Prioritization reverses field

By Alexandra Kukulka

After the yearlong prioritization process and the avalanche of recommendations it produced, Columbia’s new leadership has decided that nothing is a done deal and all 300 of the recommendations will be sent back for further evaluation by each program and department affected by them.

The decision, announced by Warren Chapman, senior vice president and the person who facilitates the transition between the current and next administration, as well as oversee the next phase of Columbia’s self-study, essentially puts the fate of the recommendations in the hands of the people who would have to live with them.

Chapman also announced that the school is replacing the word “prioritization” with the term “self-evaluation.”

Each department and program will answer specific questions about how the changes, if implemented, will specifically impact them according to Chapman.

“You have to negotiate [the recommendations] from where the work is being done,” Chapman said at a faculty retreat for the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Aug. 29. “If [the recommendation] was carried out, it would be you carrying it out, not us telling you to carry it out.”

According to Chapman, the recommendations are still being sorted out among the departments.

However, once such issues are settled, the relevant department will have to answer questions about the impact each recommendation would have on students and faculty and the financial

cost involved.

He added that the comments on recommendations are limited to 250 words per question, so that they are clear and concise.

During the faculty and staff convocation, held Aug. 31 at the Film Row Cinema, a new group called the “study board,” was unveiled to look at the issues of recruitment, enrollment, retention, graduation, financial aid and scholarships for students in a “holistic sense,” Chapman said.

It was announced that this group will be co-chaired by Allen Turner, chairman of the board of trustees,  and Pegeen Reichert Powell, the president of the Faculty Senate.

At the LAS retreat, at the 33 E. Congress Pkwy. Building, the faculty shared with Chapman the frustration and pain they felt during last year’s prioritization process—specifically the vagueness, lack of communication and early implementation of some recommendations.

“We have endured a great deal of unjustified hostility, unilateral decisions, crazy emails … it’s really demoralizing to feel that you are continually treated with this kind of hostility on an ongoing basis,” said Karen Osborne, professor in the English Department. “I would like to believe [Dr. Chapman], that [the administration] is trying to do things differently, but I just may have run out of my capacity to trust.”

Chapman emphasized that each recommendation will have a “life expectancy” of its own and will be carried out, if approved, at different times. While implementation will not begin right away, some recommendations, such as the formation of a collaborative marketing communications group, have been put into effect.

“Basically, things have been ongoing,” Chapman said. “As I met with people, we have talked about how they are planning to meet the expectations that are there and begin to figure out how they go forth. It’s been too soon [for anything to become final].”

Students will feel the effects of the implementation process in different ways, Chapman said. Current students won’t notice any dramatic changes, though future students will be more affected.

According to Suzanne Blum-Malley, professor in the English Department and member of the faculty Academic Team, when evaluated academic aspects of the college for prioritization, students were at the root of the team’s “One Columbia” document, the final group of recommendations it put together. Even though the team no longer has an official role in the process, it hopes that the administration develops a strong, long-term strategy to keep up with changing industries for the success of students, she added.

After reviewing the Academic Team’s “One Columbia” document Turner said the board liked the ideas that presented in the document.

However, it is hard to understand how any specific change will affect the college in the future, he added.

“What’s important is the notion that the faculty, staff, administration and the trustees are rethinking what Columbia should be in the 21st century, and we are moving in a direction to make it what it ought to be,” Turner said.

According to Blum-Malley, the way to move forward is through thoughtful conversation, research and planning before anything can be implemented. She believes that prioritization helped the college look more closely at itself.

However, she emphasized the importance of the entire community working together to begin the implementation process, and said the college can’t sit back after a “tough year” and say everything is all right.

“I don’t think we are just fine for the future,” Malley said. “I think we are probably just fine for now, but if we don’t start changing for the future now, we are not going to be just fine. People can’t wait for someone to tell them what to do. We all have to do it.”