SEAS Faculty Expresses Deep Dissatisfaction with Dean Peña-Mora

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The leadership of SEAS Dean Feniosky Peña-Mora was brought under intense scrutiny in an article in The New York Times today. The story notes the numerous resignations of department heads since his arrival, citing frustration with his direction. This semester, two letters of no confidence in the Dean—signed by the majority of tenured faculty in SEAS—have been sent to University administrators. The most recent, circulated in October, asserted that “the morale of the faculty and their trust in Dean Peña-Mora are reaching an all-time low,” and that “a quick change in leadership” was needed. The entire letter, while sent to administrators in October, was uploaded to the Times website today. The primary source of dissatisfaction is Peña-Mora’s rapid expansion of the school, whose student body has swelled in size without providing any more space for research, or appropriate increases in faculty. According to the Times:

He arrived at a time when Columbia was determined to raise the profile of its engineering school, which includes bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree programs. The school had fewer than 1,400 graduate students in 2005, more than 1,900 when the new dean took over, and 2,400 now. The faculty has also grown, but not as fast… Professors say that an effort to reshuffle the available space ignored their input and made matters worse.

More than anything, Peña-Mora was criticized for being unwilling to listen to criticism.

Among professors interviewed, nearly all of whom insisted on anonymity for fear of angering the administration, the most persistent criticism was that Dr. Peña-Mora simply did not listen.

“He’s a control freak, in my opinion,” said Van C. Mow, who said he stepped down as chairman of biomedical engineering because “I got tired of banging my head against the wall.”

Faculty have further suggested that the Dean’s hiring practices favor profits over academic interests. The faculty letter claimed that “candidates with impressive academic records and outstanding recommendations are discounted if their fields do not promise major funding for the school.”

Peña-Mora did not provide much comment, except to say that the culture at Columbia “takes some getting used to.” Interim Provost John Coatsworth conceded that the faculty had “perfectly legitimate concerns” and admitted that Peña-Mora had broken promises he made to them. Coatsworth does not believe these problems are sufficient grounds for dismissing the Dean.

The article also reiterates the Times’ pressing (and inexplicable) need to exploit the racial undertones of the story, suggesting that the only reason PrezBo is keeping him around is because Peña-Mora, who hails from the Dominican Republic, would be the third high-profile minority administrator to step down this year.

When Dr. Peña-Mora was hired, it was the third time in quick succession that the university had filled a high-ranking post with the first minority member to hold that job. That fact drew considerable attention, especially in light of Mr. Bollinger’s national reputation as an advocate of ethnic diversity and affirmative action.

The first two of those appointees, both African-Americans, have left in the last six months: Claude M. Steele, who was provost, departed in June to become dean of Stanford University’s School of Education, and Michele M. Moody-Adams, the dean of Columbia College, quit her administrative post in frustration as school began but remains on the faculty. Some professors speculate that Mr. Bollinger is standing by Dr. Peña-Mora in part out of fear of criticism from minority communities.

Coatsworth dismissed such claims as insulting to those involved, and Peña-Mora declined to comment on the issue.

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  1. Anonymous  

    did you know they have a poster of dean peña mora in the engineering frat?

  2. Anonymous  

    Glad to see people finally starting to talk about these issues in public, but shame on the Times for the endless race-baiting.

    • Anonymous  

      It's not "race-baiting". When two prominent administrators of color leave within a few months of each other, and a third starts having internal problems, people legitimately start asking questions. The fact that they are all the first in their roles makes it even more poignant. Maybe Columbia needs to do more thinking about that.

  3. Anonymous  

    The letter mentions that a SEAS department abused TA policies or something like that. Any SEAS kids care to elaborate?

  4. where are we going  

    Columbia has become a fundraising institution above all. Above the core, above education, above faculty, and most importantly above the students. We have to promote academic pursuits beyond those that bring money and stop looking at dollar signs in everything that gets done. Once you stop caring about the people in the institution then no money in the world can cover up the unsatisfactory conditions that some of the departments at this school are being kept in. Leadership is about leading by example and looking for the best results, but if this money hungry environment continues then how can we expect to provide generous financial aid packages and promote education around the world. In keeping with the values of the school, there has to be greater transparency in the upper levels of administration and there has to be honesty in the goals that are set forth.

