News | Administration

SEAS faculty and dean remain at odds, but Coatsworth says relationship is improving

  • LACK OF TRUST | Senior faculty in the School of Engineering and Applied Science are still concerned that Dean Feniosky Peña-Mora is not the right person to run the school.

Six months after engineering faculty demanded that Dean Feniosky Peña-Mora resign, tensions between Peña-Mora and the faculty remain high. Central administrators and School of Engineering and Applied Science faculty members are working to ease that tension by developing structural changes to the school, but for many professors, there’s still only one viable solution: Peña-Mora’s resignation.

The New York Times first reported in December that many senior professors had signed a letter to Provost John Coatsworth stating that the “morale of the faculty and their trust in Dean Peña-Mora are reaching an all-time low.” Professors said that Peña-Mora had worsened SEAS’ long-standing space crunch, sacrificed graduate students’ education for short-term profits, and compromised the quality of the faculty, among other complaints.

In November, industrial engineering and operations professor Don Goldfarb was appointed to the newly created position of executive vice dean, which has absorbed many of the responsibilities of the dean. Since then, the University’s central administration has commissioned three reports on possible structural changes to SEAS—one from an outside developmental strategist, one from a faculty governance committee, and one from the offices of Coatsworth and University President Lee Bollinger.

But despite these efforts, many professors believe that their conflict with Peña-Mora cannot be resolved. No professors interviewed for this story would criticize Peña-Mora on the record, but four agreed to speak on background, including one professor who said that “no matter what the structure, the dean is not good for this school.”

“If he does not go, this will be a great disservice to the school at a time of great expansion and growth,” she said.

“No one knows what the next step will be, but it’s clear that if it continues like this, the school will be hurt,” a former department chair said. “If he [Peña-Mora] puts the school’s interests first, he will step down.”

TRUST DEFICIT
A common theme unites many professors’ concerns with Peña-Mora: a lack of trust. One senior professor said that Peña-Mora “has a way of telling you things ... that are not true.”

“He has his own agenda, but he’s not truthful about what his agenda is,” he said. “He doesn’t understand the needs of the faculty ... He just doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“There’s no trust,” he added.

Several professors cited Peña-Mora’s tendency to micromanage, saying that he enforces school-wide standards that are not always appropriate for some departments. For instance, according to one former department chair, each department used to have its own structure for faculty self-reviews, but Peña-Mora implemented a standard template across departments at the end of the 2011 academic year, against the wishes of many of the department chairs.

Faculty members also said that Peña-Mora has a habit of verbally promising researchers or departments additional resources before subsequently denying their requests. The senior professor called Peña-Mora’s promises a “charade.”

“The faculty waste their time talking to him,” the professor said.

Peña-Mora started as SEAS dean in the fall of 2009, after serving a year as associate provost at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That job was his only prior administrative experience, and some professors believe that he has been difficult to work with because he is not qualified to be dean.

The first professor said that Peña-Mora, because of his lack of experience, is “completely unable to handle the job.”

“He shouldn’t be there,” she said. “He doesn’t have the leadership skills to actually be a dean.”

PROLONGED ATTEMPT
Although the widespread faculty discontent with Peña-Mora did not become public until December, it had begun to brew more than two years ago.

During the spring of 2010, the nine engineering department chairs wrote a letter to Peña-Mora, outlining a list of situations in which the chairs felt that Peña-Mora had not acted in the best interests of the school, as well as suggestions for how he should fix his mistakes.

The former department chair said that the tone of the letter was “still quite positive,” noting that the chairs delivered it privately so as to keep the problems out of the public eye.

“The tone was helping him to improve, not asking him to leave,” he said.

But despite the group’s conciliatory mindset, Peña-Mora took offense. According to the former chair, Peña-Mora responded to their request that he micromanage less by canceling meetings in which he would have consulted department chairs and then making decisions unilaterally.

After waiting for more than a year for Peña-Mora to adequately address their concerns, the department chairs decided that they needed to appeal to the University’s central administration. In August, they sent a letter to Coatsworth expressing a complete lack of trust in Peña-Mora and calling for his resignation.

Upon receiving the letter, Coatsworth met with the chairs. At the time, he had been interim provost for fewer than two months, and this was the first he had heard about internal problems at SEAS, he told Spectator.

The group communicated to Coatsworth that the problems with Peña-Mora were widespread, the former chair said, but Coatsworth didn’t seem to believe that the problems extended past the chairs.

Disappointed by Coatsworth’s response, the department chairs began expressing their frustrations to faculty members more openly, and in October, Coatsworth received another letter, which the former chair said was signed by more than half of the 173 SEAS faculty members. This letter, which demanded Peña-Mora’s resignation, was given to the Times in December.

