This afternoon, President Bollinger announced that Carol Becker, who has served as the Dean of the School of Arts since 2007, plans to step down at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year.

In an email to students on Monday, Columbia President Lee Bollinger shared that Carol Becker would be ending her 16-year tenure as the Dean of the School of the Arts on June 30, 2023. The full text of President Bollinger’s email can be found below.

Becker oversaw an increase of the school’s full-time tenured faculty, an expansion of full-tuition scholarships, operations with the Arts Initiative and the Miller Theatre, and the opening of the Lenfest Center for the Arts on the Manhattanville campus. Dean Becker was central to the development of this “forward-looking interdisciplinary site,” which opened in 2017. Becker worked closely with the Renzo Piano Building Workshop to design the space, which now hosts events including theatrical productions, film screenings, art exhibitions, lectures, and readings. President Bollinger praised Dean Becker’s “warmth, grit, and skill” and the growth of the School of the Arts under her leadership.

The news of Dean Becker’s decision to step down comes just months after the University proposed a controversial internal restructuring of the Arts and Sciences Department. In May 2022, the university proposed a number of changes to the department, including the creation of a position for a Dean of Arts and Sciences, who would work with the Dean of Columbia College on fundraising and budgetary matters, with the Offices of Development of both departments merging. The plan, composed by consulting firm McKinsey & Company, was met with strong opposition from the student councils of Columbia College and School of General Studies. Representatives felt it would undercut the schools’ ability to advocate for themselves and would restrict the College’s control over its finance and budget.

Throughout her extensive career, Dean Becker has authored seven books on cultural criticism, including The Invisible Drama: Women and the Anxiety of Change and her memoir, Losing Helen: An Essay. Before coming to Columbia, she served as the Dean of Faculty and Vice-President for Academic Affairs at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is also a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Art in Society for the World Economic Forum. After stepping down as Dean, Becker will remain at Columbia as a Professor of the Arts, where she will both teach and write—further expanding her accomplished portfolio as an author and scholar—as well as continue her efforts “to integrate art and artists into the fabric of the larger university.” A search committee will be created to find Becker’s successor, with details provided by the office of the President soon. 

Email from President Bollinger sent to the Columbia community on Monday at 12:05 pm EDT:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I write to share that Carol Becker, Dean of our School of the Arts, plans to step down at the end of this academic year. Since 2007, Carol has led the School with warmth, grit, and skill, shining a bright light on the central role that art and artists play in furthering the University’s mission and in serving the interests of our global society. After her term as Dean concludes on June 30, 2023, Carol will remain Professor of the Arts, return to teaching and writing, and also continue her work with other programs to integrate art and artists into the fabric of the larger university. 

Carol’s 16 years as Dean will be remembered as a period of dramatic growth for the School of the Arts. Under her leadership, the School nurtured innovative programmatic initiatives, invested in new and emerging technologies, centralized its operations with the Arts Initiative and Miller Theatre, grew the number of full-time tenured faculty significantly, and invested in financial aid, working closely with her development team to create a number of full-tuition scholarships in film, theatre, visual arts, and writing. Carol and her team’s efforts have produced one of the most diverse schools in the institution. 

No celebration of Carol at this University would be complete without a discussion of the monumental achievement that is the Lenfest Center for the Arts, which opened in Manhattanville in 2017. She and her colleagues collaborated with the Renzo Piano Building Workshop to develop the vision for the School’s new venue building, resulting in a forward-looking interdisciplinary site for the arts that houses lectures, symposia, readings, film screenings, exhibitions, and theatrical productions. 

An accomplished author and scholar, Carol began her academic career more than three decades ago and worked at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as Dean of Faculty and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs before coming to Columbia. She has published extensively on a wide range of topics such as the role of art and artists in a global society, feminist theory, and American cultural history. During her time at Columbia, she published a collection of essays entitled Thinking in Place: Art, Action, and Cultural Production (2009), and a powerful memoir entitled Losing Helen (2016) about the complexities of life and loss as she and her mother navigated the challenges of illness and death. 

I will soon share details regarding the creation of a search committee to identify Carol’s successor. It is a special pleasure, for me personally, and on behalf of the School and the University, to congratulate Carol on all she has achieved and thank her for her remarkable service.


Lee C. Bollinger

Sunset over Columbia via Bwog Archives