Annual ‘Let’s Chat’ event yields CTVA concerns, questions about campus safety, and addresses registration issues

By Olivia Cohen, Managing Editor

Elias Gonzalez

Before students could take their turn at the microphone at the annual “Let’s Chat” event with President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, the president addressed the elephant in the room: the college’s registration issues.

“I want to let you know I am very sorry that many of you had some real issues [Monday] trying to register for classes,” Kim said. “But this was one of those cases where our efforts to get students excited about registering through the RegFest and all the events that were happening here led to a record number of students signing on yesterday morning to register. We’ve never had this many students registering at the same time, and the system crashed.”

Kim said in the long term, the school needs a better system for class registration, and he said students who had priority spots for registering will not lose them. The college sent an email to students Monday evening alerting them that registration would be halted until further notice. Another email was sent by the college on Thursday afternoon informing students that registration would be active again on Friday, as reported in the Chronicle.

Joseph Shea, a junior film and television major, was among the students who took to the podium and asked Kim what he had to say to people who may not think he is the best person to lead Columbia.

“As a general criticism, I’m not going to really sit here and criticize myself,” Kim said. “I know what I’ve done for the last nine-and-a-half years; I certainly know where the college was when I started, and I know what we still have to accomplish and what we still have to do.”

Many topics were brought up throughout the one-hour panel discussion, but some of the biggest issues students put under the microscope included changes to the Cinema and Television Arts Department, diversity in all-things academia and safety concerns for students who take night courses or commute to campus.

One student who was able to ask Kim a question directly said the cuts to the CTVA department are “extremely disrespectful” to students in the department.

Kim said that he has a “layman’s” understanding of what is going on in curriculums, including in film.

“I don’t have anything directly to say about curriculum, my role in this conversation is to kind of keep pushing to make sure that each of our programs is actually positioning our students once they learn what they want to learn to be successful, both in the discipline they’re studying and beyond,” Kim said. “Here’s my layman’s understanding of what’s going on in [the] curriculum in general, including film. … It’s an overall process, I think, of trying to better align the content of the curriculum with what’s going on in the industry, one, [and] two, to make sure that students are not only acquiring a suite of very, very technical specific skills but also a broad range of understanding what those skills mean.”

Tyler Harding, Student Government Association president and sophomore film and television major, said the greater concern is the lack of clarity within the college and throughout the different tiers of the administration.

I think, with any leader of an organization, it’s important that they’re educated on the decisions that they’re making and the things that are affecting students. I think what Dr. Kim was sort of alluding to is that he doesn’t understand the situation,” Harding said, in response to the Chronicle asking if it is appropriate for the college’s president to have a “layman’s” understanding of curriculums. “I think what is probably the greater concern is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be too much clarity within the college of these different tiers of administration, and so I think that it may be that Dr. Kim is just not well informed.”

Senior Vice President and Provost Marcella David, who was in attendance at the chat, said she is not aware of any classes that have been cut from the CTVA’s department but knows there have been some courses with fewer sections being offered.

David added that the goal is for the college to have the ability to scale up and add sections in a way that doesn’t require them to run several sections that might not be at capacity.

When asked about diversity in Columbia’s academia, Kim said bringing in more people of color to the institution is a priority for him and said his direct control in this area is who he hires for his presidential cabinet.

Kim said due to the pandemic, the college has been on a “hiring hiatus,” but searches for new hires are underway. He added that the college is trying to hire 19 new faculty members this year.

In terms of safety, Kim made note that when he started at Columbia – nearly 10 years ago in 2013 – the college was a “completely open campus.”

“Anyone could walk into any building; there were no ID checks; there [was] nothing,” Kim said. “So, over the years, we’ve tried very hard to start building up a security infrastructure that doesn’t get in the way, that doesn’t make us feel like we’re part of some kind of sealed-off fortress, but with the priority always [being] the safety of our community.”

The “Let’s Chat” event is held on an annual basis and hosted by the SGA. In addition to Kim and David, the panel included many administrators, including Chief of Staff Laurent Pernot, Chief Financial Officer Jerry Tarrer, Vice President of Student Affairs Sharon Wilson-Taylor and Associate Vice President of Security Ron Sodini.

Harding told the Chronicle prior to the event that the structure of this semester’s “Let’s Chat” has been “completely changed” from past events.

For the first time, the “Let’s Chat” did not require the SGA to present any questions ahead of time and allowed students to walk up to the podium themselves.

Harding said the SGA did inform them of different topics that may come up ahead of time so Kim could bring the right people into the room to answer specific questions.

That’s what’s interesting about this year. … My goal as president was trying to make sure that students felt like their voices were being heard,” Harding said.