Editor’s Note: Schiff’s comments offensive, but credentials are a concern

By Megan Bennett, Editor-in-Chief

Like all departments at Columbia, the Fashion Studies Department is bound by the provisions of the part-time faculty’s [collective bargaining agreement], which ignores credentials, in exclusive favor of seniority,” wrote Jeff Schiff, interim chair of the Fashion Studies Department, in an internal report given to the college administration.

As reported on Page 4, the 92-page report, co-written by several department members, noted an overwhelming number of white women faculty members in the department.

“Noteworthy, too, is that 25 of [the faculty] are older than 50,” the report stated.

These comments triggered response from the college’s part-time faculty union. P-Fac President Diana Vallera labeled them “anti-union” and “anti-women.”

Schiff’s comments were not tactful, could cause labor relations issues and targeted a faculty group  no more protected than tenured faculty who have contracts that give them long-term seniority. However, his comment suggesting adjuncts need diverse backgrounds and updated credentials rather than determining  their classes by a tier system is understandable and is the only concern to take seriously in the report’s criticized sections.

But like all departments, there is nothing he can do to prevent the restrictions of P-Fac’s collective bargaining agreement, and he needs to find ways to bring in the best people without slighting adjuncts or violating the collective bargaining agreement.

Students crave and need diverse faculty qualified in the respective field. It is clear that using a tier system to choose professors for classes gives priority to long-term adjuncts who are not required to update their CVs. It could prevent hiring professionals with new or varied experiences from teaching  a significant amount of classes. While chairs can make arguments for giving certain classes to specifically skilled adjuncts over the tier system, but this can be difficult to prove. 

However, the same could be said about recruiting for full-time faculty from various life experiences with current experience.

As for faculty diversity, the amount of women teaching may be an inevitable product of the predominantly female fashion industry. However, racial diversity is a vital metric when looking at the overall makeup of a department’s faculty because students are more prepared for the job market when exposed to people of various backgrounds, research says.

“Abandonment of race-sensitive admissions and hiring, at a time when most minority groups continue to be underrepresented in higher education, will severely limit campus diversity and will undermine the learning environment for all students,” said a 2000 study from the American Association of University Professors.

This finding is still relevant today, as several studies in the last 15 years from higher education experts and psychologists have further proved that relationships with people of different races, gender and age creates a more valuable education.

Because Schiff’s proactiveness with proposed curricular changes proves he is unafraid of making changes while in his interim position and with himself having no fashion credentials, he should transfer some of that energy to recruiting faculty, both part- and full-time, who he thinks would add to the student experience. If it’s worth complaining about to the college’s administration, it’s worth his energy to take proper steps to fix it himself.

While the collective bargaining agreement should be honored, the student experience should not hang in the balance and that should be reflected in future procedures for assigning faculty at all levels. Schiff’s comments, while one-sided in criticizing adjuncts, represent department chairs’ merited desire to ensure students receive what they want and deserve in their educators: someone with relevant experience and credentials who can diversify the college experience.