  5. Anonymous  

    This is a problem all across the university: top-heavy administration going against the interests of faculty and students in favor of financial gain. I've seen it happen in my department, and to become aware that it's not an isolated issue is fucking scary.

    • Anonymous

      What does this mean? What is financial gain in the context you mention? To provide for graduate fellowships? To provide better research facilities? To provide more generous financial aid for undergraduates?

      • Anonymous  

        Nope. Six-figure+ salaries and perks for administrators, investments, etc. Columbia is increasingly being run like a corporation. "Graduate fellowships"? Those are shrinking in many departments. "Better research facilities"? Yeah, but only for certain disciplines that are easily put to the service of the interests of power, and only at the expense of our neighbors up in Manhattanville. "More generous financial aid for undergraduates"? Myself and everyone I know has experienced a decreasing financial aid package over the years, and with no change in familial financial situations.

        • Anonymous  

          Trust me, Columbia is not being run like a corporation. Corporations care about their customers and realize the power of word of mouth and reputation. Columbia is being run like the government, not giving two shits about its constituents and looking only at short-term goals without long-term consequences. A bank comparison is fine as well.

          However, even a bank wouldn't fuck over the revenue generators in their firm. Professors, education, as well as the people draw students to Columbia. All 3 are intimately intertwined, but Columbia looks like it as X + Y + Z, rather than (X|Y,Z) + (Y|X,Z) + (Z|X,Y).

      • Anonymous  

        Graduate fellowships?

        Financial aid for graduate students who aren't PhD seeking is non-existant in engineering.

  6. chemical engineering  

    in that none of the TA's can speak english

  7. Anonymous

    Time for a new dean and English speaking TA's

  8. Anonymous  

    the times is correct in bringing up the issue of race; the fact that two of the first minorty administrators at columbia have left this year, and that a third seems to be heading that directions, is strange. if columbia is serious about advocating ethnic diversity, then having major figure heads of the university be of minority groups is not enough. the university has to do more to address the lack of minorities (women, LGBTQ, and racial) leading the university, not just from the top, but also in the faculty and smaller administrative positions. having another dean resign after Moody-Adams and Steel makes it appear as though minorities in prominent positions are unwelcome at columbia. while bwog might want to ignore the race issue, the fact is that the same dissatisfaction and frustration has not been reflected in leadership positions headed by whites. lots of shit is wrong with this place, and i think it's reflected in these decisions.

    • Anonymous  

      Or maybe they are just doing a shitty job/tired of working in this position/got a better offer? Plenty of other reasons for quitting/being asked to quit besides race. Quit playing the race card.

    • Anonymous

      I don't care what they are as long as they do a good job. Maybe we should focus on that instead?

    • Anonymous  

      Where, in this lengthy article about the fact that Feni is resisting calls to resign, did you read that he is "heading" towards resignation?

      It makes me incredibly angry that every single article the Times has written about Alma Mater's bureaucratic musical chairs has ended with a paragraph along the lines of "Nobody in connection with this article has said that this has anything to do with race. Both the university and the administrator in question expressed shock and revulsion at our reporter's insinuation that the great defender of affirmative action is driving people of color away from the Columbia. BUT HEY GUYS, LOOK AT ALL THE MINORITIES!"

    • Anonymous

      OR maybe this is what happens when you put race first and capability second...

      • Anonymous  

        Don't be an ass...

      • Anonymous

        I agree. There are very few minorities in higher education. Let's say those minorities that exist are equally spread out in capability as their caucasian peers. If PrezBo aims for racial diversity then he has to be willing to accept a poor fit given that he cannot hire only the top %1 of minority candidates for reasons of salary, prior employment, etc. etc. There just wouldn't be enough people.

        So yea, I'm willing to buy the argument that Columbia took less qualified candidates because they were minorities.

