Television Department chair steps down

By Arabella Breck

After serving as the Television Department chair for 15 years, Michael Niederman will step down from his role at the end of the semester.

“Contrary to the rumors, I am neither dying nor retiring [from Columbia],” Niederman said. 

Niederman will return as a full-time faculty member in the Fall 2016 Semester.

Before becoming the chair of the department, Niederman worked at the college for 15 years as a faculty member. He said he had the opportunity to work closely with and be mentored by Ed Morris, the previous chair, during that time.

“Ed Morris was chair for what I thought was forever,” Niederman said. “He was the one who imagined me as a chair myself some day. Two years ago, I realized I had been chair longer than Ed.”

Niederman said he believes he contributed many valuable concepts to the department. He introduced Frequency TV to the college—a television network that gives students the opportunity to film and produce work—which is now a staple program for students in the department. He has also worked to transition the department to teaching students how to tell a story with television instead of only teaching the production and technological skills that go into creating TV content, he said.  

In addition to working at the college, Niederman has created award-winning films such as, “The Paled Man” and “Voices from Northern Ireland.” He serves as a board member of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and is a founding member and chair of the board of the International Digital Media and Arts Association. 

“Michael has been tremendous,” said Eric Scholl, associate chair and associate professor in the Television Department. “When he took over the department—it was the same year that I started—he was filling some big shoes of Ed Morris, who was our previous chair.”

Scholl said that while Niederman’s role was difficult, he modernized the department and carried it successfully into a new era. 

“It was a department that was trying to find its way at a time when the industry was changing and a time when education was changing,” Scholl said. “He was very much responsible for adding a lot of the new things that have really made us continue to be relevant. I have seen the industry change drastically and I’ve seen our department change with it.” 

While most departments at Columbia have struggled to retain students and maintain enrollment rates, the Television Department has maintained undergraduate enrollment. From 2011–2014 the department has held 3 percent of total undergraduate enrollment, according to data collected by the college. 

“We feel we have developed the right kind of culture that keeps students progressing toward their degrees and staying here,” said Sharon Ross, an associate professor in the Television Department set to become the interim chair in June. “That’s been something I think Michael Niederman has been really responsible for.” 

Niederman said he is confident in Ross’ abilities to serve as the new interim chair.

“Much as I think Ed saw me, I see Sharon as someone who will do a wonderful job leading the department,” Niederman said. “She is a kind and brilliant person. She is one of us in the sense that she understands the department on a profound and deep level.”

Ross said her past experience serving as associate chair gives her valuable administrative experience working with faculty and staff members as well as firsthand experience working in the department with students. 

 “Whatever I’ve contributed was never contributed by myself,”  Niederman said. “It was always a contribution of my fellow faculty members, staff and, interestingly enough, often students.”