Last listening forums for prioritization

By Heather Scroering

The last forums before President Warrick L. Carter and the Board of Trustees decide the fate of Columbia’s programs were held April 9–10. While the college has historically been known for its open admissions policy, the Academic Team discussed in depth its recommendation that admissions become more selective.

The Academic and Support & Operations teams hosted assemblies open to the college community at Film Row Cinema in the Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave. The Academic Team gave a brief presentation on its prioritization program recommendations before opening the floor for questions.

Don Smith, associate professor in the Film & Video Department and member of the Academic Team, explained why the team recommended a more selective admissions policy citing “morale reasons.”

“As parents and prospective students look at Columbia, they see a graduation rate that is too low compared to our competitors and similar institutions,” Smith said. “Among our recommendations we include a more selective policy…We want students to succeed and persist, not to leave prematurely with crushing debt.”

Peter Hartel, associate professor in the Film and Video Department, asked the team to elaborate more on the selective admissions recommendation because Columbia has always been open to virtually all applicants.

Smith said that leaving students with large debt is on a par with the way for-profit colleges take students’ money. He added that Columbia cannot do that with integrity.

Suzanne Blum Malley, associate professor in the English Department and member of the Academic Team, suggested that the college focus more on what students accomplished in high school, including portfolios, when they apply to Columbia. She added that enrollment should be less focused on “bodies in the door” and more on those who will be more likely to graduate.

Meanwhile, Murphy Monroe, executive director of Admissions, said that while most private schools strive to appear selective as a recruitment tactic, the number of students Columbia accepts is not drastically different than DePaul or Loyola.

He said the recommendation does not mean the college will stop marketing itself as an open, generous community.

“We aren’t suggesting that we go out to the world and claim selectivity and tell people that we are a precious institution of only the few,” Monroe said. “But we are suggesting that we continue to increase the ways that we look at students and be as thoughtful and ethical as possible when they come to the college.”

While the Academic Team’s forum was a platform for questions but involved no formal written statements from the audience, the Support & Operations Team held a typical listening forum.

“We chose this format both because it’s consistent with the formats that have been held before and also because it places the focus where we think it belongs, which is on [speakers] and [their] statement[s],” said Andrew Whatley, assistant dean of Faculty Advising and LAS Initiatives who also serves on the Support & Operations Team. “Finally, we didn’t want to shoulder a single team member the responsibility of speaking for all 11 of us.”

At the April 10 forum, the Support & Operations Team, which assessed a total of 133 programs that operate the business aspects of the college, such as Enrollment Management, recapped how programs were analyzed, ranked and scored by the teams.

According to Richard Dunscomb, chair of the Music Department and co-chair of the Support & Operations Team, teams considered programs essentiality, effectiveness and efficiency. Programs were also scored on their unmet needs.

Regarding leadership and policymaking, Derrick Streater, training and development manager in Human Resources, said the team found a need to break down walls and pinpoint policies that are working and not just those that are not.

In addition, he said leadership roles need to be more thoroughly defined.

“[Program Information Requests] confirm that there is a need to clearly define, and in some cases refocus, roles of executive-level leadership,” Streater said. “Developing leadership at all administrative levels of the college is absolutely essential, and there is a definite need to develop clear, consistent policies that apply equally across all programs.”

Whatley highlighted the need to focus on the student “life cycle,” or student success. He said the college should design “seamless services that takes the student from prospective to alumni status.”

He also mentioned there is a need to ensure students are more prepared for careers, and that the college should reassess the enrollment timeline.

Listening forum guidelines were similar to previous ones, but the team said there would not be revisions to the recommendations based on the statements made at the forum because the reports have already gone to Carter. Also, anyone who wanted to deliver a statement could do so, rather than just PIR authors.

Lastly, speakers were asked to keep their statements focused on the team’s report and not make comments on the overall prioritization process.

Twelve people made statements at the forum, including Jill Summers, director of the Office of Special Events in Student Affairs, who said she felt as if the role of the Student Affairs was misinterpreted in the team’s recommendations, which said the office is inconsistently structured to support the “complete life cycle of students.”

Summers said in her statement that she feared her voice would not be heard since the team would not be making revisions to the report. However, Whatley said all statements would be given to the president.

Summers said she felt that the lack of open discussion was “frustrating.”

“I wasn’t satisfied [with the listening forum format at all],” Summers said. “The academic side was inviting everyone to come for a presentation, have a Q-and-A, a very open setup. Then ours had all of these conditions attached to it … Ultimately, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense why it was set up that way.”