Provost John Coatsworth’s announcement on Sept. 7 detailing the formation of a new committee to search for a permanent dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science shows a great deal of promise. It is encouraging that there is an elected representative for both undergraduate and graduate students on the committee and that a town hall has already been planned. Unlike last year’s Columbia College dean search, it appears that SEAS plans to start the search process for its new dean very early in the school year. In light of the numerous pressing issues the engineering school currently faces, we commend the relevant administrators for acting quickly and hope that the committee comes to a decision as quickly as possible. Before a permanent replacement is found, we hope that the interim dean, Donald Goldfarb, will take prompt action that will seek to address the immediate and pressing concerns facing SEAS.
Goldfarb and the next permanent SEAS dean will inherit a number of problems, and their resolutions will be fundamental in charting the direction of the engineering school for the foreseeable future. First among these challenges is restoring the trust between the SEAS faculty and dean—a trust that did not exist at the end of Peña-Mora’s term as dean. Given that Peña-Mora’s resignation came following the engineering faculty’s public grievances over space allocation and hiring policies, the next dean should demonstrate an ability to manage the limited lab space available on campus and to navigate the balance between hiring faculty based on academic promise and on his or her ability to attract funding. In addition, SEAS must begin to articulate, in more concrete terms, what it plans to do with the $15 million it was awarded by the City of New York. Because these issues are so important for the future of the school, we hope to see the search committee assess candidates on their specific plans of action in relation to these and other factors.
The undergraduate population should not take the selection of a new dean lightly. We hope that Tim Qin, CC ’13, will report regularly to the Engineering Student Council and students at large in order to fulfill his responsibilities as the sole undergraduate representative on the committee. We also encourage SEAS students to follow the example of their Columbia College peers and step up to advocate for a change of procedure if the selection process seems to stall or if the promise of student involvement falls through. Finally, we would welcome with open arms a new dean who is as willing to continue the trend of informal, friendly interaction with students (and possibly post more Bacchanal videos of him or herself for our enjoyment) as Peña-Mora was during his tenure.