Consultants prioritize Columbia community

By Heather Scroering

“Create change” is a catchphrase this college embraces, and change is exactly what is about to happen at Columbia.

Starting this fall semester, Columbia will implement a yearlong “strategic prioritization process” that will evaluate every aspect, academic and non-academic, of the college.

“We’re evaluating programs based on how they align with our mission, our school and with each other,” said Jonathan Keiser, director of Evaluation and Assessment for Academic Affairs. “We do that so we can allocate resources in the best and most efficient way.”

The overall goal of the process is to distribute existing funds in a smarter, more organized fashion. However, it will also determine the future of academic programs, clubs and other student services.

“Of the many good things we do and could do—given that we’re always going to have a limited amount of resources to accomplish them with—which {programs} are most important, which are less important and which are the ones we should let go of?” said Anne Foley, vice president of Planning and Compliance.

Foley is also the joint project manager along with Louise Love, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs.

The assessment will begin with the formation of two teams, each composed of 12 members from the faculty and staff. One team will assess the academic portion of the school while the other will handle non-academics. Each program will be evaluated using strict criteria chosen by the committees.

Helping to direct the process, is the consulting group of Academic Strategic Partners, who will be at the college throughout the academic year.

“We’re working with them because they have more knowledge and experience in how to set up a process, keep it going and move forward in a healthy manner,” Foley said. “They’re our expert advisers.”

Foley stressed the purpose of the consultants is to guide Columbia through the prioritization process and make suggestions for what has worked at similar institutions before.

“The college is making all of the decisions,” she said. “Whether it’s the decisions about the details of exactly how we’re going to carry out the process, or more importantly, what we’re going to prioritize.”

Though much of the administration is participating in teams and making decisions, there is question of how the students’ voices will fall into this. Information was presented to the Student Government Association, according to Foley, but no decisions about student participation have been made.

“I encourage students to become part of the process,” Keiser said who is also a part of the data expert committee for the process.

Students’ voices may not play a major role in the process, but they could be affected in other ways, especially if a program is cut from future academic years.

No decisions have been made since the process has barely begun, but every aspect of the college is under evaluation with a “no ‘sacred cows’” attitude, according to the Academic Strategy Partners’ “Report of a Consultative Visit.” However, Foley assured students in current programs are safe.

“If we made a decision to stop any of the academic programs, we will absolutely be obligated to teach it out,” she said. “We may stop taking new students, but we will continue to offer that program as long as we still have enrolled students.”

Aside from the academic and non-academic program cuts, budget reductions may also occur.

In “Focus 2016,” Columbia’s five-year plan, the college hopes to “reduce operating expenses.” The prioritization process will help “make more prudent decisions” for the possibility of cuts, according to the Academic Strategy Partners’ report, which also mentions “the likelihood—or not—of the ultimate decisions affecting tenure.”

“People are a little uncomfortable [with change]. We’re willing to talk to people if they have questions,” Foley said.

According to a letter from President Warrick L. Carter sent to the Columbia community on July 15, a number of community members have questioned why this is happening now.

In the letter, Carter stressed that the college is well-equipped to undergo such a process, listing several reasons, including the vast data reserve available to refer back to and the strong need to plan for the future.

“The real question is: why not now?” Foley said.