Editor’s Note: Columbia seeking ‘accomplished, progressive’ new provost

By Ariana Portalatin, Editor-in-Chief

According to a new job description posted on multiple sites Sept. 26, Columbia and national search firm Isaacson, Miller, are looking for an “accomplished, progressive” leader as the college’s new senior vice president and provost. The 10-page document boasts Columbia’s achievements but fails to accurately portray its ongoing struggles. Leaving out major details could possibly set up the selected candidate for failure in a position crucial to the success of the college.

Columbia has positive attributes to brag about, many of which are included in the job description: a strong reputation in creative industries, top-rated programs, expert faculty and staff and a diverse student body. But there are also serious issues administration, including the provost, need to address or are already working to improve. Although the search firm was hired to attract candidates, job descriptions should include enough information so potential candidates can know the full scope of the institution they are applying for.

The job post states the college is transitioning into a more selective institution but the transition has come with challenges, including controversial curriculum changes, faculty credentials reviews and significant budget cuts due to declining enrollment.

The college has made several changes as part of its Strategic Plan goal of creating a 21st century curriculum, including canceling and adding multiple programs in various departments. While the college is searching for a provost who can build programs to meet the needs of students, the job posting also noted institutional surveys that reported student opinions that the college should improve the consistency of its programs.

Students were displeased with the spring 2017 merger of the former cinema art and science and television departments. Students from these departments criticized the decision because they felt the industries were too different to be lumped together. Students and faculty were also unhappy in spring 2018 when administration began to consider canceling the creative arts therapies and education programs due to low enrollment and financial complications.

With students complaining about inconsistency, Columbia must create a clear plan for program review, be transparent about the process and include faculty and students in the discussions. Students will not want to attend a college that brags about some programs while cutting others.

The post also touted the college’s faculty and explained that while students were previously taught almost entirely by adjunct professors, the college grew to have highly-accomplished full-time faculty. Not mentioned were multiple layoffs and buyouts of faculty and staff, and two strikes initiated by the P-Fac union in November 2017 and April 2018 in the midst of contract bargaining to denounce what they called “bad faith bargaining,” unfair labor practices and other collective bargaining complaints.

One of the main duties of the senior vice president and provost is to work closely with faculty and administrative officials. Tensions are high between the two groups, and the college needs a provost who is aware of these issues so they can work on improving relationships for the betterment of faculty and students.

“A challenge for the next provost will be to highlight and build on the college’s distinctive strengths,” the job post stated. “There is no established road map for this kind of work, and it will require a leader with an innovative mindset, a healthy tolerance for ambiguity, and a deep curiosity about the ideas of others.”

Whoever the college search committee selects as the new provost will be faced with immense challenges in their new position, and the college’s history and ongoing struggles must be made clear to them in order for them to succeed.