        • sad black kid  

          oh my god you guys are right! where would i be without my better-performing white peers to make sure i learn everything i have to. boy i sure am grateful.

          jk jk fuck you for thinking i didn't earn my place here.

          • Anonymous  

            lol, well said. how come none of the incompetent white people we have as administrators are quitting? oh, that's right, they're obviously compentent cuz they're white and they have more access, duh.

        • Anonymous  

          omg, are people still making these arguments in 2011? I don't think you understand how diversity recruiting works. It means making more aggressive efforts to find qualified candidates with diverse backgrounds, not hiring any old warm body that happens to have brown skin. If that were the case, Columbia's ethnic minority reputation of faculty and deans on campus would match population levels - or even just the levels of ethnic minority students getting PhDs and becoming eligible for faculty and administrative positions. But we all know THAT isn't true.

  9. JJ  

    Ayyy Bwog it wouldn't kill you to write one of these stories once in a while, would it? Why do we have to hear about our problems from the Times?

    • Yeah bwog  

      Obviously professors who think it's necessary to anonymously criticize their boss would much rather speak to a blog run by college kids than an internationally-recognized newspaper with one of the best reputations for reporting in the world. So why aren't you getting these scoops?

      • really?  

        realistically, if you're faculty and you want change to happen, (call for the dean to resign, for example) would you go to an isolated, little-known college blog or to an internationally-recognized newspaper? getting on the times has caused this story to be severely scrutinized across the country. i think this widespread negative media coverage alone can be a cause for the dean to resign

  10. Anonymous  

    what is seas

  11. Lumpy Space Princess

    Oh my glob you guys. Drama bomb.

  12. ...  

    this is merely one of the first of a long line of conflicts that will arise as extrordinary manhattanville costs (and overruns) squeeze the university financially in unprecedented ways. combine that with the health of the local and national economies and you have a recipe for a perfect storm. this business with the faculty benefits pool, pena-mora increasing grad student enrollment and whatever else all come from one thing and one thing only: expenses need to go down and revenues need to go up because money is going to be extremely tight around here and the university administration knows it.

    gotta be honest... unless somehow my perspective changes drastically once i'm out of here (which is unlikely, thanks to debt loads), i won't be shedding any tears.

  13. anonChemEPhD

    Sadly many of the TA's this year in ChemE are not fluent speakers of English ...

    • Anonymous  

      Why is that sad? Often these are students who immigrate or study here to make a better life for themselves and are required to TA by their department's rules. They are probably having a far more difficult time than you.

  14. A fundraising school?  

    Man, I don't know how Columbia gets by on the 8 Billion Dollar Endowment.


    Must be a real struggle to make ends meet.

  15. IEOR


  16. an idea  

    Comparison of Degrees bestowed by department in 2011:

    Mechanical Engineering: 38
    Electrical Engineering: 25
    Financial Engineering/Operations Research/Industrial Engineering: 81

    "Whereas in other universities the department of operations research resides in the business school, Columbia’s department of operations research is part of the engineering school...(it) provides its students with a launch pad to lucrative jobs in Wall Street, finance, government, and industry...Graduates from this program often assume positions as business analysts, financial analysts, managers of hedge funds and banks, and executives in investment banks, insurance firms, and other financial firms."

    In my opinion, the growing importance of IEOR/Financial Engineering/Wall Street Trainee Program in terms of resource and intellectual allocation is a disgrace to the integrity of SEAS and engineering as a whole. I know many at our school are unhappy with the prominence this department has taken.

    • Anonymous  

      Good point. That's probably because a lot of engineers don't actually want to study engineering but can't transfer to the College without going through the full transfer process. In that case, why not fill applications out to all other schools.

      • Anonymous

        i dunno, instead of maybe filling out 'applications to other schools', maybe columbia should fix this? its kinda ridiculous, having such a barrier in place when engineering as a major is known to have a 40% attrition rate. its a disservice to these students who made a commitment to come here and join our community to have them study something they aren't interested in.

      • THIS  

        I was getting ready to write this. The whole transfer process is BS - and I'm not talking about degrees.

