Columbia often preaches transparency and the importance of communicating to all stakeholders, but when it comes to major happenings in and outside the college, this semester is off to a shaky start.
Within the last two weeks, administrators seemed to inattentively pick and choose what vital information to share, how to share it and with whom they should share it, even when the news has collegewide effects or benefits.
As reported on the Front Page, President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim released a statement Feb. 1 responding to President Donald Trump’s executive order banning citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., even those with visas and other documentation. He ensured Columbia’s approximately 300 international students had the support of the college community.
This could have been an impactful moment for Kim, but students never directly received the message. The release was sent to faculty and staff in a Feb. 1 newsletter, and it was released on social media—via Kim’s Twitter account and Columbia’s Facebook page. However, students who don’t have social media or do not actively follow those accounts—even students who simply weren’t online that day—would never see it.
The only students who received formal communication were international students, who were offered support in a Jan. 31 email from Gigi Posejpal, director of the Office of International Student Affairs. Posejpal should be commended for her wide-reaching words, and Kim should take note.
Students were also not considered as important constituents in recent curricular changes. As reported on Page 4, Senior Associate Provost Suzanne Blum Malley sent a Jan. 26 email to faculty with a list of approved new majors and minors.
The new programs, which include a minor in hip hop and updated information on the changes in the Fashion Studies Department, were mostly the product of student requests, and are changes students deserve to know that could affect enrollment.
However, students would only know about all of them if they read The Chronicle. Even then, the News Office declined interviews with Blum Malley and Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden, who approved the programs, to discuss how they are beneficial for the college and students. It is disheartening that the college administration is unable to realize who would benefit most from learning about these new programs, which could in turn help them retain or gain students.
The most recent news that fell victim to micromanaging was the decision of the dean of Academic Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. Kim announced through a college press release Feb. 2 that long-time college faculty member Matthew Shenoda would assume the position in June. While students, faculty and staff were made aware of the decision promptly, The Chronicle discovered that members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, which has been discussing the need for a DEI administrator since its inception, were not involved in the decision process.
Though it is because the hire was internal and would cause potential personnel issues, it seems to insult the very reason this committee exists: to help make decisions that improves the college’s sensitivity and inclusion efforts. Keeping the DEI committee away from the decision seems nonsensical, especially because Shenoda himself was a working member of the group.
If Columbia wants to create an environment of trust, the first step is to not treat communication like a privilege. These announcements and changes are not yet controversial. However, when the mode of communication can be criticized because of its selectiveness or secrecy, it casts a dim light on what otherwise could have been meaningful.