Editor’s Note: School of Media Arts buries its lead

By Megan Bennett, Editor-In-Chief

The April 25 announcement of an interim chair of the Cinema and Television Arts Department may have come as a surprise to faculty and staff who didn’t even know of the new department’s existence.

Eric Freedman, dean of the School of Media Arts, appointed Associate Chair of the Television Department Eric Scholl as the new interim chair of what will be Columbia’s largest department. The change was one of the three proposals Freedman introduced in the beginning of the semester, including the merger of the Radio and Communication departments and housing the animation program in the Interactive Arts and Media Department.

As reported on Page 4, Freedman received word about these proposals being approved in late March, but chose not to announce it. Even with Scholl’s appointment a month later making at least one of the approvals obvious, Freedman said he is still planning a formal announcement for later in the semester.

To announce the interim chair of a merged department before announcing the official merger itself is not only nonsensical, it leaves inadequate time for employees or students to reflect on the merits of the approval. It is difficult to know if that was a conscious decision on the administration’s part to avoid tension. It is especially disheartening that most students will find out about their new chair and department from their peers at The Chronicle, not from college leaders.

This issue was addressed in my March 13 Editor’s Note, which criticized the announcement of this chair search prior to the approval of the mergers. At that time, it seemed as if SMA did not care about the input of the faculty, staff and students and was going forward on the assumption it would be approved—or with the knowledge it was approved unbeknown to the college community. One may think that could potentially drive the dean’s office to officially alert members of those departments as soon as the mergers received the green light from the college to avoid unnecessary  concern or doubt.

Now, the question is why SMA still feels a need to go forward with a formal announcement when this one has released the secret.

The monthlong delay also perpetuates an elitist atmosphere that there is no need-to-know information for faculty, staff and students, even if it affects their futures the most. If these decisions were only affecting the college’s internal operations and would have little to no affect on the day-to-day experience of Columbia stakeholders, it would lessen the need for a formal announcement. However, that isn’t the case for Cinema Art and Science and Television department mergers as well as the two other major approvals. With two weeks until the end of the semester, time is running out to properly alert people of what changes the other departments will see prior to students arriving in fall.

It’s also unfortunate that Scholl will be entering his position June 1 with an announcement that leaves behind a cloud of confusion and questions. Scholl has been a longtime member of the Columbia community, and his peers as well as the dean are rightfully praising his talents. The appointment should speak for itself. Leaving the students, faculty and staff to put together the pieces on their own of the merger that led to his position diminishes the announcement.

In times of major changes—something not uncommon at Columbia—academic administration like Freedman needs to take a holistic, reasonable approach to letting that information reach its proper stakeholders. Leaving behind more questions than answers regarding their decisions will inevitably also cast more doubts on their leadership abilities.

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