  17. hmmm  

    bwog is there a waiting period for comments...why won't my comment show up"

  18. SEAS '11

    Dean troubles, SEAS name change, and now Amy the HamDel Lady is gone?!? This school went to shit the minute I left.

  19. i think

    All those SEAS guys currently taking time off school for start ups and work should cough up some dough and donate to the school.

    maybe this time we can actually afford a better dean.

    • Anonymous

      No, they should keep their money far the hell away from Columbia. Donations at Columbia go to:

      1) Pay inflated salaries.
      2) Build expensive buildings with Italian marble.
      3) Pay salaries for professors
      4) Go to emergency fund called "Financial Aid". Access by raising tuition across the board. Give more "aid" to pay 1, 2, and 3.

      So no. Don't ever give to Columbia, because it's already so bloated. You don't break a coke habit by giving someone enough coke that they can sell it and pay for treatment. No it'll just be blown. Dumbass.

    • Anonymous  

      I only know one guy taking off school for a startup. He's a boss and is most likely going to be val when he comes back. I feel bad for the guy who was (previously) the top contender for SEAS 2014 val.

  20. SEAS  

    I'm really glad that this article came out. I've felt this way for some time now but I thought it was only me so I never dared to say anything.

  21. Anonymous  

    "The article also reiterates the Times’ pressing (and inexplicable) need to exploit the racial undertones of the story"

    Wow. Either you don't realize that this is a race issue because bwog is full of white people blind to their own racism (and/or people of color complicit in it, and still blind), or this quote is sarcastic.

    • Anonymous

      how is this a race issue? steele left because he wanted to be closer to his family, moody-adams resigned because of policy differences and fenioksy's uproar is because of his heavy top-down management style. so how is this a race issue? it seems to me you are the one who is blind here. there are real race issues worth debating about, please don't sully the cause with such baseless insinuations.

      person of color

      • Anonymous  

        Do you really think a high profile administrator would come right out and say it's a race issue, even if it was? They have their own reputations to think about plus the reputations of the institutions at which they may remain. Especially since - as this bwog post has shown - anyone who brings up even legitimate concerns about racial policies is seen as a whiner who is playing the "race card."

        Plus, their personal reasons for leaving may have nothing to do with race, but that doesn't mean that a string of minority administrators leaving the campus doesn't have racial implications - especially for the students of color on campus.

    • Anonymous

      Dude, it's totally a race issue bro. (takes huge rip of acrylic bong, exhales slowly filling the air with a the sensuous aroma of marijuana)

      Like, they're all not white...(cough cough)....why can't we learn to love.

      Your friendly neighborhood ad hominem

  22. Anonymous

    Why Spectator fell behind New York Times?
    How could Spectator not knowing anything for more than two years?
    Was spectator trying to protect some one?

  23. Anonymous

    You are seriously entitled.. unless you're employment future is assured or you have a limitless trust fund, you're in for a rude awakening once you leave these hallowed grounds behind... speaking of rude... rude or not, I'd do Jenny Mak.. I think she's incredibly sexy...

  24. Boli

    Here is why I think the hiring of Pena-Mora is a racial issue:

    Pena-Mora was hired during the take-over of Harlem land for building the future Manhattanville campus. Having a Hispanic Dean was seen by the Trustees and/or the President as an advantage for the negotiations with the black and hispanic communities of Harlem.

    Ask people who were in the Dean search committee. Pena-Mora had an academic record way inferior to the other two candidates that were short-listed to Bollinger by the committee. Ultimately, Bollinger hired him for that one single reason: Pena-Mora would facilitate the take-over of Harlem land.

    Think about it, Bollinger is a lawyer. He was not hired by the trustees for his scholarship nor for his ability to lead a top university. He was hired as a lawyer able to facilitate the Harlem expansion, the last chance of Columbia to expand in Manhattan. In turn, Bollinger hired a hispanic dean to facilitate the Manhattanville project. That's why Bollinger is still standing with Pena-Mora, whatever the urgency is to remove that incompetent and arrogant man. How long? How long?

  25. Anonymous  

    replace pena-mora in the spring/summer '12 (after bloomberg makes the announcement on the funding for the new engineering campus)

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