Problematic data delays Program Information Requests

By Heather Scroering

Faculty and staff who must complete Program Information Request forms, as part of Columbia’s prioritization process, are grappling with several problematic issues in filling out the forms, including inaccurate data and time pressure.

Specific data regarding the number of students in each program, diversity, courses taught, current programs offered and other categories were collected by the college and given to the prioritization committees to distribute to respective program heads. However, a number of flaws were found in some of the information, according to several department chairs.

As previously reported by The Chronicle on Oct. 31, the PIR forms ask academic programs, non-degree programs, centers and support and operational offices to answer in-depth questions concerning—but not limited to—historical context and finances.

“As co-chair of the Chairs Council, quite a number of departments saw inaccuracies in the data that they were given, often just in the way things were named and identified, but also in some of the data,” said Bruce Sheridan, chair of the Film and Video Department. “The people running Blueprint Prioritization have been very responsive to that.”

Sheridan said most of the data in his department is valid, but there are a few discrepancies, such as duplicated or missing programs.

Patty McNair, associate professor in the Fiction Writing Department, is concerned that the flawed data could potentially affect the outcome of the questions.

“I have no doubt that we can find the room to talk about what we do in the Fiction Writing Department [that] will show that we are a strong, vital [and] important part of the [college],” McNair said. “We have no doubt about that, but at the same time, we want to make sure that the information that people have access to about our department is giving a true picture.”

Sheridan said some of the work may need to be repeated, which is an extra burden when those who are filling out the forms are already fighting the clock. The forms were originally due to the dean or director of the program by Nov. 18. However, because of the problems, the deadline has been extended to Dec. 2, according to an email from the Academic and Support and Operations teams.

Sheridan suggested that the process should not have begun until all of the data was corrected.

“We can do it,” Sheridan said. “You can always get it done, but there’s a minimum amount of time and if you go below that minimum amount of time, the job is not going to be done as well as it could be.”

Sheridan isn’t the only one concerned about timing. McNair believes the time frame for the process is a struggle because students need the most attention in the middle of the semester.

She said the department has to factor in the time it takes to meet with students one-on-one for registration, which started today, and midterms.

“We all knew it was going to be a lot of work,” McNair said. “And it’s not as though we’re worried about taking on the challenge, but having it come right in the center of a semester [is difficult because that is when] students are at the most vulnerable, I think.”

According to Pantelis Vassilakis, chair of the Audio Arts and Acoustics Department, the forms are asking for statements at the program level. Because data were only given on the entire department rather than at the individual programs level, faculty and staff must determine the relevant information for specific programs, Sheridan said.

McNair feels sure that the faculty and prioritization teams are aware of the issues of data as well as timing and are “working hard” to correct the problems.

“Personally, I really think that one of the things that will come out of prioritization is that the college as a whole will get better and more sophisticated at its analysis and how it measures and summarizes its activities,” Sheridan said.