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Everything You Never Wanted to Know About the Columbia Administration

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.

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous P.S. you are also spot-on in not liking Dirks or Kasdin – for different reasons.

  • Well then says:

    @Well then that Dirks guy is definitely not a looker.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous The 1991 formation of the \Faculty of Arts and Sciences\ and the creation of the VP (then Dean) followed a decade of restructuring.

    Back in the 1960s Columbia began running a deficit, and thanks to a variety of factors (1968 protests, economic stagnation of the 70s, NYC’s economic decline and near bankruptcy, exploding crime rates, etc.) the University nearly went bankrupt. What we call Arts and Sciences in particular was a money pit (as opposed to, e.g., the professional schools like Engineering, Business, and Law – all of which funded the construction of new buildings (Mudd, Uris, JGH) for themselves in the 60s).

    After severe cost cutting in the 1970s, the University seemed to be on better footing. The 1980s was spent recovering from the austerity measures. (A 1979 commission on the social sciences reported \We have fallen. The evidence is unambiguous, and candor compels us to acknowledge that we no longer occupy a position of distinct pre-eminence. In several disciplines we have fallen below the first rank.\)

    The 1980s was also spent by the President, Michael Sovern, trying to get control of the entire enterprise. Numerous schemes were attempted. Most failed. Arts and Sciences in particular proved troublesome. The 1991 restructuring was the last of many plans to efficiently administer A&S by Sovern.

    In short, all of this has happened before. (In fact, the President in the 70s, Bill McGill fired a dean of the college, Peter Pouncey, for having the temerity to announce a plan to unilaterally make the college co-ed. co-education wouldn’t come until the 80s.)

  • History Lesson says:

    @History Lesson Columbia didn’t actually have a unified Arts and Sciences division of any kind until 1979.

    In most rational set-ups, CC would by actually be called the College/School of Arts and Sciences/Liberal Arts, the complement to the School of Engineering and Applied Science. But “Columbia College” has a bit of an inferiority complex and clings to its uniqueness and centrality. This probably dates back to the fact that when Columbia first formed something resembling a graduate faculty of arts and sciences in 1880, its first member John W. Burgess took the appointment more or less with the understanding that he would never have to deal with undergraduates. The University spent the early half of the 20th century interested in bolstering its standing in the world as a research institution and phd factory. It excelled. Did you know that when Columbia moved to Morningside, none of the original 5 buildings on campus (Schermerhorn, Fayerweather, Havemeyer, Mathematics (then Mines), Low) was designed to fit the needs of the College? Hamilton was built almost 10 years after Columbia moved north.

    Anyway, back in those days what we call “Arts and Sciences” existed as three different faculties/schools. Philosophy, Pure Science, and Political Science. Think of them today as the Humanities, Hard Sciences, and Social Sciences. They were finally unified in 1979 with the formation of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

    One more tidbit: If you rewind the clock a little further, you’ll find that another CC dean managed to get fired by Low Library: Jack Greenberg in 1993.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous “In most rational set-ups, CC would by actually be called the College/School of Arts and Sciences/Liberal Arts, the complement to the School of Engineering and Applied Science”. interesting idea. but it would be more rational to just combine college/engineering undergrads into one undergrad body, the way it is at HYPSM. i don’t see how pushing them with grad students will improve things…

      1. well says:

        @well I suppose part of it is size and Ugrad centrality. Every one of HYPSM are smaller overall, and the undergraduate population makes up a larger (significantly larger in every case but H) proportion of the student population.

        What you suggest is the other way of organizing the undergraduate function: create a single entity that unified all aspects of undergraduate education within the University (e.g. “Harvard College”, “Yale College”). That would include engineering and GS. We may be heading that way at least with respect to GS (see e.g. PrezBo/Brinkley’s Task Force on UG Education). Columbia has two separate liberal arts colleges that share most of the same course catalog, faculty, and degree. That’s probably why you see resumes that say “BA, Columbia College, Columbia University” instead of just “BA, Columbia University.” It looks silly. Because we need to feel superior to GS.

        Anyway, what you suggest probably won’t happen wrt SEAS. Undergraduate engineering is part of a stand-alone school/program/faculty. Think about it. If SEAS put up a fence around Mudd/CEPSR and declared themselves independentfrom the University, they probably could (squatting on Columbia land and interdisciplinary appointments aside). They’ve got their own graduate school, their own faculty, their own administration (mostly.) It’s like the other “professional” schools. CC on the other hand is a sub-division of FAS without its own faculty. Anyway, the integration that does exist is on the back end. One administrative division that handles all CC/SEAS admissions, financial aid, housing, general advising, student discipline, activites, etc.

