Faculty Senate raises concerns

By Alexandra Kukulka

In a Nov. 27 statement sent to college administrators, the Faculty Senate expressed “serious concern” regarding the administration’s decision-making process during this “important period of transition” for Columbia.

The letter stressed the importance of two specific concerns: transparency and communication.

“To be clear, [the Senate is] not commenting here on the efficacy of specific decisions, but on the lack of transparency and communication during and after the decisions have been made,” the statement said.

The Senate sent the statement to President Warrick L. Carter; Senior Vice President Warren Chapman; Louise Love, interim Provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; John Green, interim dean of the School of Fine & Performing Arts; Deborah Holdstein, dean of the School of Liberal Arts & Sciences; and Robin Bargar, dean of the School of Media Arts.

When contacted, all administrators declined to comment.

The Senate defined transparency as a process that “involves using every possible mode of communication available … [and] circulating information that some people might not like to hear.” It also said transparency includes sharing information and encouraging feedback while decisions are being made, rather than after they have been implemented.

The statement is not the Senate’s response to specific events, but rather its general concerns, according to Pegeen Reichert Powell, Faculty Senate president and an associate professor in the English Department.

“[The statement] is not really about specific decisions so much [as it is] the larger culture of communication and transparency,” Powell said.

The statement cites the potential amalgamation of the Marketing Communication and Arts, Entertainment & Media Management departments as an example of the administration’s lack of candor, indicating that the bad communication in this instance could  recur in the future.

On a separate note, the statement commented on the possible split of the School of Fine & Performing Arts into two separate schools—the School of Fine Arts and the School of Performing Arts.

According to the statement, senators for the SFPA found out about the prospect of reorganization from colleagues who were “neither involved in the decision nor well-informed about it.”

The statement said when major decisions are not communicated to the rest of the college, it creates tension during “already difficult situations.” However, the Senate said it realizes that not all situations can be discussed with the entire college community.

“We appreciate that some decisions are not conducive to large-scale conversation during the decision-making process,” the statement said. “However, in these cases, honest and thorough communication about the decision immediately after the decision has been made is absolutely vital.”

The Senate referenced the Dean of the School of Fine & Performing Arts Eliza Nichols’ stepping down this summer and said postponing the search for a new dean was an instance “surrounded by misinformation and partial information” that hindered the faculty from adjusting to the subsequent changes.

The letter also encouraged administrators to use the Senate as a platform for discussing important future decisions.

The statement concluded with the Senate’s request to be informed about all major decisions and for the administration to circulate these decisions, including who made the decision, who did research and planning, the timeline for the process, why changes are being considered and the effects that changes will have on the college as a whole.

The Senate invited those who received the statement to respond to these concerns at its next meeting Dec. 7.

According to Powell, most of those administrators have said they will attend the meeting to further discuss the concerns that the Senate has raised.