Student Recommendations “Ignored” In Decision-Making Process For New Dean
Written by Eric Cohn
Eric Cohn brings you the latest update on the process of selecting a new Dean of Undergraduate Student Life – this time, the noise is coming from your classmates.
Group leaders and prominent members of Columbia student government released a statement today alleging that student input was largely ignored in the decision-making process for the new Dean of Undergraduate Student Life. Last Monday, Associate Dean of Residential Life for CC/SEAS Cristen Kromm was appointed to the position, created after Columbia decided not to hire a new Dean of Student Affairs last spring.
The press release, signed by Columbia students tasked with aiding in the search process for the Dean of Undergraduate Student Life, aims primarily to dispel the impression “that student voices in the [decision-making] process were ‘invaluable,’” as Columbia would claim. The two groups of students—group leaders and student representatives—unanimously supported a candidate from among the three finalists. They later learned that this candidate never received an offer.
Columbia ultimately selected Dean Kromm, whom today’s statement opposes not for her qualifications but for the selection process itself. Considering Columbia has spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on hiring firms for past openings as well as for this one, it seems a little strange that the final selection came from the inside. Today’s statement criticizes Columbia on this point, writing that “the process has repeatedly been used to validate internal candidates rather than to make an informed selection.” Instead, they would like to see these funds go directly to the students.
Historically, these students have refrained from comment, “so as not to jeopardize opportunities for students to be included [in decision-making] in the future.” The alleged lack of student input in the selection of Dean of Undergraduate Student Life, with its particular relevance for students, seems to be the last straw.
You can read the full statement below, which hopes to prioritize “the needs and voices of students” in future hiring decisions.
Last semester, elected student representatives and student group leaders from across campus were invited separately to take part in the search process for the Dean of Undergraduate Student Life. After an extensive process of resume reviews, interviews, discussion, and report-writing, these two groups of students independently made unanimous recommendations to Deans Valentini and Boyce supporting the selection of a single candidate from among three finalists. It is clear to us that this candidate never received an offer.
Last Monday, CC and SEAS students were notified via email that Cristen Kromm, the associate dean of residential life, had been named to the position. Dean Kromm has been an advocate for students in various arenas. We are excited to see that she has already begun soliciting student feedback about key issues, and we all look forward to working with her to enhance student life at Columbia in the months and years ahead. Our concern is not with her, but rather, with the value that Columbia assigns to student voices in its search processes and its decision-making in general.
When students’ unanimous recommendations are ignored, we cannot stand by and let our peers believe that student voices in the process were “invaluable.” Collectively, we have been involved in numerous search processes over the years. Many of us have advocated vigorously for outstanding external candidates only to see an internal candidate appointed almost every time. With issues in the past, we were careful not to speak out about our concerns too publicly so as not to jeopardize opportunities for students to be included in the future. We also recognized that for many positions, students were one part of a constituency that also consisted of faculty and staff, and so our thoughts were not final. But in selecting the Dean of Undergraduate Student Life, student voices should have been prioritized. Since the evidence clearly demonstrates that student input is already of no consequence in search processes, we feel there is little risk in speaking up and asking for change.
The futility of this search came at a cost for all students. Columbia spends tens of thousands of dollars on executive search firms for almost every opening, funds that could be going back to enriching our campus and opening up more opportunities for students to attend. We can all agree that the University should be seeking to find the best talent, but when the process has repeatedly been used to validate internal candidates rather than to make an informed selection, it is difficult to believe that the goal in using these firms is really to find the best person for the job.
Columbia students are deeply dedicated to enhancing co-curricular opportunities for our peers and fostering a supportive community. As students ourselves, we directly experience the challenges and opportunities Columbia offers and are ultimately the most connected to the student experience. We hope that in future hiring decisions, the needs and voices of students will be prioritized.
Omar Abboud, SEAS’16
Peter Bailinson, CC’16
Allie Carieri, CC’15
Adam Chelminski, SEAS’17
Yilma Choudhury, CC’15
Fatimatou Diallo, CC’15
Marc Heinrich, CC’16
Tammuz Huberman, CC’15
Malini Nambiar, SEAS’15
Jared Odessky, CC’15
Jillian Ross, SEAS’16
Ari Schuman, CC’15
Mandeep Singh, CC’15
Sejal Singh, CC’15
Ramis Wadood, CC’16
Brian Wu, SEAS’15