Approximately 19 current and new academic affairs positions—internal and external—will have undergone change this academic year, with even more changes expected in the upcoming year.
Some positions include a new assistant provost for Academic Services, a new assistant provost for Continuing and Community Education, a new Faculty Fellow, a dean of the Graduate School and continued searches for six new department chairs and school deans.
Suzanne Blum Malley, senior associate provost, said the shifts are taking place because the college is going through a time of “focused direction” with the Strategic Plan and a newly hired upper administration, which leads to changes in ideas of how the college should be structured and run.
“If we were a stagnant institution, that would be a more frightening prospect for our students,” Blum Malley said.
Stephen Nelson, a professor in educational leadership at Bridgewater State University who specializes in higher education and who is a senior scholar at Brown University, said turnover is not unusual, but it is important to evaluate the nature of the turnover and how it is being driven.
Nelson has published research about success and failure of college presidencies and higher education leadership. He said changes and shifts in positions should be supported by the entire college community, including the student body, alumni, staff and faculty, especially those with tenure.
“It could be really thoughtful if it ran up a flagpole for a vote by the students and the faculty,” Nelson said. “It could be negative in the sense that the new people are not as good as the old people.”
Nelson said the internal shifting can be a reflection of presidents wanting “their people” in high-ranking positions, especially if they are yes-men who make the president comfortable during the time of change. He said this can either cause “stagnation” and “stultification” or bring in new viewpoints and “fresh air.”
With President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim arriving at the college in July 2013, Nelson said the time frame for new presidents to find “their people” depends on the number of changes the president wants to make in his leadership team.
The largest shift was seen among department chairs.
Columbia recently announced internal promotions of Peter Cook to chair of the American Sign Language Department, Suzanne McBride to chair of the Communication and Media Innovation Department and the appointment of Jeff Abell to interim chair of the newly formed Art & Art History Department.
The college is also conducting a national search for an Audio Arts & Acoustics Department chair and an internal search for a Music Department chair. An interim chair of the Business & Entrepreneurship Department will also be appointed for the 2016–2017 academic year before beginning searches for a department chair.
Blum Malley said the institution tends to begin posting open positions in the fall and bring potential candidates to campus in January and February before making a final decision in March and April for new hires to start in the summer, as was the case with new Dean of the School of
Media Arts Eric Freedman, who is currently dean of the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina.
John Ikenberry, president and co-founder of HigherEdJobs, an organization that focuses on higher education recruitment and research information, said institutions sometimes face problems when there are several internal promotions at once.
“It is important for institutions to have a mix of both promoting folks who have a good institutional knowledge but blending that with some talented individuals from outside the institution to bring in new ideas and new blood,” Ikenberry said.
Five new positions outlined in the Strategic Plan were announced, including Assistant Provost for Continuing and Community Education, filled by Robert Tenges, former executive director of Sherwood Music Center, and Faculty Fellow, filled by Ames Hawkins, former associate chair of the English Department.
The new positions resulted from the implementation of the Strategic Plan, including vice provost for Online Education, vice provost of Global Education and dean of the Graduate School, are yet to be announced as those searches remain underway, Blum Malley said.
The college conducted two national searches for the positions of dean of the School of Media Arts, filled by Freedman, and the dean of the School of Fine & Performing Arts, who has yet to be announced.
“We have had a lot of dean searches [and] part of that is a new upper administration and a clear understanding of what [the college] expects and hopes out of [its] academic leadership,” Blum Malley said.
Other changes in academic affairs include the promotion of Keri Walters from interim registrar to permanent registrar, and the newly created positions of assistant provost for Academic Services and director of the Advising Center, which have yet to be announced.
Ikenberry said many changing positions at an institution can make employees feel “uneasy” and question that institution’s motives, especially if the changes are within upper administration.
Nicholas Hoeppner, president of the United Staff of Columbia College and an engineer in the Radio Department, said for the past several years, staff morale has been low due to layoffs and the threat of more layoffs. He said it is important for more perspectives and voice to be heard about changes at the college.
“The problem is that it is hard to tell where that direction is coming from at this point,” Hoeppner said. “There seem to be a lot of changes being made, but a lot of people are having a hard time grasping where those changes are coming from [and] the rationale. What is the end goal other than saving
Greg Foster-Rice, associate professor in the Photography Department and president of the Faculty Senate, could not be reached for comment as of
Arissa Scott, SGA’s student representative to the college’s board of trustees and a senior fashion studies major, said the constant shifting of administrators instills a sense of temporary instability, but she said the college is always willing to work with SGA.
“[The administration] is doing a good job of keeping things afloat, but the college is taking its time to make sure we have the right people in the right positions to stay,” Scott said.
When SGA is working with administrators on new initiatives and the administrator’s role changes or they leave the college, Scott said it is the responsibility of the next administrator to continue the same working relationship with SGA.
Cameron Hines, a senior cinema art + science major, said when he first arrived at the college, the only administrator he knew by face was President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim and added that to this day Kim is the only administrator he could recognize.
“It would help establish more of a sense of how the administration is, if we had more consistent administration,” Hines said. “I don’t know why [administrators] leave, [and] what the reasons are, if [the reasons] are personal or political.”
Hines said abrupt changes can also be jarring for students. He added that the college is very different now than what it was three years ago, when he first enrolled. The film program has changed for the worse in his opinion, and the college’s initiatives and plans have changed as well, he said.
“Students shouldn’t just blatantly accept all decisions made by administrators [in regards to hiring],” Hines said. “If the administration does something that the students don’t approve of, they have the right to speak out [because] they pay to be here.”