Three days after Michele Moody-Adams announced her resignation, a dispute over a consulting firm's recommendations to streamline the operations of Arts and Sciences appears to be a primary reason for her departure.
On Saturday, Moody-Adams sent an email to a group of Columbia College-affiliated alumni saying that she could not continue to do her job as "structural transformations intended to fundamentally alter decision-making" in the College moved forward without her consent. University President Lee Bollinger said Monday morning that he had accepted Moody-Adams’ resignation—effective immediately.
Those transformations were recommendations presented in a report created by the McKinsey & Company consulting group, and are the continuation of an extended push by the University to incorporate the College more closely into the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Sources involved with committee discussions said that the tensions came down to a clash between plans to cut costs in certain areas by placing more decision-making power within the larger Arts and Sciences umbrella, and Moody-Adams' desire for more autonomy in the College's budget and fundraising decisions.
Bollinger and Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nicholas Dirks brought in McKinsey earlier this year to conduct a review of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences' operations. Their report was shared with senior deans earlier in the summer, and has not been made public.
Moody-Adams said in the email announcing her resignation that the changes she had been presented with would reduce or eliminate "the authority of the Dean of the College over crucial policy, fund-raising and budgetary matters," and would do damage to the College's academic and financial health.
In a statement to faculty on Tuesday, Dirks pushed back at those allegations. "We have no intention of diminishing the position of the Dean of the College," he said, adding that he was "committed to strengthening the role of faculty in undergraduate affairs."
That increased role of faculty in Arts and Sciences has taken the form of the Policy and Planning Committee, which was created in April 2010 to replace the existing executive committee for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The PPC organized the choice of McKinsey and worked to coordinate the review last semester.
PPC chair and Italian professor Teodolina Barolini described the report's proposed changes as meant to reduce inefficiencies, like separate computer services and human resources departments, that waste money and had evolved out of the system when the College and the other schools within Arts and Sciences each had their own faculties.
"We have always desired to bring a closer relationship between Arts and Sciences and the College," she said. "The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is the backbone of the College and wants nothing more than the College to thrive in the best possible way. This comes from history and the way history gets played out in administrative struggles." She put it simply: "Arts and Sciences is the College."
Dirks said in his statement that this ongoing work to "better align the College" within Arts and Sciences was especially important because of the University's commitment to support increases in student services and financial aid.
Sociology professor Peter Bearman, who served on the PPC subcommittee that met with consulting firms, described the McKinsey report as showing that the Arts and Sciences budget deficit was caused by structural problems, and as recommending "reasonable and modest" changes.
Moody-Adams obviously felt differently, implying the changes in structure and decision-making would pose a larger-scale threat to the College's autonomy.
Dirks said that the Policy and Planning Committee had continued to meet over the summer to discuss the McKinsey review, as well as changes to faculty benefits packages and "enhancing financial support for the Arts and Sciences through new fundraising ideas." Multiple sources said that those fundraising ideas include allowing some of the College's unrestricted funds to support functions of Arts and Sciences, though Barolini said she did not believe that to be the case.
Barolini said she expects the Policy and Planning Committee to review the various structures presented in the McKinsey report and endorse one next year, while leaving the nitty-gritty decisions of now to implement those changes to the deans.
None of the report's recommendations have been implemented so far, and all would need approval from administrators, since the Policy and Planning Committee operates on an advisory basis. But in the short period after its creation, that nine-member committee of professors has become a focal point of administrative decision-making. That is a significant change from the previous Executive Committee, which was widely thought of as ineffective at voicing faculty concerns.
The Policy and Planning Committee's bylaws state that it is tasked with being “a full participant” in allocating resources and money among the schools in consultation with deans, the Vice President for Arts and Sciences, and the University President. That level of involvement in the budget planning for Columbia College may have contributed to Moody-Adams' unease, especially after those structures changed just one year into her tenure.
Two weeks before classes begin again, students and alumni said they were still shocked to hear of Moody-Adams’ resignation.
Rhonda Shafei, CC ’12, who served as a student representative on the Committee on Instruction which Moody-Adams chaired, said she was shocked that she had barely heard of the issues brought up in Moody-Adams’ sharply-worded resignation email.
“Having witnessed how much of a moderate figure she is on different issues, that makes me all the more worried about these proposals that we don’t know about,” she said. “The fact that it took that language to express what she had to say means this requires more attention.”
Still, some tension was obvious between Moody-Adams and the central administration on budget issues, Shafei said, citing a debate over how to fund changes to Columbia’s Reid Hall program in France last semester.
Sue Yang, CC '10 and former Columbia College Student Council president, said that tensions between University-level and College-level interests had been a recurring theme of her time on student council. (Yang now works for McKinsey but had no involvement in the Columbia report.) "I'm glad that she [Moody-Adams] addressed it full-on," she said. "Who has the final say on decisions, academic and financial—it seems that the central University has been absorbing more and more of those roles."
Involved alumni and current professors also said they had been caught off guard.
“People are confused because they haven’t been connected to these underlying issues,” said Robyn Burgess, CC ’10, who is communications chair for Columbia College Young Alumni but was not speaking on behalf of that organization. “This comes very suddenly to us, including us in the relatively engaged alumni community.”
Moody-Adams, who declined requests to be interviewed today, is not the first dean to see controversy surrounding their departure. Austin Quigley, Moody-Adams’ predecessor who served as dean from 1995 to 2009, was briefly fired by then-President George Rupp, only to be re-hired after alumni and faculty members protested. Quigley, too, had been fighting for more independence from Arts and Sciences.
The situation looks different in Moody-Adams’ case. Bollinger’s statement Monday morning said that Moody-Adams’ immediate resignation would allow for an interim dean to be named by the start of the academic year, which begins with convocation—set for Monday, August 29.