In a 2004 letter to faculty members, newly appointed Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nicholas Dirks wrote that he was working with professors to restructure the A&S administration. Eight years later, Dirks thinks that A&S has finally gotten it right.
In the last two years, A&S has added a new faculty governance committee, a divisional dean structure, and several new staff members in Dirks’ office. And in a letter to faculty dated April 16, Dirks outlined the two latest structural reforms: the creation of a three-member executive committee and the re-establishment of the long-dormant Planning and Budget Committee.
“When I started in my role in 2004-2005, everywhere I turned there was a problem,” Dirks told Spectator. “There was no real effective faculty governance. There was a very, very lean office here without any major administrative capacity.”
The executive committee, which will make all final budgeting decisions for A&S, is composed of the executive vice president for Arts and Sciences, the dean of Columbia College, and the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The Planning and Budget Committee will be made up of the deans of all A&S schools plus two members of the Planning and Policy Committee, a faculty advisory body to Dirks.
Last summer, the consulting firm McKinsey and Company completed a report on A&S, suggesting several forms of administrative restructuring. Ultimately, though, administrators did not implement any of McKinsey’s suggested structures.
McKinsey’s report “hasn’t been an active document for months,” Columbia College Interim Dean James Valentini said. “In my view, it wasn’t an active document when it was actually prepared.”
Columbia College’s role
The Arts and Sciences division is made up of six schools—CC, GSAS, the School of General Studies, the School of the Arts, the School of International and Public Affairs, and the School of Continuing Education.
But only the deans of CC and GSAS are members of the new executive committee, elevating them within the A&S hierarchy. The CC dean also holds the title of vice president for undergraduate education, and Dirks said there are plans to make the GSAS dean the vice president for graduate education.
Dirks said that the creation of the executive committee, which meets every two weeks, expands the roles of the CC and GSAS deans. The CC dean, for example, is now involved in “a whole variety of matters … that are beyond the province of the college itself,” he said.
“It was always the case that the college made certain decisions, that the graduate school made certain decisions. Now we’re making them together,” Dirks said. “What it really does is it shares the executive authority that each of us had in a way that is more holistic.”
“Everything that involved the college before was always made as a joint discussion before, so what it does is it actually extends, in a way, the roles of the deans of the college and the graduate school,” he added.
Valentini said that the committee is working on budgeting, faculty development, and curricular issues. He noted that A&S is in the final stages of preparing its budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
“Just as the plan for this restructuring describes, the executive committee is responsible for all major decisions about deployment of resources—human resources and capital resources—within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and its constituent schools,” Valentini said.
Planning and budget
The re-established Planning and Budget Committee will work largely as an advisory body to the A&S executive committee on budgetary matters.
“The P and B will be where the assumptions and parameters over which we have control … get built up,” Dirks said. “And then the final decisions about what we do will be made by the executive committee.”
According to Dirks, the committee was disbanded in 1994 because it had become a “micromanaging type of body” that often took months to debate minutiae about individual schools’ budgets.
A summary of the McKinsey report noted that the committee had led to a “dysfunctional outcome due to limited ability / willingness of participants to compromise on key issues.”
But Dirks said that this time, the committee would stay focused on broader questions of financial allocations, respecting the autonomy of individual schools and not getting bogged down in minutiae.
A long process
Restructuring within A&S is now drawing to a close, but the process began several years ago.
After a two-year review, A&S established the Policy and Planning Committee in the fall of 2010. The PPC, a committee of nine professors, advises Dirks on all issues of concern to A&S faculty members.
Last year, A&S also implemented a divisional dean structure, with Dirks appointing psychology professor Geraldine Downey dean of social sciences, French professor Pierre Force dean of humanities, and physics professor Amber Miller dean of sciences. The divisional deans serve as liaisons between Dirks and A&S’s 29 departments and 32 institutes, centers, and programs.
McKinsey did recommend instituting divisional deans, but Columbia had already begun developing the divisional dean structure before McKinsey suggested it, Dirks said.
One piece of structural reform is not yet complete: the formation of the Educational Policy and Planning Committee. Dirks said that this committee would deal with academic issues that affect multiple schools within A&S, making it distinct from specific schools’ committees on instruction.
Valentini said he expects the EPPC will be created by the end of the semester. The committee was originally intended to be faculty-only, but PPC member Cathy Popkin told Columbia College Student Council president-elect Karishma Habbu, CC ’13, that the committee would have student members, Habbu said at CCSC’s Sunday night meeting.
Will it work?
A&S has also bulked up its administrative capacity, with Dirks’ office adding several staff members over the last year. Dirks said that this additional staffing gives him confidence that the new structures will work, as he now has the time to focus more on relationships with the six A&S schools.
University President Lee Bollinger said that although the process of restructuring in A&S hasn’t been simple, he is “very pleased with where we are.” He called the new A&S executive committee a place “where those central figures can get together and try to work through a budget.”
“The idea is that it is a spirit of partnership and collaboration,” he said.
In his letter to faculty, Dirks referred to the latest changes as being “the last remaining structural reform in our administration and governance.”
“All of the kinds of issues that I’d identified and that I’ve been concerned about have been addressed now, and we’ll see how well it works during the next year,” he said. “But I’m confident that it will work.”
Ben Gittelson contributed reporting.