Editorial: Departments lack diverse leadership and the trickle down effect harms us all

By Editorial Board

As we wrap up the spring 2023 semester, Columbia has begun to roll out names of the new chairs of each department and– drumroll– they’re almost all white.

New beginnings are exciting, and we look forward to seeing how these new leaders contribute to the longtime goals of each department, as well as Columbia’s goal of creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus.

These faculty members undoubtedly deserved their promotions on the basis of hard work and dedication. We are sure they will flourish in their new roles and hope to see them succeed. The issues that they were elevated from a system that has held down people of color.

The leadership at the chair level at Columbia is not diverse; the overwhelming majority are white. Of course, when promoting from our existing pool of faculty that is majority white, this will happen. Just 20% of Columbia’s full-time professors are faculty of color.

Columbia can continue to hold meetings, send emails, ask questions and offer platforms for students and faculty to express their concerns, but we need to push one step beyond that and make physical, palpable, tangible changes to benefit our community.

We need to hire more faculty and staff of color with truly competitive salaries, support them once they get here and create pathways to leadership. If we can’t be diverse promoting faculty from within our ranks, we need to recruit from outside of the institution. Existing chairs must be held accountable for DEI failures and not just rewarded if they go above and beyond.

It will not only make Columbia a better institution – and one that lives up to its promise of diversity – but students demand it.

Over the course of the semester we’ve seen minority students express feelings of isolation and being unheard, leading to low income and students of color leaving Columbia, contributing to the school’s student and faculty retention issue– it’s a vicious cycle.

Having one or two nonwhite faculty members in any given department is unsustainable; no one wants to feel othered, out of place, or like a token member of their community. Once faculty and staff feel comfortable and included, that opens the door to students.

Columbia is a special community, and we have the potential to provide underrepresented groups with the time and attention they so richly deserve. Students from all backgrounds more than deserve to sit in classrooms with professors who can relate to their experiences, be a part of departments that see every type of student and every type of way to be creative.

While there have been plans put into place for improvement in future semesters to battle the deficit or improve campus diversity, not all of us will be around to see these changes take place and reap the benefits of the hard work ahead.

Every incoming student and faculty member deserves to attend or work at “an urban institution whose students reflect the economic, racial, cultural, and educational diversity of contemporary America.”

At the very least, we hope all our campus leaders see the power they hold and use it wisely.