ATTEMPTED RESOLUTIONS
After receiving this third letter, Coatsworth announced the creation of the executive vice dean position. At a December SEAS faculty meeting, he then introduced the three-report approach to developing structural changes.

“We take those concerns very seriously, and we are doing all we can to reassure the faculty, and will continue to work with them and with the school’s leadership to make sure that the school going forward is in a good place,” Coatsworth said.

The operational development strategist finished its report earlier this semester. The report, which focuses on possible organizational and structural changes at SEAS, has been shared with Peña-Mora, Goldfarb, and the department chairs.

The two other groups tasked with developing structural changes—a faculty governance committee formed last semester, and Coatsworth and Bollinger’s offices—have not finished their work yet.

According to applied physics professor Michael Mauel, the chair of the faculty governance committee, the committee is reviewing SEAS’ bylaws and proposing additional standing committees to increase communication between the administration and the faculty. The committee is examining other schools at Columbia that have recently faced administrative challenges and undergone structural reforms, including the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Business School.

The committee first met in January. Mauel stressed that any changes it suggests will be put to a vote by the SEAS faculty. It will not make suggestions specific to Peña-Mora, he said—the committee is trying to develop process and governance changes that go beyond individual administrators.

Another senior professor, though, said that this committee “will not solve the problem.” The problem, the senior professor said, is Peña-Mora.

“It is not an issue of governance,” he said.

Coatsworth said that the report by his and Bollinger’s offices will be finished by the end of the June, and that it will include suggestions for structural and administrative changes. Coatsworth declined to comment on what those administrative changes might be.

“The central administration will be as responsive as we can from what we know about the situation, and about the concerns of the views of the faculty, and students, and alumni, and the school’s board of visitors,” he said.

A TEMPORARY FIX
Some professors’ concerns have temporarily been resolved by the creation of the executive vice dean role. According to a November email from Peña-Mora announcing that Goldfarb had been appointed to the position, the executive vice dean is responsible for “faculty affairs, space, and instructional support”—several responsibilities that had previously belonged to the dean.

“Things are suddenly much better,” the first faculty member said. “In some sense, people are happy because the faculty is shielded from the dean.”

The professor stressed that Goldfarb’s 30 years of experience at SEAS make him much better prepared than Peña-Mora to handle the faculty’s concerns.

“The arrangements we have made have been working, in the sense that the faculty are able to focus on their research and teaching,” Coatsworth said. “The school hasn’t missed a beat in terms of administration.”

Some professors have indicated that they no longer understand what Peña-Mora’s role at the school is, because he seems to be so far removed from the faculty. Coatsworth said that Peña-Mora “has been focused on some of the things that he does indisputably well—marketing the school, and raising funds among the alumni, and acting as the public face of an institution that really has a lot to boast about.”

But some faculty members see the shedding of the dean’s responsibilities as a mistake. The first senior faculty member said that it’s “not sustainable,” saying that potential donors “will only be willing to make a commitment if the school has its act together.”

“People are very anxious to see a resolution,” he said.

Peña-Mora was not available for an interview this week, but he said in an email that “Don Goldfarb in his new role as Executive Vice Dean has already been a tremendous help.”

“I often tease him, asking him, ‘Where were you when I started?’” Peña-Mora said. “Both he and the Faculty Governance Committee, led by Mike Mauel, have been incredibly effective. I am very excited about leading SEAS forward with such a strong team—our future looks very bright!”

Coatsworth said that while future structural changes are unknown, faculty members—including Goldfarb himself—see the position of executive vice dean as temporary. Goldfarb declined to be interviewed for this story.

NO WAY OUT
Some faculty members are growing impatient. The second senior faculty member suggested that some professors are thinking of conducting a vote of no confidence in Peña-Mora at the SEAS faculty meeting on May 9.

Coatsworth said that faculty should issue such a statement only in the most dire of circumstances.

“From the point of view of the institution and those who care about it, a faculty vote of no confidence in a dean is probably a bad idea and would be, in extreme circumstances, justified only if the faculty were to feel that they had no other recourse but to damage the school, which is what a vote of no confidence would actually do,” he said.

Although Coatsworth said that SEAS is moving in the right direction, he acknowledged that there is still room for change.

“We need to think about what is good for the school in the long run, and what kind of an engineering school Columbia needs, and to make sure it gets the support it needs to become a jewel in Columbia’s crown,” he said. “I think that is going to require some additional work between now and the end of the year.”

