New administration, new outlook

By Editor-in-chief

While new students are entering Columbia to begin their college careers

this semester, so are many new upper-level administrators.

Following months of searches, President Kwang-Wu Kim’s cabinet is robust with individuals filling positions that have long been vacant, such as the provost’s, or marred by frequent changeovers, such as the Chief Financial Officer’s. (See the front page story regarding employment for a more complete picture.)

The new higher-ups join the college at a time when Columbia’s finances will occupy much of their attention. In an effort to be more fiscally conservative, Stan Wearden, senior vice president and provost, issued a directive to chairs in late July to close or condense classes that failed to reach 60 percent enrollment, resulting in 7 percent of all classes being canceled.

Despite Wearden’s reassurances to The Chronicle that the cuts are preemptive to avoid a deficit next year, his actions have inadvertently created a bleak outlook on the college’s future.

 If the college is striving to cut costs a year before a potential budget shortfall—rumored to be $8 million—that is admirable, but the administration needs to be more transparent with the student body about the college’s finances.

 The appointments of Michelle Gates as the new CFO and Jon Sterns as the new vice president of Development are particularly welcome because Kim has said that the college will focus on generating revenue from fundraising.

 As reported May 5 by The Chronicle, Columbia has a $3 return on every $1 it invests in raising funds. While the return is average among comparable private liberal art colleges, it is paltry compared to the $7 return Northwestern University receives on every dollar it invests in fundraising.

 Having had the opportunity to talk with Kim and Dayle Matchett, Kim’s chief of staff, I am confident that the addition of new members to his cabinet will allow Kim to spend more time attracting new donors to the institution.

Kim’s attention was too fragmented by acting as provost,  CFO and head of the new Development Department, in addition to his role as president. He and his new staff can explore alternative ways to tighten budgets while mitigating the impact on students.

 Rather than wielding enrollment numbers as a tool to determine a program’s budget, the administration should accept responsibility for falling enrollment. If departments’ budgets are contingent on enrollment numbers, then it would only be fair to implement a similar principle for the school’s top-level administrators.

 When it comes time for bonuses and raises, the Board of Trustees should take into consideration the number of students in seats before adding zeroes to paychecks. And when it comes time for staff reductions or layoffs, higher-ups should be held even more accountable for the college’s finances and enrollment, as they are the ones meant to lead us.

I’m optimistic that Kim thinks in a similar manner, particularly in  light of the trims in Institutional Advancement and the staff reductions that occurred in February. However, a lack of a permanent team is no longer an excuse for the budget and the state of fundraising.

 I’m ready to see a new, transparent Columbia. Hopefully the administration is too.