After months of contention, faculty of arts and sciences approve restructuring proposals

• May 26, 2022, 03:14

Faculty members voted to pass three proposals approving potential changes to the administration of the Faculty of Arts and Science, the budget unit that houses Columbia College, the School of General Studies and three other schools.

The findings provide a first assessment of what faculty think about the highly contentious debate over the College’s relationship with FAS that has sparked months of political turmoil. University President Lee Bollinger established a task force in September 2021 to explore the issue, which has long been difficult as the College has a strong alumni base while the arts and sciences are constantly short of money. The task force released its recommendations in April; in May, the Policy and Planning Committee, an elected faculty, released three proposals based on the recommendations for a faculty vote. At the same time, pushback from students and alumni groups reached a crescendo, prompting the PPC to adjust the language of the proposals shortly before faculty began voting.

In an email to faculty on Tuesday, Rhiannon Stephens, a history professor and outgoing PPC president, said each of the three proposals received majority support. Of the 893 faculty members who received an electronic ballot, 467 voted, representing a 52% response rate. A recent earlier FAS vote, which approved the addition of a senior lecturer to the PPC, saw a 57% turnout.

The first proposal endorses the “principle” of faculty oversight of the curriculum – which already exists at Columbia – and the creation of a PPC subcommittee in the fall to “propose an oversight body accountable to the faculty that can provide educational policy integration, curriculum review, and transparent communication between the arts and sciences.” The proposal passed with 57% support, 34% opposition, and 9% abstention. .

Stephens wrote in a statement to Spectator that the subcommittee’s work “will involve consultation with faculty and students as well as administrators.” The PPC also assured student leaders at the Columbia College Student Council and the General Studies Student Council — both of which generally opposed restructuring efforts before the faculty vote in early May — that students will be included in its work, unlike to the Force task.

The creation of the subcommittee is the only proposal that falls directly within the competence of the faculty. However, any recommendations from the subcommittee would not be directly implemented but would be returned to the faculty for a separate vote.

The second proposal, which endorsed the principle of “collaborative fundraising and developmental activities combined between Columbia College and the arts and sciences”, passed with 59% of faculty voting yes, 32% voting no and 9% voting no. abstaining. The proposal “strongly encourages[s]”more “communication and collaboration” between the Development Offices, Alumni Leaders, Executive Vice President of Arts and Science, and faculty. It also involves the Dean of the College and the Executive Vice President of Arts and science – two positions that have sometimes been at loggerheads historically – to “jointly participate in the ceremonial functions of the university”, which could possibly include speaking at events such as Class Day or the graduation dinner John Jay Awards.

The third proposal confirms the principle of “decanal revision”. It adopted a wider margin than the other proposals, with 75% of respondents in favour. The proposal would require that the duration of appointments be announced with the new executive vice presidents of arts and sciences, the deans of Columbia College, the deans of general studies and the deans of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. It would also require the president of the university, or other “nominating official,” to consult with the CPP and department chairs to conduct a performance review of those administrators when they are considered for reappointment. Nineteen percent of respondents voted against the third proposal and five percent abstained.

Bollinger publicly announced that Josef Sorett would be Columbia College’s new dean in an email to the university community on Tuesday, the same day the PPC president emailed faculty with the results showing that the third proposal had been adopted. Bollinger’s email did not include the duration of Sorett’s appointment.

“Majority support for the other two proposals is an expression of faculty opinion, but any decision to move forward on these matters rests with President Bollinger and the Board of Trustees,” Stephens wrote in a statement. statement to Spectator. In an email to professors, Stephens wrote that Bollinger said he would “consult further” before making final decisions on whether to implement the latter two proposals.

The proposals are somewhat based on the final report of the Bollinger task force. The report was released in early April and recommended creating a centralized curriculum committee and allowing the executive vice president of arts and science to share some powers with the dean of the College. Although much of the task force’s work was done in confidence, a series of documents obtained by Spectator revealed an eagerness within some segments of the task force, including Bollinger, to modify the role of the Dean of the College – who currently exercises significant control over academic studies. , alumni and student affairs – to that of a Dean of Students.

Opponents have characterized the potential changes in the report as significantly diminishing the dean’s power and proposing changes out of proportion to the current problems posed by decentralized decision-making. Supporters saw the recommendations as a positive step towards transforming the executive vice president, who oversees all of FAS, into a more visible administrator, thereby strengthening his role in alumni relations. Supporters also said changes to program decision-making would ameliorate long-standing logistical challenges they say are tied to siled authority.


Founded in 1877, the Columbia Daily Spectator is Columbia University’s independent undergraduate newspaper, serving thousands of readers in Morningside Heights, West Harlem and beyond. Learn more at columbiaspectator.com and donate here.

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