Wearden discusses Strategic Plan implementation, Faculty Senate voices ideas, concerns

By Campus Editor

Faculty members were given an outline of their role in the Strategic Plan’s implementation for the upcoming academic year at the first Faculty Senate meeting of the Fall 2015 Semester Aug. 21.

Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden presented senators with plans for how they can complement the administration’s efforts regarding the plan’s implementation.

Wearden said he met throughout the summer with the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, which is now headed by Gregory Foster-Rice, associate professor in the Photography Department. Wearden added that he thinks the college has made “phenomenal” progress in the past year by creating the plan and quickly implementing some of its changes.

Wearden addressed foreseeable challenges in implementing the Strategic Plan, which include realigning the college’s budget in view of its missing its enrollment goal by more than 300 students, freezing certain job searches and loss of positions. Wearden reiterated that he thinks the Strategic Plan should improve the college’s financial health by reforming curriculum, restructuring student services and finding new sources of revenue.

Wearden said he is looking to create the following committees in the upcoming months to drive the plan’s implementation: Universal Learning Outcomes & Core Curriculum committee: the  Integrated First-Year Experience & Foundations committee: the Community Engagement and Engaging Difference, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee.

“If we don’t do this now, we are going to position ourselves for failure,” he said. “We are not in crisis now, but if we don’t execute a Strategic Plan over the next five years, I guarantee you we will be in crisis five years from now.”

Wearden said Columbia’s enrollment has declined again, triggering a lack of student resources deriving from the college’s decreasing amount of tuition dollars.

To tackle this, Wearden said the college will determine each department’s “optimal enrollment size” based on its number of faculty and available resources.

Eric May, associate professor in the Creative Writing Department, said he thinks the word “optimal” may be administrative talk for ‘shrink.”

Wearden said optimal sizing will allow departments to determine how many students they can comfortably cater to.

“I see us as a college that is poised for growth, not a college that’s poised for shrinking,” Wearden said. “But that doesn’t mean some departments don’t think they need to constrict to be able to better manage what they’re doing.”

Wearden said the Strategic Plan’s implementation will help increase enrollment, which will also increase the college’s current resources.

He added that the administration plans to continue reducing course offerings and increasing class sizes when applicable to conserve resources.

“It’s possible to have smaller classes that need to be smaller for pedagogical reasons or because there is only so much equipment in the room,” Wearden said. “As long as they’re balanced by some classes that can reasonably offered to a larger number of students so across the entire curriculum of a department we’ve scaled things in a way that allows [the college] to pay [its] bills.”

Wearden said he wants to improve student advising by simplifying the way students find their degree requirements, assuring all courses will be offered in a sequence  that allows them to graduate on time and redefining the roles of faculty advisers to focus more on mentoring than the traditional advising role of discussing classes and credits.

“That’s when we bring value as a faculty—when [faculty] can sit back and talk to [students] about larger issues and preparing for a career, preparing for life­—dealing with those issues students deal with that we don’t have time to talk to them about when we are wrapped up in the nitty-gritty of ‘what am I going to take next semester and the semester after that,’” he said.

Jeff Abell, an associate professor in the Interdisciplinary Arts Department, said he is concerned about the administration’s attention to faculty morale. He added that faculty may be receiving a “false attribution” as being resistant to change for questioning the plan’s implementation.

May added that the professors should not be deemed as resistant if they question administrative actions, citing last year’s external review of the Creative Writing Department as an example and what he said was a lack of openness from the consultants and administration concerning the changes made in the department following the review.

“I’m all for change, but I’m not for ham-handed change or change that doesn’t come with much of a rationale or change that’s about settling scores,” May said.

Faculty should not worry about changes being made permanent yet, Wearden said, because there will be a time for reassessment, and initiatives that do not work will be adjusted and made into functioning policies.

Abell said he thinks it needs to be recognized that faculty members may be in a process of mourning the changes already made, such as terminated classes and laid-off colleagues.

“All of us support philosophically that the college needs to change [and] that the curriculum needs to change,” Abell said. “We’re here ready to do those things, but there also needs to be a sense that we have emotions that have been tromped on a little bit over the last year or three.”

In response, Wearden said the administration does have a commitment to morale and that losses have been difficult, but everyone must work through the difficulties and their outlook may turn more positive as the implementation of the plan shows its benefits.   

“There will be a self-fulfilling prophecy around this plan one way or another,” he said. “If we’re negative about it, it will fail. If we’re positive about it, it will succeed.”