Last month, University President Lee Bollinger named David Madigan permanent executive vice president and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Spectator sat down with Madigan on Friday to discuss what he hopes to accomplish in the post—goals that range from bolstering faculty mentoring to solving the problem of Columbia’s “appallingly un-diverse” faculty.
Some have argued that since the faculties of several schools folded into the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in the early 1990s, the authority of Columbia College has decreased. Do you find these tensions problematic?
First and foremost, we attract amazing students and we have amazing faculty, and with that comes a huge responsibility. We have a huge responsibility to prepare them well and to give them an education that’s relevant to today’s global, interconnected world. In the past, there’s been some tension between Columbia College and Arts and Sciences and these tensions are utter nonsense. We are a group of faculty and students, and so we either all win or we all lose.
We are absolutely in this together. If, two or three years from now or whatever, it happens to be we can look back and say, “Those guys really took care of that nonsense,” I would think that this is a great success. Arts and Sciences is led by an executive committee, which is a relatively new creation and comprises me, the dean of Columbia College, and the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. I really like this structure and I think it’s extremely effective in weaving together the different dimensions.
This is a very complex organization and having an explicit leadership team that comprises representatives from the core arts and sciences is great, and it works extremely well.
Is the current Faculty of Arts and Sciences budget adequate?
There are some significant budget challenges and we are very focused on trying to address those. We are committed to having a balanced budget, and that’s a challenge. I think we can do more in terms of fundraising, and I am particularly interested in getting more faculty involvement because there hasn’t really been a culture of faculty being involved in fundraising.
And that doesn’t mean that there are faculty out there asking for money. Fundraising, rather, is about communications. It’s about explaining to people what you’re doing and why it’s exciting and valuable, and faculty are your best ambassadors in that regard. Some years ago, there had been a deficit every year in the Arts and Sciences budget and basically, some two to three years ago, the central administration decided to regularize the situation by providing an annual chunk of money to balance the budget. The idea is that going forward we should be able to live within that budget. It’s difficult, though. There are a lot of things that we would like to do that we’re not doing right now in order for us to live within this budget.
So it’s fine in the here and now, but there are real concerns of the sustainability of this budget in the long run. There are vis-a-vis faculty hirings vis-a-vis facilities vis-a-vis faculty retentions a host of challenges.
Our budget is just not adequate, and so a key focus for the executive committee is to put in place a budget that can sustain the kinds of things we want to do. We’re hiring way fewer faculty than we’d like to hire, there are real challenges with some of our facilities that we just don’t have the resources to address, there are significant space problems. A lot of departments are bursting at the seams. It’s not like the place is falling apart and it’s a crisis, but in the long run, we have to address these concerns. It’s inevitable that there are way more requests for hiring than we can possibly handle, and we have budget challenges, so we’re doing modest amounts of hiring at the moment.
We developed a process that involved the Policy and Planning Committee, the divisional deans, and the executive committee, and the whole process that took quite a while, but I think that people felt that it was a good process and that there were no mysterious things going on behind closed doors. We did way less hiring than we would have liked to do, but I think collectively we arrived at a good place.
Have all of the floors in the Northwest Corner Building been filled yet?
There’s only one floor left that is an Arts and Sciences floor and we have committed to going ahead and filling the space. This floor is allocated to physics, particularly to condensed-matter physics, so we have committed to going ahead and finishing out that floor. We hope that the initial work will be done late summer of next year. There will be new hires made for that space, and there’s one search now that just got underway for one faculty member in that area.
What other initiatives are you looking to pursue?
We have a wonderfully diverse student body. We have an appallingly un-diverse faculty, and this is not an easy problem to solve. From the trustees down, there is a strong institutional commitment to try to help with this and there are resources centrally that have been allocated to this. This is a major issue for us right now.
We have goals, and goals are one thing, but what we need is a plan. How are we going to get from here to there? Mentoring is also related to the issue of diversity, because we need to create a welcoming, nurturing environment for faculty and students, and it is something that I intend to focus on. I know that Mary Boyce, the dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, has a track record of successful mentoring programs, so we intend to partner closely with her. We need to break down barriers between schools.
Do you envision yourself reaching out to students in any capacity?
I am planning to have an office hour once a week, but I think I’ll do it over at Avery or Brad’s. The other thing, then, is that I’m working very closely with [Columbia College Dean] Jim [Valentini], [Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean] Carlos [Alonso], and [General Studies Dean] Peter [Awn], so I expect that I will be basically doing things with those guys.
Rather than me reaching out directly to students, I want students to understand that there’s a group of us who are a leadership team in Arts and Sciences and in that way get to know students and be available. My oldest child is a first-year in Columbia College, so I’m all in here.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.