Strategic Plan surges forward despite collegewide resistance, concern


Lou Foglia

Jessica Iorio, a sophomore business & entrepreneurship major, outlines student concerns about the   Strategic Plan’s final draft during an April 20 committee meeting with the college’s administration.

By Campus Reporter

The Strategic Planning Steering Committee met for the final time on April 20 to present the final draft of Columbia’s five-year Strategic Plan to President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, but it was not until the meeting was adjourned that the discussion about the college’s future got heated.

Tensions rose quickly, resulting in a discussion that spurred frustrated shouts, tears and expletives from concerned students, including Jessica Iorio, a sophomore business & entrepreneurship major, who felt the administration was “brushing off” student, faculty and staff concerns.

“It’s aggravating that you sit there at the top of the table and say that these are not things that are up for discussion when we are sitting here at eight in the morning telling you that this is what’s going to happen, and you’re turning a blind eye,” Iorio said before abruptly leaving the meeting.

Following weeks of expressed dissatisfaction among members of the college community regarding recent actions the administration has taken—which included the formation of activist group SaveColumbia and a petition that garnered more than 1,200 signatures and listed student demands of the administration—the SPSC opened its doors to the college community so members could formally express their concerns surrounding the Strategic Plan.

However, the complaints directed at Kim and Stan Wearden, senior vice president and provost, will not stop the Strategic Plan from being presented to the board of trustees on May 1 for finalization.

“I don’t hear anything today that says this shouldn’t move forward,” Kim said.

The meeting, held at the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building, began with  its collegewide inclusivity in drafting the Strategic Plan, a sentiment that was met with eye rolls and displeased scoffs from the students who attended. Before presenting Kim with the 40-page document, Wearden discussed the strategic planning process’ next steps of creating an Implementation Committee to oversee the five-year results.

It was not until after the meeting adjourned that Wearden gave SaveColumbia time to speak in a discussion that lasted nearly 90 minutes.

Students and faculty presented the petition and the list of demands to the administration and voiced concerns regarding a number of topics, including a perceived lack of student representation during the strategic planning process, rising tuition rates, increased class sizes and the college’s financial situation.

Iorio and Bret Hamilton, a senior cinema art + science major, presented the demands, which called for a tuition cap, transparent budgets, an elimination of any new vice president positions, smaller class sizes and a reversal of all administrative decisions made without the feedback from the college community, according to Hamilton.

“There’s a great sense of worry and dissatisfaction with the direction the school is going,” Hamilton said.

If the administration does not meet their demands by May 1, members of the SaveColumbia coalition will move forward with their planned sit-in outside of Kim’s office during his meeting with the board of trustees until they are met, Iorio said.

Iorio expressed her displeasure with the college’s rising tuition, which will increase by 3.3 percent next academic year, and proposed a tuition freeze based on the year of a student’s admittance.

Michelle Gates, vice president of Business Affairs and CFO, said that although public colleges have been able to implement tuition caps, Columbia does not have taxpayer dollars to cover the needed costs and would cause even higher tuition hikes for incoming students.

“What other institutions have found is that they have a significant enrollment drop because students don’t want to come in,” Gates said. “I don’t think we’re in a good position to look at that until we stabilize enrollment, but we need to look at ways at how we keep the [tuition] cost down.”

Casey Walker, a junior creative writing major, said she felt that students were excluded from the Strategic Planning Process.

“Civic Commons was open in November [and] it crashed. I tried to comment on it [and] it was impossible,” Walker said. 

Kim said students were invited to give feedback on the plan throughout the entire process, but the administration cannot force students to participate.

“The choice to participate or not—that we have no control over,” he said.

Diana Vallera, an adjunct professor in the Photography Department and president of the college’s part-time faculty union, said it made no difference, calling the plan a “smokescreen” that is being implemented.

“We have input from students and faculty outside the Civic Commons, [and] inside the Civic Commons,” Vallera said. “This committee never took that in.”

Kim said while Vallera may have felt that way, the feedback was shared with the group.

“It’s not true,” Kim said. “Everyone in the committee had all of the comments that were made, so everyone had access to them.” 

Donavahn Frierson, a senior art + design major, said the college is too dependent on student tuition.

“We’re not being invested in as students,” Frierson said. “We’re being treated as investments.”

Kim said tuition is the main source of income, but the administration is constantly looking for additional sources of revenue, including donations and possible summer programs.

Vallera also expressed dissatisfaction with the increasing class sizes of several courses for the Fall 2015 Semester—a decision she said was made with no academic justification.

Gita Kapila, an adjunct professor in the Cinema Art + Science Department, said she is upset because her class size has increased without any clear reason.

“To increase from 16 to 20 [students] and not pay us a cent more for it—how do you expect us to respond to that?” Kapila said. “I would love to know why you are asking me to do more work for no more money. I want to know. Why would you expect me to do that?”

Kim agreed that the discussion about the increase in class sizes may not have been understood or implemented thoughtfully and that the direct impact it was going to have may not have been clear.

“If things [like class size increase]  aren’t working, of course, we’ll keep adjusting,” Kim said.

Although he said the complaints regarding class sizes and tuition are serious, Kim said they do not relate to the content of the Strategic Plan.

“Nothing about what we’re talking about right now, which are the direct concerns of faculty and students, is being asked for in this plan,” Kim said. “Not a single thing.”

Kim said the intention of discussing an increase in class sizes was not to discard what was already working within the departments and said some leadership within departments may be better explaining the changes to faculty than in others.

 “I’ve asked the provost to really look into this because I don’t want it to just be hanging out there,” Kim said. “Personally, I’m not convinced that if normally [a] class has 17 students if there’s one more student, something radically changes. But I understand it could feel that way, especially if you don’t know why.”

Hamilton said students also need to be aware of the college’s expenses.

“If we don’t have that information, how can any discussion about the financial state of the college be inclusive at all?” Hamilton said.

The word “crisis” was used several times during the meeting to describe the college’s economic state, but Gates said this is not an accurate term for the situation. She said the college is financially healthy but is making adjustments to make up for the structural deficit the college has recently been operating on.

“It’s a word that was used [in the meeting, but it’s not a word we’ve ever used,” Gates said. “I want to make that clear. The college is not in a financial crisis.”

Kim said he is pleased that students and faculty feel free to speak their mind, but their questions about how the plan will affect the college can be solved by reading it.

“The main thing is it’s important if people are concerned about the plan that they read it,” Kim said. “A lot of what people are concerned about—I’m sure it’s real, but it’s not about the Strategic Plan at all, so we have to have both conversations.”