Executive Vice President and Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Nicholas Dirks

MiMoo’ email revealed animosities plaguing the administration. Only when you understand the university’s current structure can you begin to comprehend the implications of centralization and her departure.

First, a bit of history. The massive administrative construct, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, traces all the way back to the late nineteenth century. In 1880, Graduate Studies were established as separate from the College. Columbia University then developed as a web of various specialized schools and faculties. But administrators craved a more unified organizational structure, and a series of  committees in the 1970s and early 80s, the Woodring, Rice and Breslow Committees, concluded that, in the interests of economy and efficiency, some serious centralization was in order. Finally in 1982, President Sovern created the powerful position of Vice President of Arts and Sciences and appointed Donald Hood of Frontiers fame.

Though, as VP of Arts and Sciences, Hood presided over faculty members at the College, GS, GSAS, SIPA, and Arts, the respective faculties remained distinct and difficult to coordinate. So in 1991, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was created as a sixth faculty that would subsume the five. Technically, the separate faculties were never formally disbanded, but each faculty is basically powerless on its own— for example, an individual faculty has no power to appoint tenure. To further centralize the power of the VP, President Rupp conferred the added title, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences with all its attendant responsibilities. Fast forward 20 years: the Faculty of Arts and Sciences consists of 29 departments in social sciences, humanities and natural sciences, plus 6 schools: CC, GS, GSAS, Arts, SIPA, Continuing Education. Wilfred Chan summarized his research into the history of Arts and Sciences in a nifty infographic over at IvyGate.

All of this administrative restructuring has greased the gears of bureacracy while squandering the independence of the College. One alumnus calls this trend the “Harvardizing of Columbia;” PrezBo has created a mega-institution of disparate schools. As we mentioned, it was the clash between Quigly and former VP Cohen that led to the beloved Dean’s forced resignation in 1997. Quigley reportedly sought money for undergrad facilities, while Cohen was more focused on larger University budget balancing. Conflict ensued, and Quigley got the axe. Now the deans and faculty report to Nicholas Dirks, the VP for Arts and Sciences and Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences since 2004.

Robert Kasdin, "Bollinger's Dick Cheney"

In a December 2010 letter to the Faculty, Dirks announced a new arm of Arts and Sciences, the Policy and Planning Committee, to help navigate “budgetary challenges.” Dirks stressed the administration’s commitment to maintaining a balanced budget and noted recent losses. Besides rising “health care costs” and other “common costs,” Dirks blames burdensome financial aid costs incurred by the College. “Financial aid costs were forecast to grow by 11%, mainly due to the need-based policies in the College that have resulted in continued success in attracting families of all income bands.” This could be related to the financial issues that MiMoo alluded to in her resignation letter; she alleged that recent administrative changes could compromise the College’s “financial health.”

Another administrator featured prominently on the administration facebook who you’ll probably never meet is Robert Kasdin, Senior Executive Vice President. PrezBo brought him to Columbia from UMich and created the Senior Executive VP position just for Kasdin. “In short he is Bollinger’s Dick Cheney,” reads Kasdin’s WikiCU post. With finance experience from Princeton, UMich, and the Met, Kasdin now controls the University’s purse strings. The Provost is ostensibly Prezbo’s #2, but we sense that he’s much cozier with Kasdin, who Bo plucked from UMich, than with former Provost Steele who recently stepped down.

We still don’t really know what to make of all this, but as this NYTimes article (quoting our very own Claire Sabel) reminds, “the departure of two senior administrators so close together is highly unusual for an elite university.” People are asking questions, and the administration can’t remain so insulated for much longer.