Columbia announces faculty members promoted to rank of professor

By Rachel Patel and Noah Jennings

Ryan Brumback

This fall, five faculty members will begin the school year with a new title: professor. The promotions—honoring their commitment to both students and their academic areas of study—were announced in April. Four faculty members were promoted to professor in 2020, but no formal announcement was made. The Chronicle is highlighting each of the nine professors and what they bring to Columbia.

2021 Recipients

David Tarleton, MFA

Professor, Cinema and Television Arts

Cinema and Television Arts Professor David Tarleton said the promotion was an honor, and he was humbled to be selected for the new role.

“It’s a real honor, my father was a professor and … when I was a little kid I remember it,” Tarleton said. “He passed away a few years ago, and there’s a very complex set of emotions around it because it brings up a lot of my feelings as a child about my father, and being so proud of him.”

Earning a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Southern California and first working in Los Angeles for 14 years, Tarleton worked in the film and television industries on projects with the Disney corporation, the Muppets, several documentaries and many other endeavors. During his time at Columbia, he produced and directed a series called “Dark Secrets” and a feature film called “Hunter.”

Melissa Potter, MFA

Professor, Art and Art History

Art and Art History professor Melissa Potter said during their 13 years at Columbia, they jumped from being the papermaking professor in 2008 for the Book and Paper MFA program before the application process for the program was suspended in 2017, a summer chair and then finally an associate chair in the Art and Art History department. While the Book and Paper program ran, they curated two exhibitions for the Center for Book & Paper exhibition space and hosted guest artists in the studios to produce editions as part of the Epicenter program while serving as the director of the MFA in Book & Paper from 2011 to 2014.

Potter said she wants her students to succeed and professionalize their hobbies and passions after leaving Columbia. She said getting the promotion after all of her work made her feel recognized and accomplished.

“I’m an artist and I’ve achieved a certain amount in my art career which I’m really proud of, but becoming a full professor is the top of where you can go, and so to be at that place is amazing,” Potter said. “Our provost wrote a really heartfelt letter to me, so to see your accomplishments through somebody else’s eyes is a very special privilege.”

Karen Loop, MFA

Professor, Cinema and Television Arts

Karen Loop, a Cinema and Television Arts professor, said this promotion was an “indescribable joy.”

The focus of Loop’s application for promotion was her Universal film she produced, “On The Basis of Sex” about young Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Loop said that she worked with Daniel Stiepleman, the film’s writer who was an adjunct professor at Columbia at the time.

Working at the college since 2008, Loop said her favorite part of her position as the Associate Dean of Los Angeles Programs is meeting different students.

Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin, MA

Professor, Communication

Communication professor Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin started at Columbia in Fall of 2002 and worked as an assistant professor up until her promotion to associate professor in 2009.

Bloyd-Peshkin said she almost decided not to pursue the promotion to professor in Fall 2020 with the pandemic and her busy schedule at the time, but she is glad she applied.

While applying for the position, she was also running Columbia Votes, a program encouraging Columbia students to get registered to vote and educate themselves about the election process.

“It’s a great honor to be promoted to full professor, and it’s not something that you can count on being promoted to,” Bloyd-Peshkin said.

Weihua Li, PhD

Professor, Science and Mathematics

Weihua Li, a science and mathematics professor and associate chair of the department, said she has worked at Columbia for 12 years after receiving her PhD from the University of New Hampshire.

Throughout her time at Columbia, Li has taught a variety of different courses including Basic Math Skills, College Math, College Algebra, Precalculus, Calculus sequence and Elementary Differential Equations.

Li said when she first heard the news of her promotion she was happy and shared it with her PhD thesis advisor who was a big support, as well as everyone in the department.

“I think I’m very lucky that I always feel supported,” Li said. “I think that’s really a lucky thing to feel supported from the college and from my colleagues.”

2020 Recipients

Jaafar Aksikas, PhD

Professor, Humanities, History and Social Sciences

Jaafar Aksikas, a professor in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department, was promoted to the rank of professor last year after spending 15 years teaching at Columbia.

Aksikas received a master’s degree in comparative cultural studies from Al Alkhawayn University in 1999 and received his doctorate in cultural studies from George Mason University in 2005.

Aksikas currently serves as the president and CEO of the Institute for Global Arab Media, Democracy and Culture—an organization that “promotes the development of democratic values, free and democratic media, and the role and impact of the media, culture and the arts in Morocco, the Middle East and North Africa more generally,” according to its website.

Aksikas has been widely published in the fields of Cultural Studies, critical ethnic studies, media studies, critical legal and policy studies, American Studies and Middle Eastern Studies, according to his Columbia biography. He has also edited and co-edited several volumes in these fields.

Lisa Fishman, MFA

Professor, English and Creative Writing

Lisa Fishman, a professor in the English and Creative Writing Department, said she was relieved to receive her promotion last year since it came during the first few months of the pandemic and it was a sign the college would be able to proceed as normal during a time of uncertainty.

Fishman arrived at Columbia in 2006 as an associate professor after previously teaching at Beloit College. She received a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University in 1988 and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University in 1992.

Fishman is the author of six published books, the most recent being “24 Pages and other poems” released in 2015 and recently wrote her first book of short stories that will be released in the fall of 2022. Her poems have also been published in several magazines and anthologies

Fishman said her first experiences as a full-time professor have only come in a virtual context to this point, as she has not been on campus since the start of the pandemic. Nonetheless, she enjoys the connections she has made with students.

“I’ve been really grateful to be teaching creative writing in my department because the students, even when we had to shift to virtual [classes], really wanted to be there and we felt that we had a community and everybody supported each other,” Fishman said.

Suzanne McBride, MSJ

Dean, School of Graduate Studies

Working at Columbia for nearly 16 years, Suzanne McBride moved across the Communication Department from assistant professor, program coordinator, associate chair and chair of the department, then was formally named a professor in the department last year. In May 2021, McBride was appointed to dean in the School of Graduate Studies, as reported by the Chronicle.

Working as a journalist for more than three decades, McBride served as a top newspaper editor and reporter before joining Columbia in 2005. Co-founder of ChicagoTalks and founder of AustinTalks—two local news sites based at Columbia, McBride said her first journalism job was for the Bettendorf News in Iowa while she was in high school, but she knew even before then that she loved reporting, writing, feeding her curiosity and being able to inform others.

McBride said getting the promotion was an exciting new challenge.

“I was thrilled and humbled to be granted this promotion to the title of ‘professor,'” McBride said. “There’s really no higher level you can be at, and it’s humbling because it’s a recognition of a lot of hard work over many years. It also is a reflection that people within Columbia and beyond are recognizing you for your expertise and knowledge.”

Folayemi Wilson, MFA

Professor, Art and Art History

Folayemi Wilson, a professor in the Art and Art History Department and the co-director of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, was promoted to the rank of professor last year after nine years as an associate professor.

Wilson graduated from New York University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1997 and from Rhode Island School of Design with a Master of Fine Arts degree in furniture design. Prior to arriving at Columbia, Wilson was an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Prior to becoming the co-director of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Wilson served as a member of the college’s DEI committee. Her design work has garnered several awards and residencies and is featured in the collection at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum. And in 2019, Wilson was named the artist for a new CTA Green Line station at Damen Avenue and Lake Street that is set to open in 2023.

Wilson will be leaving Columbia on August 14 to become the first associate Dean of Access and Equity at the Penn State College of Arts and Architecture.

The Chronicle congratulates the 2021 and 2020 professor recipients.