New CFO talks previous job experience, plans for future budget

By Sophia Coleman

Columbia is in the midst of many changes, not the least of which is that it has a new chief financial officer. On May 22, Ken Gotsch was named the vice president for Business Affairs and CFO, replacing interim CFO Patty Heath.

Gotsch has an extensive background in college budgeting, having served as CFO and vice chancellor of finance for the City Colleges of Chicago since 2005. Prior to that he was CFO of the Los Angeles Unified School district and Chicago Public Schools. He has also worked for the Chicago Department of Revenue, the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission and Price Waterhouse.

The Chronicle discussed his previous job experiences with Gotsch, his goals for this year’s budget and what his overall vision is for Columbia.

The Chronicle: Why did you choose to resign from your position at City Colleges of Chicago and come to Columbia College—what interested you?

Ken Gotsch: I [had] been [with City Colleges for] seven years, and I’ve gone through several administration changes. A lot of my colleagues had left, and I felt like I was becoming the old guard there. I was looking to make a change. I did a number of interviews out of state, but I wasn’t looking forward to relocating my family. When I saw the Columbia opportunity, I had a chance to stay in Chicago and work for a great institution. The other part of the move for me was also to be able to have additional responsibilities, and the Business Affairs position would allow me to grow a bit more professionally.

The Chronicle: How does your previous job experience lend itself to your position at Columbia?

KG: For me at least, getting to work with seven different college presidents and administrations really gave me the opportunity to work for different types of leaders and instructional professionals. Prior to [my] City Colleges [position], I had the privilege of working for superintendent Roy Romer at the Los Angeles Unified School District. Romer was the former governor of Colorado and a real sharp instructional leader. It was a privilege to have the experience of working for a large district in Los Angeles. Prior to that I had a chance to work for CPS. I had the privilege of serving under Arnie Duncan and Paul Vallas, who were both very strong superintendents in their day. I learned a lot working for them as well. With that combined experience, hopefully I’ll be able to bring that to bear and help out here at Columbia.

The Chronicle: You are working on the budget now. What are your goals for it?

KG: For me, the goals are centering on how to we best implement the vision [for the focus] 2016 plan and the One Columbia [prioritization] document. There’s a lot of very exciting objectives that the college has been working on. So making sure that we achieve those objectives is really the part that I’ll be working to mature into.

The Chronicle: What has been done in the past that you wish to continue, and what are some changes you plan on making?

KG: That’s probably too early for me to say. I am still learning, but I just know that I am really appreciative of the smart staff that the [college] has and their involvement in the budget process. The various chairs are extremely well engaged, so I am anxious to work with them and learn from them as this budget gets completed. Hopefully I’ll bring some ideas and strategies based on my experience, after I get a chance to learn from my colleagues here.

The Chronicle: What are your plans for the cuts in the Academic and Student Affairs budget?

KG: My hope is that while working with my colleagues, we will find ways to minimize any negative impacts of this year’s budget by working together as a team. My hope is that [the major cuts] are not going to be the case at all. I’m hoping that as we embark on the next year there will be a great sense of teamwork and collegiately as you would expect, and [to] not have people fighting against each other, because this is a great institution, and we are in good financial shape. There is no reason we should be panicking. We have a lot of smart people here; it’s amazing how talented our team is. People worked very hard on prioritization here, and I think it made people very nervous. The reality is that a lot of good ideas emerged as well. I think we learned a lot from the listening forum too, from what our colleagues and students had to say [and] what they liked and didn’t like about the process. And I know our president is working hard to incorporate the lessons learned into the final recommendations. So, there’s a lot to be hopeful and optimistic about.