Donald Goldfarb, new Interim Dean of SEAS

Minutes ago, PrezBo and Coatsworth sent out the following email to the SEAS community, announcing Dean Peña-Mora’s sudden resignation. Could it have something to do with the faculty’s letters of no confidence last year (and this year)? Last fall, the Times reported that 80% of tenured faculty supported his replacement in a strongly worded letter. Faculty were dissatisfied with his handling of Columbia’s notorious lack of space, charging that he “repeatedly disavowed both written and oral agreements with individual departments.” Faculty also complained that he spent too much time fundraising off-campus.

The May issue of The Blue & White carried an interview with the former dean about those very issues. He had this simile to share with a B&W staffer: “The departments are like states, and states have their interests. But the federal government has to do what’s best for the country as a whole. I need to make decisions that are best for SEAS as a whole.”

“The faculty sometimes interpret my words to mean more than what I say,” Peña-Mora told The Blue & White. “I like to speak enthusiastically, but some take it very literally.”

“It is true,” Coatsworth told the Times, “that there are a number of cases in which Feniosky made a commitment and then found with further study that he couldn’t meet the commitment. Mostly they had to do with space.”

This is oddly reminiscent of last summer’s Moodygate. We’re calling it Peñamonium. Here’s the email that was sent to students:

July 3, 2012

Dear members of the SEAS community,

We write to say that Professor Feniosky Peña-Mora has submitted his resignation as Dean of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. We thank Professor Peña-Mora for his service as Dean and look forward to his future academic contributions as a faculty member in the fields of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, earth and environmental engineering, and computer science.

We are fortunate that Professor Donald Goldfarb will serve as Interim Dean while a search is conducted for a new dean. A faculty member of the School of Engineering and Applied Science since 1982 and currently executive vice dean, Professor Goldfarb has served once before as acting dean of SEAS and is therefore well positioned to lead the school effectively through this transition. With his experienced leadership, we are committed as a university to maintaining the forward progress of the School of Engineering and Applied Science in the months and years ahead.

Over the next several weeks, we will be discussing with the faculty and SEAS community how best to chart the future course for the School.


Lee C. Bollinger

John H. Coatsworth

Update, 2:09 pm: KevSho sent along his thoughts, mentioning “many of the student-centered initiatives started by Feniosky Peña-Mora.”

Dear School of Engineering and Applied Science Students,

As many of you have seen by now, President Bollinger and Provost Coatsworth announced today that Feniosky Peña-Mora, who has served as Dean of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science for the last three years, has submitted his resignation. Professor Donald Goldfarb, executive vice dean, has been appointed as interim dean.

We look forward to working with him, the senior leadership of SEAS, and the University to make this transition period as smooth as possible. As we continue our work in enhancing student life here at Columbia, we are committed to carrying on with many of the student-centered initiatives started by Feniosky Peña-Mora.

We look forward to welcoming you all for the 2012–2013 academic year.


Kevin Shollenberger

Dean of Student Affairs

Columbia College | Columbia Engineering

Associate Vice President for Undergraduate Student Life

Arts and Sciences

Update, 2:37 pm: SEAS released an official statement via their website. Pretty standard, exceedingly neutral, quote from Interim Dean Goldfarb: “We have an extremely strong school, superb faculty, and excellent students—in short, an incredible community of scholars—and I am looking forward to working with them all in my new role as interim dean.”

Update, 7/4 2 pm: The inevitable New York Times article about this features a statement from Peña-Mora himself. He doesn’t sound happy.

In his own statement, Dr. Peña-Mora said that under his watch, the engineering school had greatly increased its number of student applicants, doubled the size of its annual fund and risen in the national rankings of engineering graduate programs. “Differences of opinion are inevitable at times of change, and criticism of a leader bringing about the change can be expected, particularly, I suppose, when the person is an outsider both institutionally and in other ways,” he wrote.

“When certain senior faculty then saw fit to press their own interests through personal attacks on me, I was disappointed,” he added. He went on to say that his critics “did not, in my view, serve Columbia well, and, in the end, the discourse offered no model to our students of how faculty in a diverse and thriving academic environment should conduct themselves.”

Update, 7/5: ESC has released a statement; it’s much of the same. Check it out:

Dear Columbia Engineering Students,

As many of you may have already heard, Dean Feniosky Peña-Mora submitted his resignation as Dean of Columbia Engineering. We, the Engineering Student Council, would like to thank the Dean for his impact on students and service to our school for the past three years. Many of the goals we were able to accomplish on behalf of the students would not have been possible without his support and guidance.

As we look to the upcoming school year, we hope to develop a fruitful partnership with interim Dean Donald Goldfarb. We welcome Dean Goldfarb and look forward to working with him on developing the next steps for our school.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to email us

Engineering Student Council

Goldberg via SEAS