More and more women rise to prominence at Columbia

By The Columbia Chronicle

Two years ago there were only three female department chairs out of 19; within the past year that number has almost tripled. “For years Shirley Mordine was the only woman chairperson at Columbia,” recalls Barbara Iverson of the Academic Computing Department. It was said that Shirley Mordine recently stepped down from her position as chairperson of the Dance Department here at Columbia to devote more time to the Mordine & Dance Company.

With the increase being so recent and significant, some questioned whether or not there was a written procedure or guideline that Columbia has for hiring department chairs.

According to Caroline Latta, Columbia’s Academic Dean, there is a written policy in the Faculty Handbook that lists the criteria for hiring department chairs. The handbook states that in hiring a chairperson for a department, a search committee is formed and it would consist of Columbia’s Executive Vice-President/Provost, the Academic Dean and the Dean of the Graduate School program, if that department has a graduate program. The committee would also have to consist of at least two sitting chairs of existing departments and three faculty members from that department. The written policy also states that two students from that particular department will be selected by the search committee chair and have the opportunity to sit in on committee meetings.

However, the book doesn’t state whether the two students have any actual voting power or real say in the selection or hiring of the chairperson. The president of the school convenes the search committee. All full-time faculty in the department have the opportunity to meet and interview the final candidates as well as write recommendations and opinions addressed to the full committee with their preferences ranked. The procedure for hiring a chairperson for a new department varies slightly. The president of the college along with the academic dean and two existing chairs as well as full-time faculty are on the committee to hire the chair. The difference here is there is no need or requirement for a written evaluation or input by the full-time faculty. Also, there’s no student involvement.

When I asked Dean Latta what the committee looked for in a potential chair she said, “Someone who has a vision of where they want the department to go, someone with a professional as well as academic background, someone that still works in their field.” The Dean went on to detail what the committee should be looking for in a future chair. Other female chairpersons include Rebecca Courington of the Academic Computing Department, Garnett Kilberg-Cohen of the English Department, Ava Belisle-Chatterjee of the Education Studies Department, Margaret Sullivan of the Marketing Department, Lynn Pena of the Interpreter Training Department, Suzanne Cohan-Lange of the Interdisciplinary Arts Department and Susan Imus, acting chair of the Dance Therapy Department. Many of these women were directors of their department before being appointed chairpersons.

Much like Mordine, Suzanne Cohan-Lange was the founder of her department. “I started it over 23 years ago through the Chicago Consortium of Colleges and then brought it to Columbia in 1980.” Although Cohan-Lange brought the Interdisciplinary Arts program to Columbia 18 years ago, she’s served as chairperson for only the last three of those years.

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