Columbia: a campus divided

By Editorial Board

Columbia tends to reject change the way a transplant patient rejects a new organ: The immune system attacks the new organ and shuts it down. Although Columbia has not quite hit that point, students have been resistant to the onslaught of changes the college is undergoing.

Many Columbia students would have a hard time naming college administrators and their job titles let alone what those jobs entail, so when budget cuts, departmental mergers and divisions and whatever else is to be outlined in the Strategic Plan are announced, it is easy to see why both students and the administration become frustrated. The lack of interest exhibited by the majority of students and the lack of presence the administration has in student lives has created a perfect storm of animosity and mistrust.

The college’s administration—which has seen a near complete turnover since President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim assumed office—is composed of adept people whose resumes indicate they are more than eligible for leadership roles at a typical college, but Columbia is not a typical college and its students are not typical students. 

Columbia is a college full of cross-discipline artists with incredible talents and immeasurable skill. It stands to reason that a student would hope for the same things in those who take on administrative roles in

the college. 

It would be comforting to know that the people who are cutting the budgets of programs and departments understand the sacrifices that will have to be made to accommodate the cuts. However, with public appearances of the administration being few and far between, one wonders how anyone in an administrative role at Columbia can possibly fathom the effects of their actions. With the exception of Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Success, administrators are rarely seen at student events, which speaks to a lack of involvement and interest in the lives of the people footing the college’s bill. 

The college’s administration is proud of its so-called transparency, though. It is one of Kim’s key talking points that he reiterates, particularly through his office hours. Kim allowed a limited number of students to sign up for 20-minute meetings with him over the course of the spring semester. However, seeing only five students once a month within a matter of four months does not solve the issue of transparency; it aggravates the issue. Limiting the opportunities for students to speak to administrators only further separates students from those who are making the big decisions on the matters that concern them directly. 

Although Columbia may be a school for its students, it is also a business for its leadership. The administration’s top priority is money and supposedly doing what is best for the college. But with enrollment down and tuition up, how effective are the changes that have been put in place or are soon to come?

Columbia students may not be as invested in the college as one would hope, but that is not their responsibility or priority. Students are not paid to make the college better, the administration is. Students pay tuition for the administration to deliver on their promises to redefine Columbia’s greatness, but the administration is so detached from the students that it is detached from the college as a whole. This separation must be dealt with in order for students to welcome the changes coming down the pipeline.

Both camps must engage for any effective change to occur. Students need to demand more transparency from their administration—even with Kim operating behind a glass wall—and more answers to the many questions that are always discussed among students but never asked of the higher-ups. 

Columbia’s students should not take the coming changes lying down. Students should hold the administration responsible for the state of the school—tuition, fundraising, reputation and department integrity are all in the hands of the college’s administration, which is decidedly out of touch, and has had to answer to no one until now.