        Historical tidbit: One of the primary differences between CC and GS used to be that they had completely different faculties and degrees. Only CC could grant a “BA”. GS granted a “BS”. In the 1960s, the university decided to let GS grant a BA too. The then-CC dean was reportedly in tears over this.

      2. Holy shit says:

        @Holy shit that’s what they are doing. SEAS to CE. Decreased role of Dean of College. Desire to emulate other institutions with one undergrad student body. They are about to merge SEAS and CC

  • alum CC '72 says:

    @alum CC '72 CC loyalists need a dean who is ready to rumble. We should back a strong, new candidate for Dean. Professor James Shapiro is committed to the College (he graduated CC ’77), and he’s well-known as a fighter and scrapper. Trilling Award winner this year (2010-11), he is now the leading Shakespeare scholar in the world. The Folger Shakespeare library tried to hire him away as Folger director but his loyalty to CC triumphed. Shapiro would give the College an internationally renowned figural head. More important he would be a pit-bull defender of College interests against the cynicism, opportunism, and plain rot that are now attacking the College.

    1. GS '11 says:

      @GS '11 First goes the Provost and now the Dean of the College. Do you seriously think that Bollinger and the Trustees will be considering any candidate that they think may be the slightest bit out of their control?

      I guarantee you that they’re shopping for more of a lapdog than anything else – the archetype of which is our own Peter Awn who, in the event of any distress or student unrest, rolls right over to placate this new “centralized authority” in Low.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous no what we need is a Columbia loyalist. CC does not exist separate from Columbia. Have you even considered whatever Bollinger is doing may be for the benefit of Columbia? When the University’s reputation goes up, so does CC’s. You lack information but are ready to support Moody-Adams for the sole reason that she was Dean of Columbia but not Bollinger whose a Columbia alum.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous Except that Bollinger is actually going a long way towards driving DOWN the reputation of Columbia as a University. The standing of most A&S departments are dropping relative to peers, and an Ahab-like devotion to an expansion project in this economic climate will be the final piece of destruction. Just like the unplanned and improperly financed NWCorner Building, Manhattanville will simply bleed money out of Columbia (on a much larger scale) while neglected A&S departments fade into extreme mediocrity due to the same neglect that we have witnessed under Bo. Other wealthier schools have curtailed expansion to maintain and improve core University function during this recession, but the Arrogant Bo+Kasdin will not.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I think it’s both nearsighted and foolish to jump on the protest bandwagon without actually understanding even 1% of what’s going on. As a current second year at CC, I want you to ask yourselves what Moody has actually done for you. We have no clue what Moody-Adams is actually talking about in her email. It could be that she was a champion for the well-being of the undergrad financial aid system at CC, or she could just be pissed off that she didn’t have the amount of power that she thought she did. From that email, it seems like she’s just throwing a tantrum.

  • Speech & Press '09 (cc'10) says:

    @Speech & Press '09 (cc'10) I can’t speak to the nuances of this round of political strife – and after reading MiMoo’s resignation letter I’m definitely concerned about CC’s place in Columbia.

    But I will say that PrezBo was sincere in his commitment to financial aid – or as sincere as any person in the public eye can be. I remember him discussing the financial crisis and how it was changing the dynamics of university-giving, and he said something to the effect of (paraphrase): ‘I’ll give up every aspect of expansion/ development before I relinquish our commitment to need-blind financial aid.’ He believes in education as a contemporary civil rights issue. And I was left with the lasting impression that while he (and really most people in positions of power/ importance) is going to do some things that piss me off, he is a pretty intelligent and ethical guy.

    1. Speech & Press '09 (cc'10) says:

      @Speech & Press '09 (cc'10) not to diminish my previous point (that he’s a pretty okay guy), but there should really be a running ‘BO’Slapped’ tag given present-day Columbia …

  • that unibro says:

    @that unibro has got to go.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous don’t like how it seems as if the want to cut financial aid for the college. If Columbia wants to rival other upper ivies (for the sake of the argument HYP-in a lot of people’s eyes it is) then I don’t see how they are going to cut financial aid. If that were to happen, i believe the college would lose some of its economic diversity etc.

