Bargar noted in his companion letter that the move was necessary “to [develop] a more diverse broadcasting production platform.”

Barbara Calabrese, chair of the Radio Department, said the major fell in the category because of declining enrollment, but it was expected.

“Right now, the dean, the faculty and I are in discussion about what’s the best way to deal with this because the dean very much wants radio to continue,” Calabrese said. “At the same time, there are hard decisions to be made. But the way a lot of the media industries are going, it’s very multi-disciplinary now, so it certainly will work if, in fact, we partner with other departments and other programs.”

Of the three schools, the School of Fine and Performing Arts had the most proposed program eliminations. Eliza Nichols, dean of the School of Fine & Performing Arts, responded at the listening forum on Jan. 30 in the 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building. She said a factor in her recommendations was the lack of physical space.

“It’s like stuffing people into spaces that are full already,” Nichols said through tears. “And the only choice I have is to say some things have to go. And the only choice I have is to speak firmly about what the consequences of growth without planning mean.”

She also stressed the need for a fine and performing arts building.

There are three additional categories programs could score in, according to Suzanne Blum Malley, associate professor in the English Department and member of the Academic Team, the prioritization committee formed to assess the educational side of the college. They are “increase resources,” “combine/restructure resources” and “decrease resources.”

In some cases, the “phase out or eliminate” directive is misleading because it denotes programs that may be moved to other schools. For instance, sources say the Fiction Department may be folded into the English Department and Radio subsumed in the Television Department.

Programs also received a numerical score based on a series of questions and informational data specific to each. Because all of the questions did not apply to some programs or data was not available, a mean score was used.

A statement from the college declared that this step in the ranking process represents only recommendations and not the final decisions that will be made later in the year. PIRs still must be reviewed by the provost, Academic Team and President Warrick L. Carter before the future of programs is officially determined, Malley said.

“We are now at what constitutes the beginning of the prioritization process,” Malley said. “So the academic teams specifically said to the deans, ‘The guiding principle behind your decision should be: How do we position Columbia as we move forward into the future to better recruit, retain and graduate students in coherent programs?’ Not the politics of who likes who, not the politics of ‘This is the way we’ve always done it.’”

A series of listening forums were held from Jan. 30–Feb. 2 so program representatives could respond to the deans’ rankings and rationales in a three-minute prepared speech.

Forums created a platform for representatives to draw attention to additional information that may not have been acknowledged in the rankers’ first scoring, according to the listening forum guidelines.

“We wanted it to be clear that [listening forums are] not just a ‘complain-because-you-don’t-like-what-the-deans-said’ session,” Malley said. “It really is a, ‘I think you may have missed this, and I want you to consider this information.’”

She added that the forums were also a way to make that additional information public and shared with everybody.

Approximately 15 people spoke at the first listening forum for the School of Fine and Performing Arts that took place Jan. 30 at Stage Two, 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building.

Among them was Lisa Schlesinger, assistant professor in the Fiction Writing Department, who defended the playwriting concentration. Both the bachelor of arts and bachelor of fine arts degrees in playwriting were ranked to phase out because of a lack of student interest.

Schlesinger concluded with an opposition statement to the prioritization process.

“The process of prioritization is detrimental, and thus far it has undermined trust, caused fear and anxiety and divided our community,” she said. “It has already caused considerable damage. Please consider stopping it at this juncture before it does any more.”

Schlesinger received 30 seconds of applause from audience members, some of whom stood as they clapped.

Some representatives used their three minutes to agree with deans’ rankings. Robert Lagueux, director of First-Year Seminar—which was marked for maintaining resources—agreed with the score Deborah Holdstein, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, gave his program.

“Ideally, there should be some feedback, no matter what the assessment was,” Lagueux said. “So that’s why I’m happy, too. We have this high PIR score, and I think we came up quite well in [the] prioritization process. It’s still nice to reassert things that we think are crucial.”

Lagueux, among five others, spoke at the LAS listening forum Feb. 1 in Ferguson Hall in the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave.

The forum for the School of Media Arts was held Jan. 31 at Stage Two. The Academic Centers listening forum was held Feb. 2 in the same location.

Listening forums following the provost’s and Carter’s rankings will also be held, Malley said. The Academic Team, however, will not conduct a listening forum but a Q-and-A session instead, she added.

“[Listening forums] help remind everybody that [prioritization] is a human process,” Malley said. “It helps you hear each other. It helps you get new ideas, and this is really supposed to be about the ideas to move us forward.”

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