Provost email reminds faculty of Strategic Plan goals, discusses curricular review

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Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden reminded faculty of Columbia’s goals for the Strategic Plan implementation and the college’s curricular review process in an Oct. 25 email.

A reminder about the college’s continuing Strategic Plan goals and the curriculum review process was sent in an email to faculty Oct. 25 by the Provost’s Office. But, after members of the college community received the message, some were still unsure of the college’s plans moving forward.

“It’s a good point to touch back on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and to remind people of the importance of that work,” said Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden, during a Nov. 2 interview with The Chronicle explaining why he sent the email.

In the email, which is titled “On Curriculum Change, Openness and Responsiveness” also published Nov. 1 on Columbia’s website, Wearden acknowledged the possibility of faculty members feeling anxious about the Strategic Plan’s implementation.

“I understand the temptation to give in to anxieties and even to fear,” the email stated. “But in my experience, I know of no examples where challenges have been met and problems solved primarily by giving in to these things.”

Jaafar Aksikas, an associate professor in the History, Humanities & Social Sciences Department, said he thought the information in the email was interesting, but he was still left questioning how the school plans on achieving Columbia’s goals.

“It sets out a good map of the curricular change, but at the same time, I’m left questioning the delivery,” Aksikas said. “You can claim all kinds of things, but I’m not sure what kind of mechanisms there are to ensure these claims are materialized.”

Faculty members are divided in how they feel about the Strategic Plan, Aksikas said.

“There are people who are hopeful, but then there are people who are very skeptical,” Aksikas said.

In the email, Wearden also addressed the process and expectations of the curricular review process. The email outlines the process of curriculum proposals as starting with a discussion and a vote by the Department Curriculum Committee, and then taking them to the department chair for approval.

“There is a clear and effective structure in place to ensure that all departmental faculty voices have the opportunity to be heard—a process that honors shared governance at every stage,” the email said. “I expect all Columbia departments to follow and respect both the letter and the spirit of this policy and process.”

Aksikas said some faculty members have expressed concerns about inclusion in the curricular review process. He said a better model of shared governance would include the department chair being on the same level as faculty.

“The faculty owns the curriculum, but if I approve a course and take it the chair, the chair can easily say no,” Aksikas said. “This puts a lot of power in the chairs.”

Wearden said he is not aware of any situations in which a department chair has denied a proposal, but they have given feedback on improvements. He said thinks the process is inclusive of all parties.

“What we try to do is meet somewhere in the middle,” Wearden said. “The point of the process is not to shoot things down. It’s to make sure it’s the strongest possible proposal.”

Wearden also made suggestions to make the curriculum review process as responsive as possible. He said department chairs requesting feedback on a proposal should listen to the feedback and pass it along to other faculty members.

Tim Cozzens, chair of the Design Department, said he thought the email was helpful because it put all the ideas together in one place.

“It reiterated and codified a number of issues that have been floating in the air for quite some time and had been discussed, but to put it all together was very helpful,” Cozzens said.

Cozzens said while some faculty have reacted negatively to the Strategic Plan, he has not noticed this within the Design Department. Carol Lloyd Rozansky, chair of the Education Department, said the email responded to questions and concerns about the Strategic Plan’s implementation from faculty, students and administrators.

“It can be exciting for some people, it can make us feel a bit anxious perhaps, and sometimes we can go back and forth,” Rozansky said.

In a section of the email titled “Our Strategic Plan Will Work,” Wearden assured faculty once more that implementation of the plan was possible and necessary for Columbia’s success.

“We have the creative and intellectual talent to do it,” Wearden said in the email. “But we must understand why we are doing this work together; we must believe in the transformative value of the work.”

This is the first of several emails this year to keep faculty and staff updated on the Strategic Plan’s implementation, Wearden said in the email.

“At certain points in the year, I’d like to be able to say, ‘Since the last time you heard from me, here are the things we have accomplished, here are the things we’ve been working on,’ so people have a sense of being engaged in this,” Wearden told The Chronicle.

Wearden added that he is happy with how the Strategic Plan’s implementation is going and with the faculty’s work.

“The faculty’s working very hard on this,” Wearden said. “I’m happy with their willingness to do that hard work. I really do believe that we are engaged in something that’s going to be transformative in very positive ways for the college.”