In our four years as students at this university, we have seen three deans lead our college. Meanwhile, inconsistency and opacity are what we have come to expect from what is the most visible leader and administrative representative of Columbia College. When the still-unexplained departure of Dean Michele Moody-Adams in August created the opportunity to select a new dean, we anticipated a chance for students to leave a meaningful mark on the leadership of Columbia College as participants in the new dean search process through strong-willed, independent student representatives. We are pleased that there are two students on the dean search committee. However, it matters how well the students on a committee represent the student body, and we fully expected the participation of elected student representatives.
After reading University President Lee Bollinger’s terse email last Wednesday, we realized that our basic expectations had not been met. The only students selected to serve on the dean search committee were members of the Undergraduate Recruitment Committee, an arm of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. While we do not question the qualifications, ability, or dedication of J.T. Ramseur and Mary Kircher, the students on the committee, we do not feel they are sufficiently representative of our full student body. Nor do we blame them. They are graciously performing a duty to their college, and their acceptance of the position only reinforces our perception of their commitment to the school.
Instead, we find fault with Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger for making his choice of students without due consideration to the need for proper representation. Dean Shollenberger should not have included only students from the URC. Positions on the URC are appointed by administrators rather than elected by students, and these students are accountable primarily to administrators rather than their peers. At no point were members of the Columbia College Student Council given notice that a search committee was being formed, much less asked which students should sit on that committee—two actions that, had they been taken, would have encouraged open communication and collaboration between students and administrators rather than confrontation.
Unfortunately, this oversight lends itself to the possible appearance that the administration, fearing the presence of strong and independent student voices on the committee at a time of deep turmoil between Columbia College and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, attempted to avoid student opinions independent of or even contrary to those of the administrators in Low Library. Instead, administrators should be doing everything to show that they care about student voices. While this oversight may have been unintentional, the lack of elected student representatives on the committee at such a complicated time for Columbia College contributes to the persistent and pernicious perception of an administration disconnected from the student body.
This choice is also a dangerous precedent for future student involvement in major decisions about Columbia College. We believe an important purpose of having elected representatives, whether in student government or governing boards, is to have them engaged and incorporated in these processes. Elected students have recognition across campus and well-defined communication channels with both students and administrators, important attributes that become invaluable when Columbia College is in a state as uncertain as the one it has been this past year. Thankfully, this uncertainty has been countered in part by the open leadership of interim Dean James Valentini, which we hope will become the norm.
We had the opportunity to meet with Dean Shollenberger recently to share our concerns. We found him open and receptive to making a change, and we sincerely hope that he will add someone elected by their fellow students to serve on the committee alongside J.T. and Mary, such as a newly elected member of the student council. It should go without saying that for future committees of such importance, Dean Shollenberger should learn from this mistake and return to the previous practice of selecting at least one representative from CCSC.
Kenny Durell is a Columbia College senior majoring in economics and a University Senator. Alex Frouman is a Columbia College senior majoring in mathematics and co-chair of the Student Affairs Committee of the University Senate. Aki Terasaki is a Columbia College senior majoring in economics and president of the Columbia College Student Council. Barry Weinberg is a Columbia College senior majoring in economics-political science, former chair of the Student Governing Board, and a student representative on the Committee on the Core.