Faculty, staff have little say on new president

By Alexandra Kukulka

The composition of the advisory panel set up to recommend candidates to the board of trustees to be Columbia’s next president is heavily weighted with board members, giving little voice to the college’s faculty and staff, a Chronicle

analysis shows.

According to bylaws approved by the board of trustees last spring that were not inserted in the faculty handbook, the panel will recommend two or three presidential candidates to the trustees for a final vote. The panel must approve each candidate by a two-thirds vote.

A two-thirds majority of the 22 panel members requires 15 votes. Since there are 13 members of the

board of trustees on the panel only  two more votes are needed to reach 15, obtainable from any combination of the two deans, one chair, and one high-level administrator who also sit on the panel.

This would dilute the representation of Columbia’s 3,281 faculty and staff members because there are only three full-time faculty and one part-time faculty on the panel, and essentially no staff, according to the panel list (In assembling the panel, board chairman Allen Turner said he counted Dean of Students Sharon Wilson-Taylor as a staff member).

The ratio stands in stark contrast to the selection process in 2000 that brought Warrick L. Carter to Columbia. At the time, there were only two trustees and five combined faculty and chairmen on the advisory panel, according to records cited by Faculty Senate President Pegeen Reichert-Powell, who delivered a report to the Senate Sept. 14.

“This matters because the advisory panel votes to send candidates forward to the board of trustees,” Powell said. “The fact that the board of trustees ultimately hires the president has not changed. But no candidate, according to the board of trustees bylaws, may go as a viable candidate unless it is voted on by two-thirds of the panel.”

The panel is composed of 13 members of the board of trustees, two deans, three full-time faculty members, one part-time faculty member, one student, one department chairwoman and new college Chief Financial Officer Ken Gotsch.

Columbia has 377 full-time faculty, 1,660 part-time faculty, 682 full-time staff and 562 part-time staff for a total of 3,281.

The Faculty Senate executive committee spoke with Turner, about the discrepancy, Powell told the senators at the meeting.

She noted the board changed the bylaws regarding representation without putting them in the faculty handbook. The faculty used its handbook’s requirements that state that only three full-time faculty be appointed to a presidential search committee without realizing they could have insisted on more.

“We expressed our concern that these changes might undermine the faith of faculty in the search process itself,” Powell said. “The bottom line to that discussion is that the advisory panel stands as is.”

The Senate did not go on to contest the disproportionate representation of faculty and board members. Instead it passed a motion of support to remind the panel’s three faculty members that they represent the collective voice of the faculty, as previously reported by The Chronicle Sept. 17.

Repeated efforts by The Chronicle to elicit comment from Senate members were declined.

According to an invitation to apply for president from Isaacson, Miller, the company hired by the college to help with the search, the candidate should be someone with the “ability to provide vision and strategic direction,” have an “understanding and appreciation of the diverse disciplines represented at Columbia” and “willingness to be a visible and effective fundraiser” at the college.

Vice President of Academic Affairs and Interim Provost Louise Love said she believes the board of trustees is responsible for decisions pertaining to the next president, though having others on the panel is encouraging.

“I am pleased there is participation in the discussions [for the next president],” Love said. “In my own experience with search committees, the discussions are very powerful, so  having the opportunity to have a voice—to me—is where the real power resides.”

However, Louis Silverstein, emeritus professor in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department, said he would have liked to see more faculty representation on the panel.

“The faculty are the people in the community who really have knowledge of the college in a  manner and form that are not true for trustees and other people, who have a valued perspective,” Silverstein said. “It’s a different perspective than what faculty have.”

Silverstein said he would like to see a president who will lead Columbia into the future at a time when higher education is transforming. He would also like to see someone who will build on the college’s tradition and history.

To some members of the college, such as Love and Michael Bright, president of the United Staff of Columbia College and a staff member in the Film & Video Department, these numbers aren’t bothersome.

“It’s the board’s responsibility to take the lead on [the presidential search],” Bright said. “They are going to be working more closely with the president than probably anybody else on campus.”

Bright said he feels there is an unfair representation of staff members on the panel, as there is only one on the panel, though that person isn’t a “true staff member.” However, Bright expressed confidence in members of the board and panel to make the right decisions for the panel.

“Considering all the turmoil and strife [the college] had to endure last year, I think the [panel is] focused on making the best choice [it] can for Columbia,” Bright said.