Administration must be more direct

Ten months is not a lot of time, but President Kwang-Wu Kim has made his mark on Columbia. While some of his actions have increased transparency, others have shaken up the college.

Kim mended bridges with P-Fac, the college’s part-time faculty union and has made an admirable attempt to reach out to students, breaking down barriers. However, replacing office doors with glass and sending out frequent memos are symbolic gestures, while bigger decisions seemed unilateral.

In a May 7 memo titled “Redefining Our Greatness,” Kim detailed a laundry list of changes he proposes for the college’s internal and external functions, including reducing the number of administrators and restructuring the advising center, both of which are necessary changes, as well as a potentially controversial overhaul of the first-year seminar program, as reported on Page 6. Regardless, the sudden announcement of a number of decisions at the end of the school year came without warning Similarly, when School of Media Arts Dean Robin Bargar announced the merger of the Marketing Communication and Journalism departments, as reported Feb. 24 by The Chronicle, faculty members and students were taken by surprise and presented with a done deal. Kim’s administration has tacitly endorsed the merger, making the faculty and students of those departments feel excluded from the initial decision-making process. Additionally, the necessary curriculum planning to make the merger work has been put on a needlessly fast track to meet tight deadlines.

In the upcoming year, Kim also has the challenge of deciding how to delegate. The systematic reshaping of the college’s finances has happened somewhat furtively. After Vice President of Institutional Advancement Patrick Sheahan resigned abruptly, the college fired half the office’s employees without warning, as reported March 3 by The Chronicle. The college has gone too long without financial officers in place, and Kim has made repeated references to the college’s need for qualified financial managers. If the financial positions remain empty by the time Kim plans to concentrate on external representation, it may affect the college’s ability to run smoothly and efficiently.

Kim’s plan has been to place more responsibilities on incoming Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden, who will run the college’s day-to-day affairs. Wearden will already have a host of new tasks to manage when he takes office in July, including redesigning the core curriculum and implementing the decision to push the average class size up to 15 students now and 19 in the future.

It is not an effective tactic to heap all the work at the feet of one official who is new to Columbia’s unique culture and problems, and Kim should not delegate the majority of his tasks to him. In the coming year, Kim should decide which of the college’s issues demand his direct involvement.

Kim’s administration has been translucent so far, not quite transparent. The department mergers and Columbia’s lack of fundraising are still big challenges, which Kim should gather input on before moving forward.