With nearly 20 years of experience at the college, leadership skills and a focus on integrating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion into the curriculum, Rosita Sands was selected as dean of the School of Fine and Performing Arts—a choice faculty and students hope will lead to interdisciplinary collaboration, higher enrollment numbers and academic innovation.
Sands won’t be totally starting from scratch, though, as she has served as interim dean of the school since 2018. Senior Vice President and Provost Marcella David formally announced Sands’ permanent appointment on Tuesday, Feb. 4, in a collegewide email.
Fashion Studies Department Chair Colbey Reid was also being considered for the position.
Reid’s vision for the school focused on creating partnerships with businesses, rethinking the college’s brand and generating revenue through departments working together on various projects.
In an interview with the Chronicle, David said she found both candidates to be “highly qualified and engaged” after attending their presentations delivered as part of the hiring process. But after conferring with President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim, department chairs and faculty, she determined Sands was the best choice for the position at this time.
Sands’ proven managerial success in a time of enrollment instability, a “revolutionary” passion for DEI initiatives and her dedication to serving faculty interests put her ahead as a candidate, David said.
“She has a very strong vision of … the visual arts as a continuum and, similarly, the performing arts as a continuum,” David said. “There’s overlap in their curriculum, but design also supports what’s happening in theatre [and] in music.”
Sands’ approach to the school will be based on interdisciplinary action across all aspects, from training students to bringing in prospective ones.
Sands said there is already collaboration and communication between different departments, and she encourages deans, chairs and faculty to get together to have a conversation about finding or repurposing resources for students’ needs.
“It just makes sense,” Sands said. “The professions we’re training students for are interdisciplinary, so we need to give them that experience while they are here.”
Sands said the School of Fine and Performing Arts is partnering with the Undergraduate Admissions and Enrollment Management offices on recruitment visits to schools, showcasing student work and highlighting what makes Columbia stand out.
Faculty weigh in
After working with Sands for years in the Music Department, Ilya Levinson said he has no concerns about her leadership.
“She’s a good listener,” said Levinson, an associate professor in the department. “She [has a] background as a researcher, and she can listen and she can synthesize information and come up with the right solution.”
Levinson said it’s important for Sands to focus on collaborations between the School of Fine and Performing Arts, the School of Media Arts and the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences because of the inherent ties audio arts and acoustics, history and philosophy have to fine and performing arts.
Khalid Long, an assistant professor in the Theatre Department, said the school needs more resources for faculty and students along with more attention paid to the needs of the larger campus community.
“If we create cross-campus collaborations, that would expand what it is that we do and create opportunities for both faculty and staff,” Long said. “[It would] also give us a greater depth to the identity of the college.”
Sands said she wants to help departments work on continually revising curriculum and programming to be relevant, current and diverse.
“It’s largely looking at the curriculum to make sure … it is inclusive of various voices, various aesthetics, various traditions,” Sands said. “Faculty need to be aware of the changing demands of various industries, and we need to make sure our curriculum keeps up with that.”
Jocelyn Costea, a sophomore marketing and arts management double major, said the Business and Entrepreneurship Department within the school can be marketed more effectively to future students. Before attending Columbia, she said she was not aware the college offered the business major.
“I also see business as an art,” Costea said. “You have to be creative, you have to be innovative, you have to be able to do things differently than other people to be more successful.”
Rita Dennin, a senior interdisciplinary documentary major, said while she enjoys the benefits of her professors’ connections and experience, she wants to see photography classes incorporate more editing and business skills—something she hopes can be implemented in the future.
Moving forward, David said she hopes Sands is able to continue existing initiatives while facilitating and encouraging more conversations within the School of Fine and Performing Arts and across Columbia.
“She has, not only great skill, but great potential,” David said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens when she unfurls her wings and starts soaring.”