College plans next steps after dean departures

By Ariana Portalatin, Editor-In-Chief

Following announcements of the departure of two deans in one week, the college is preparing to make changes in its school leadership and curriculum to continue Strategic Plan initiatives.

Two emails from Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden announced the upcoming departures of Onye Ozuzu, dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts and associate professor in the Dance Department, and Matthew Shenoda, Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, special advisor to the president and professor in the English and Creative Writing Department, as reported May 30 and June 1 by The Chronicle.

According to the May 30 email announcement, Ozuzu will step down from her position in July to join the University of Florida, Gainesville, as dean of the College of the Arts Aug. 1. Shenoda will step down July 15 to join the Rhode Island School of Design as vice president of Social Equity and Inclusion.

During a June 6 interview with The Chronicle, Wearden acknowledged that two deans leaving their posts may be unsettling.

“It is quite a tribute to Columbia that we have developed a leadership team here that is in demand at really top institutions,” Wearden said. “This is the way it happens in the academy if you are doing things right. People start noticing what you’re doing and you get these new opportunities.”

In a June 7 email interview with The Chronicle, Ozuzu said she accepted an invitation to interview with the university because “remaining open to opportunity is a basic tenant of professional endeavor and continued relevance to one’s field” and she looks forward to continuing her work at the institution.

In a June 4 email interview with The Chronicle, Shenoda said he was also recruited to his new position and accepting the job offer “made sense on both a personal and professional level.”

Shenoda said he looks forward to the creative environment at RISD and the opportunity to spearhead new initiatives. He added that he hopes his successor builds and continues to be committed to DEI initiatives.

“I have had the opportunity to take on many different positions which has been immensely educational for me,” Shenoda said. “I have been at the center of and have witnessed incredible change at Columbia that I believe has helped move the institution in positive directions towards reaching even more of its potential.”

According to the college’s Faculty Manual, the provost must consult with the president and school department chairs to decide between an internal or external search to fill a vacant dean position. The provost will then decide whether or not to fill the position with an interim appointment of no more than two years until a permanent successor is selected.

Wearden said he plans on a two-year interim appointment for Fine and Performing Arts and a possibly shorter term for Shenoda’s replacement because the position requires reports to the president and provost.

He added that the forthcoming provost should conduct the search for the next School of Fine and Performing Arts dean.

Wearden will step down from his position in June 2019, as reported April 6 by The Chronicle. The search for a new provost will begin at the end of the summer and initial candidate interviews in December or January. The college plans to announce the new provost in March 2019.

He said the delayed dean search is important to getting the best candidates.

“We will have trouble getting top candidates because people don’t want to go into a job not knowing who their boss is going to be. Likewise, the new provost will want the opportunity to choose his or her own deans,” Wearden said. “It’s only fair to the candidates and the new provost, whoever that is.”

During Shenoda’s time as dean, the college expanded Undoing Racism workshops first introduced while Ozuzu was chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee during the Fall 2016 Semester. The college also began a cluster hire of four tenure-track faculty members focused in teaching about diversity and opened the new Student Diversity and Inclusion Office in fall 2017.

DEI Committee member and associate professor in the Communication Department Elio Leturia said he was unhappy to hear of Shenoda and Ozuzu leaving but hopes whoever fills their positions continues to strengthen the campus.

“It’s a big endeavor to change the culture of an institution,” Leturia said. “Even though we talked about having equality and being very diverse, there’s still a lot of racism in everybody and that’s something, as a committee, we have been working [on] diligently.”

The School of Fine and Performing Arts has undergone changes to its curriculum, structure and diversity under Ozuzu’s leadership.

The Dance and Theatre departments merged in July 2016 to foster collaboration between students. New programs were also introduced in fall 2017, including a Bachelor of Arts in fashion studies and hip-hop minor. The college also worked to increase diversity in the Theatre Department with the faculty cluster hire.

Also, the Community Schools and Arts Integration Mentorship programs joined the school in June 2017 to increase community engagement, another goal set forth in the Strategic Plan.

Ozuzu said she is proud of the school’s accomplishments and hopes the college will continue to support future development.

“We have responded with new curricular design, more collaboration in the way we offer facility access and technology, engaged in collaborative research on the future of education and new departmental leaders have stepped forward from within and joined us from around the country,” Ozuzu said.

Nathan Bakkum, associate dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts and associate professor in the Music Department, said working with Ozuzu has been a rewarding experience.

“This was a year where a lot of deep discussion about curriculum, student experience [and] required coursework finally made its way into the curriculum approval process,” Bakkum said. “This year, departments were demonstrating the ways in which they took the Strategic Plan very personally, very seriously and really created some thrilling, new, required curriculum.”

Wearden said the future of the School of Fine and Performing Arts includes evaluating design aspects, which he said may affect the structure of schools and departments.

“I’ve had conversations with chairs and some faculty members about the fact that human-centered design really could become one of the small set of things that we become really known for,” Wearden said. “We really need to rethink the curriculum across the college and the intersections between departments on that curriculum. I’m hoping both the interim dean and new dean will continue to lead that conversation to work with the other deans and department chairs first and foremost on what a design curriculum of the future would look like.”

Wearden said he is positive the college can continue to implement the Strategic Plan smoothly during the dean transitions.

“We are really confident that we have people internally who can step into these interim roles and keep the momentum going and that’s the most important thing,” Wearden said.