New department chairs bring fresh energy to programs

By Knox Keranen, Staff Reporter

File photos

English and Creative Writing, Design and Theatre students should expect to see new faces running their departments this year, as the college begins to fill its empty chair positions.

One new face on the Chairs Council is Carin Silkaitis, chair of the Theatre Department. Silkaitis replaced Interim Chair Peter Carpenter this Fall after he left the college, as reported May 15 by The Chronicle. Prior to Columbia, Silkaitis served for seven years as the chair of both the Art and Theatre Departments at North Central College in Naperville.

Silkaitis said she is still adjusting to the size of Columbia’s Theatre Department, which is much larger than the theatre department at her former school. While dealing with the change, Silkaitis said she is trying to integrate the department’s productions with its coursework. That way, students are much more involved in picking the shows performed at Columbia.

She said the department made mistakes in the past, referring to alleged racism during the casting and production of “HOME/LAND,” as reported May 28 by The Chronicle. However, she said the department will be transforming courses and syllabi to be less colonial, white and linear to leave past missteps behind.

“I feel really energized by the kind of work being done,” Silkaitis said. “The way we are talking about art making, the way we are talking about color-conscious casting, the way we are talking about fully-collaborative work, … those are conversations I’m having with faculty, students and staff.”

In the English and Creative Writing Department, Pegeen Reichert Powell became the new chair when she replaced Kenneth Daley after he stepped down in May, as reported by The Chronicle Dec. 17, 2018.

According to a Sept. 13 email statement to The Chronicle from Reichert Powell, the English and Creative Writing Department is challenged by the greater workload that comes with rising enrollment, with fewer resources at their disposal.

“I expect that we’ll be able to enjoy increased energy around the department that only more students can bring,” Reichert Powell said.

Another new face will be Duncan MacKenzie, associate professor of Art and Art History, who will serve as interim chair of the Design Department for two years. MacKenzie now wears a few hats, and one mustache, as he also holds the chair position in the Art and Art History Department.

MacKenzie said the two departments have always been linked, so juggling the two may be “unusual,” but not unprecedented.

The two departments were formerly conjoined as the Art and Design Department until they split in Fall 2015, as reported by The Chronicle Feb. 9, 2015.

“It’s not like I’m in charge of a battleship and an airplane at the same time,” MacKenzie said. “They’re essentially two really complementary units where we’re just helping each other out right now.”

According to Institutional Effectiveness, the Design Department saw a slight uptick in enrollment from 2017 to 2018 with numbers in the illustration major remaining steady, while enrollment in the graphic design major tumbled from 401 in Fall 2015 to 273 in Fall 2018.

Although MacKenzie said numbers in graphic design have rebounded in Fall 2019, the initial drop came as a surprise to Mac- Kenzie, who said the major is typically a strength of the college.

MacKenzie said interim leaders can sometimes be too hesitant, but he is confident he can help the Design Department improve and succeed.

“I don’t think our college can afford to be tentative in its moves,” MacKenzie said. “We need to be bold.”

Additionally, this summer Associate Professor of Photography Ross Sawyers was named chair of the Photography Department in the School of Fine and Performing Arts, where he served as acting chair since 2018.