For some students, the committee searching for the next Columbia College dean is moving too quickly.
About 20 students showed up at a town hall Tuesday night to talk to members of the search committee and share their ideas and concerns about the role of the CC dean. Five search committee members, including all three student members, attended the town hall: Columbia College Student Council president-elect Karishma Habbu, CC ’13; Mary Kircher, CC ’13; J.T. Ramseur, CC ’13; philosophy professor Christia Mercer; and Slavic languages professor Cathy Popkin.
University President Lee Bollinger announced the committee’s formation in a March 28 email. The committee, which met for the fist time April 6, stopped accepting nominations for dean April 15, and is working to finish its search process by the end of the semester. The last day of classes is April 30, and final exams end May 10.
University Senator Eduardo Santana, CC ’13, was one of a few students at the town hall who expressed concerns about the speed at which the committee is moving.
“If you all felt inclined to slow the process down, I would be comfortable knowing that you all felt comfortable to slow this down and really giving this some thoughtful consideration,” Santana told the committee members.
“The last thing I want is just another revolving door, or the continued revolving door, of deans,” he added, referring to philosophy professor Michele Moody-Adams’ sudden resignation as CC dean last August after just two years in the position.
Popkin said that while the committee did not determine its own timetable, Bollinger had long intended to form the committee in the spring, after a board of trustees retreat in March.
Other students were concerned that the committee will simply rubber-stamp Interim Dean James Valentini as permanent dean, with Barry Weinberg, CC ’12, speculating that the committee might serve as a “coronation committee” for Valentini.
Committee members, however, insisted that there are no foregone conclusions, and that they will give all nominees due consideration. The committee has been charged with interviewing candidates and putting together a list of three finalists, which it will then give to Bollinger.
Students at the town hall also expressed a strong desire for increased transparency and communication on the part of the Columbia College administration.
“One thing that I would like you guys to look at is somehow choosing a dean, or creating some sort of criteria for the dean, whereby a commitment to informing students who want to be informed is part of their mission,” Steele Sternberg, CC ’13, said.
Student Governing Board chair David Fine, CC ’13, stressed that the dean should be accessible to all students “who care about the issues and who are willing and able to inform” their peers, including the student press.
Weinberg, a former SGB chair, said that during his time at Columbia, the administration has been “removed, inscrutable,” and hard for students to navigate.
“It’s very, very, difficult, even for students who want to be involved ... there’s a real lack of information, a real lack of figuring out about how things work,” Weinberg said. “Whatever comes out of this process has to include some sort of cultural change.”
Raphaelle Debenedetti, CC ’14, said that the kind of discussion taking place at the town hall—the idea for which came from committee members—was exactly the type of discussion that needs to take place more frequently.
“I feel as though I’ve never been aware of what is going on, and it’s sort of frustrating,” she said. “It’s not that we [students] are not interested—it’s that we don’t know what to say.”
Debenedetti added that there has not been enough transparency.
“What you guys are doing now, I want the next dean to do,” she told committee members.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Cathy Popkin as an English professor. Spectator regrets the error.