  • hmmm says:

    @hmmm it’s all campus politics. Dirks wants his control – my guess is that Steele and MoodyAdams wanted it also. Dirks played his cards right and won the boardroom battles. Campus politics are intense because the stakes are so low.

    Part of the problem with the college, though, is the status quo. Fundraising for CC separate from the university hasn’t worked for years. It creates conflict – and probably shrinks the pie for overall donors. If Dean Moody Adams thought that she could go on with the same infrastructure as has been in place for years – that put Columbia beneath HYP (and others) – that’s on her. It seems that MMA should have come in with a grand plan to keep power, while listening to those who hired her and what they wanted her to accomplish (i.e. make significant changes to the money piece).

    Oh, and btw, her bomb-throwing email suggests that she doesn’t know how to play politics, and is kind of tone-deaf. You can write that email after two decades in office, not two years.

    FWIW, I’m an alum and take no sides…

    1. .... says:

      @.... This is PrezBo’s usual problem by getting some one from outside, who, first of all, does not understand Columbia culture. These people quickly created a mess for him. My condolence

  • Unibrow says:

    @Unibrow is the one that needs to go. For an anthropology professor, the level of myopia is simply astounding.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous A tangent–I don’t like him either. Petty and uninformed perhaps, but when I think of biological anthropology being disowned from the department, I think of him.

  • worriedfaculty says:

    @worriedfaculty The question for Presbo and Dirks: why have two Black admin people left in quick succession? Props for recruiting these folks to high-level positions. But what is it about your leadership that lead them to leave, so abruptly and dramatically? One, we can understand. Two, and we’ve got a problem. What? Were they just window-dressing for you? Seems like you were willing to give them posts, but quick to ensure they had no real power.

  • Definitely Not Trolling says:

    @Definitely Not Trolling “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.”

    See?!?!?!? It’s all GS’ fault

    1. graduate studies is not general studies says:

      @graduate studies is not general studies General Studies is different from the Graduate School of And Sciences. GSAS was created in the 19th c, and its faculty did not teach undergraduates.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous *facepalm* it’s a jo… *gives up and walks away*

  • Jacob CC 13 says:

    @Jacob CC 13 I’m sure the administration would love its undergraduates to just sit and wonder and be complacent. Honestly, I would protest for Moody Adams. It smells like there’s some dirty political nonsense going on.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Will there be a race discrimination law sue against PrezBo??

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous You do realize how outrageously ironic that would be, right? PrezBo’s claims to fame were two Supreme Court cases in which he defended the right of a university (UMich at the time) to use affirmative action in making decisions about admissions. The cases set the precedent for the legality of affirmative action in higher education to this day.

  • CC alum says:

    @CC alum I don’t like the sound of this at all, especially the remarks about the cost of financial aid. I also have never liked Nick Dirks or, especially, Robert Kasdin. As a Quigley-era graduate, I don’t have a great attachment to Moody-Adams, but it sounds like she is fighting for our interests here. If Bollinger wants to continue turning the College into an ATM for university expansion, I can’t do much to stop him, but I’m not going to continue standing on the other side of the ATM.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous You are absolutely spot-on about the financial reasons – you’ve pinpointed the true issue of financial aid in competition with University expansion. My only question to you is why you prefer Quigley to Moody-Adams: Quigley was a celebrity dean with a British accent. sense of theatre. and enjoyment in political machinations – although he is a brilliant man, that wasn’t why he was so popular. Moody-Adams is not a showperson – she is a real person of academic brilliance and personal integrity with a great commitment to education. I would encourage you to look past the surface to realize what a loss this is for the University.

  • Anon says:

    @Anon nicholas dirks puts the brow in UNI

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Well, I guess it was smart of PrezBo to remove Moody-Adams before she had enough grassroots supporters (inside Columbia and, much more importantly, among the alumni donor base) as Quigley did in 1997. If a strong fight is put up about this, it will be because of decades of frustration felt by an increasingly disenfranchised CC at being relegated to a third-tier bureaucratic division bled dry of resources while being milked for tuition revenue by A&S, and Moody-Adams will just be the most recent face to put on it.

  • ME WANT says:


    I’m convinced she should have all the power there is to have ever by anyone possibly ever

  • Alumna says:

    @Alumna FYI, Bo plucked Kasdin from the Met and brought him to Michigan. THEN he brought Kasdin to Columbia. But you’re definitely right to mention him here.

  • Seriously says:

    @Seriously College needs to protest. this is real shit. fight for mimoo. i disagree with ms sabel- she will have champions.

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