Last week, Bwog sat down with newly-minted Dean Valentini (soon to be Deantini). The Dean has been in touch with Bwog and Spec since his appointment, but in earlier interviews was unable to answer burning questions (he too needed some orientation). What was Dean Moody-Adams so livid about? Given that her resignation letter focused on the the changing role of the dean, how would Valentini address these concerns? What sort of dialogue would begin about those changes? Most importantly, would students be privy to such dialogue?
Many of these questions still could not be answered.
Valentini spoke candidly and enthusiastically about his engagement with the Arts & Sciences multi-college administrative super-structure. He remains optimistic about what he sees as the Dean’s increasing, rather than diminishing, responsibilities. Given the growing angst about what many perceive as a dilution of the College’s integrity and individual identity, some may greet this optimism with skepticism. The push for simultaneous centralization and expansion of the university may put considerable strain on the financial and intellectual health of the College. Worries persist that giving the college deans more university-level administrative responsibilities could preclude them from looking inwards and focusing on their constituencies.
So far, Valentini has given no indication that this will be the case. He’s proved to be an incredibly dynamic presence in the dean’s office, meeting ‘n’ greeting non-stop. He’s reading Bwog! Everyone can recognize this as a positive change from the more behind-the-scenes presence of Michele Moody-Adams, but it is important to bear in mind that he’s only the interim dean. His main job is to allay the fears of all concerned parties—faculty, students, and alumni—and to breath new life into the position that MiMoo left winded. And engaging with students, making videos, and dealing with our immediate demands may well leave the larger administrative machinery to continue to turn unchecked.
The link between these issues is the now infamous McKinsey report, which we also discussed in depth with Executive Vice President of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences Nicholas Dirks (interview forthcoming!). Although it’s proved impossible to get anyone on record confirming this, the report, commissioned to make recommendations on realigning the somewhat balkanized schools under the umbrella of Arts & Sciences, contained a number of recommendations for Columbia College that MMA categorically rejected. Administrators have emphasized over and over that these are merely suggestions, and that no concrete proposals have been made, but Dean Valentini has not communicated with MiMoo and has not heard what she has to say on these recommendations and why she found them so repugnant.
Here are some selected extracts from the interview highlighting major issues. We’ve included the full, hour-long, transcript (transparency!), for those interested in reading it. It has been edited for clarity, and the opening discussion focuses more on Valentini’s questions for us.
On student engagement:
I want you to be engaged, I want to go talk to you, I want to go out and talk to you. We’re not just going to have scripted events, I’m just going to go over to Lerner some day when people know how to recognize me and just start talking to students. ‘How do you feel? ‘Whats going on? What do you think we should do?’
On his involvement with the College:
I’ve been involved enough in the College for a long time and I’ve talked to all of the staff people so that I know what we’ve got going and I think I know better today and certainly much better than Tuesday: What are the challenges? What are the problems? What’s the budget? What’s the staffing? What do we need to look out for? What do we have to do right away? I’m formulating a picture of that. I actually like this part. It’s hard because I don’t have enough time.
On preparing for the deanship by talking to Austin Quigley:
My conversation with him was focused on, ‘Okay, what do you think I can do Austin?’ Austin was Dean for 14 years and extremely successful. He’s a dean who faced crises, like being fired. And I’ve known Austin for a very long time. He was dean when he appointed me to the Committee on Instruction. He appointed me to other things and I’ve had a lot of conversations with him. I trust his judgement. He’s got experience, more experience than anybody. Yeah, I’ve had a lot of conversations with him. Talking to him, I felt more comfortable, not less comfortable.
On his confidence in taking over:
There are a lot of factors involved in this that are probably never going to come out. It’s not that they’re beyond students, they’re beyond me. But I know substantively what the McKinsey report contains, I have the report. I didn’t have it on Monday when I talked to Sammy [Roth, of The Spectator], but I was confident in taking this job before seeing the McKinsey report because I’m confident in my ability to keep ridiculous things from happening. I’ve always been able to do this. I have a good relationship with the President, and the Vice President. I’m not worried about this.
On possible changes to the College:
But is it [the Core] going to change in my lifetime or your lifetime, not a chance. Is there any question about full need financial aid or needs blind admission? Zero. The trustees who are the people who are ultimately responsible for this university are 100% fully and unequivocally and emphatically behind that. That’s not going to change.
Complete transcript after the jump