Editor’s Note: Students should be in curricular discussions, not shown the door

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Editor's Note: New CFO needs to bring financial confidence back

By Editor-in-Chief

Columbia’s students, possibly more than ones at other higher education institutions, understand the importance of their curricula and programs staying relevant to what is currently happening in their disciplines, as creative fields are in constant flux. However, it often seems like their opinions on what is being taught within their respective departments are not taken into consideration, especially when changes are being made.

As reported Sept. 19 by The Chronicle, fashion students received an email announcing the BFA in the Fashion Studies Department was “no longer” accepting new applicants. Students were then notified later by Fashion Studies chair Jeff Schiff that the BFA program was not eliminated and applicants would be considered for the next several years, as reported on the Front Page. Students were then told about the department’s changing curriculum and proposals, including one fashion program that merges the design and business concentrations, that will go through the college’s extensive vetting process for these types of changes. The process includes approval by  the appropriate school’s dean and the provost, as well as feedback from Faculty Senate.

These clarifications, however, are contradictory to the narrative given to faculty, staff and students in prior emails and are likely caused by a lack of collegewide communication regarding how curriculum is allowed to be altered.

Appropriate curricular changes are a healthy part of any higher institution’s ongoing development; however, Columbia should set precedent by involving more students in the conversation before proposals are approved or announced. 

Chairs, along with faculty and staff, should absolutely have the final say on what is happening within their departments.  Their expertise in their artistic craft and academia is the reason why Columbia hired them. Students can also provide vital input into not only the current climate of the creative field being discussed, but also what they are expecting from a Columbia education. Massive changes to programs and majors after their arrival and without proper notification create an atmosphere of uncertainty and frustration.

As reported on this week’s front page story, multiple students confirmed that Schiff said in a Sept. 19 “Chill with the Chair” meeting that if they were unhappy with upcoming curricular changes, they could seek education elsewhere. The Chronicle, however, was not allowed access to the meeting because Schiff said beforehand he wanted to ensure students could speak freely about their fears within the department. When asked about this exchange, Schiff told The Chronicle he did not “recall” saying students should go to other colleges if unsatisfied but added that does not mean he didn’t say it.

This response to student concerns with changes is beyond inappropriate: It is absolutely absurd considering they had no say in any proposed changes and were then blindsided with unclear information. 

Students should not be mocked or insulted for fearing change, especially if they do not have a seat at the table and are only brought in after the fact. 

For changes of this magnitude in any department, not only should faculty and staff be a part of the discussion, but several student representatives should be given the chance as well. 

In order not to limit the conversation to one or two—as is typically the number of students privy to these conversations,  consistent updates via email announcements, online forums or town hall meetings during times of program or curricular review could make transitions more seamless and accepted. 

Openness could be the difference between retaining students or losing them to competitors, especially when they are being  clearly reminded of their other options by Columbia’s own employees.