“What looked like a huge crisis has become a set of manageable problems,” he said, but many faculty members still have a fundamental lack of faith in Peña-Mora. The first faculty member said that under Peña-Mora, “this school does not function.”

“He is unable to work with department heads,” she said. “It’s not serving anyone well to keep the dean in his position.”

“I do not see how the dean will survive,” the second senior faculty member said. “There is an absence of respect.”

margaret.mattes@columbiaspectator.com

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Anonymous posted on

None of the professors cited on this article specified how Peña-Mora's leadership and record thus far has failed the school. I am not surprised. Peña-Mora has simply taken the school to its highest ranking in history (from 21 in 2009 to 15 in 2012). Today the school also receives more applications from high school students and potential graduate students than ever before and he has also increased the school's research endowment. The professors do not "trust" the guy who has taken the school to its highest levels of excellence? The profs are either too scare that as the school continues to grow they will not fit in or they are pure racists who cannot stand that a minority has done what none of them have been able to do. 

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Anonymous posted on

 How did you do it? It was a magic?

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CU_Alum posted on

You're giving Feni too much credit.  Most institutional changes that occur early in a dean's tenure are the work of his predecessors.  That's true whether the changes are for the better or the worse.  For example, SEAS benefited from the opening of the NWC building last year, but NWC was already under construction when Feni arrived.  He had nothing to do with it.

You're also relying too much on the US News rankings.  One of the major reasons they change from year to year is that US News continually tweaks how they are done.  In other words, movement in the rankings is often due to changes in the process rather than changes at the schools.  And some of the criteria -- reputation, facilities, etc. -- are built up over many years.

None of this means Feni is a bad dean.  What it means is that you are judging him by the wrong criteria.  That those criteria make him look good has nothing to do with whether they are the right ones to use.

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Anonymous posted on

 Agreed. No taking of other's fruit and said it is yours. That is called "stealing." You should be a magician like me.

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Anonymous posted on

Amd—
Look around, every school in the country is setting records. There are sociological reasons for that, very little to do with Feni.

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Anonymous posted on

Which schools?

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Anonymous posted on

The fact of the matter is that under Dean Pena-Mora, SEAS has reached levels of excellence that it has never reached in its over-a-century-long history. Blame the economy and sociological patterns all you want, but please, give Dean Pena-Mora some credit. After all, he hasn't just quite sat in his office since 2009. 

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Anonymous posted on

It has nothing to do with racism -- stop looking for issues where they don't exist. Most of the professors are "minorities".

It has to do with the fact that Pena-Mora's predecessors were rather freewheeling and let the faculty do what they want. Pena-Mora is bringing in some iron-fisted organizational discipline for the first time, which in my humble opinion, is long overdue and much-needed if we're going to compete with Cornell and NYU Poly and all the other newcomers and old rivals alike who want to upsize their engineering programs in NYC.

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Anonymous posted on

These responses only confirm my opinion. Alumni, undergraduates, graduate students, the BOV, the Provost and the President applaud Peña-Mora's record. YET, somehow, the professors do not approve. Now, whose interests are the profs protecting? THEIRS only. This article is biased. Ms. Mattes only exposed the feelings of the ignorant and pathetic professors and failed to search for the opinion of the students and higher administration, who have and continue to support the Dean. Get those stupid profs out. They are only slowing the growth of the school. 

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Anonymous posted on

Good. Now I expect a retraction of your implication of racism.

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Anonymous posted on

I believe racism has also played a roll in this issue. So, no, I will not retract that. 

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Anonymous posted on

No, racism did not play a role in the issue. Your belief is unwarranted. Have you *seen* the list of the professors who signed the letter? I have. I don't have the time to actually parse it right now, but I believe more than half of them are "minorities".

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Anonymous posted on

 Race issue in the positive sense that allowed the less qualified one to sit on the chair

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Anonymous posted on

Not according to Amd. His/her view is that the faculty tried to railroad the Dean because "they are pure racists who cannot stand that a minority has done what none of them have been able to do"

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Anonymous posted on

I went to the SEAS Web site and found out that the school has only two US-born under-represented minorities in its faculty, and they are assistant profs. Hence, it does not surprise me that a group of old, white men would truly hate to be led by a foreign-born Latino. 

However, to your satisfaction, let's control for racism and discrimination -- after all, you obviously do not remember that CU provost, Claude M. Steele and College Dean, Michele Moody-Adams, both US-born underrepresented minorities, left the University last summer after being pushed out by a racist elite. Some SEAS profs can't stand Dean Pena-Mora because he has refused to join the SEAS culture of disrespect, intimidation, and bullying. Prior to Dean Pena-Mora's arrival, SEAS profs did whatever they wanted, almost always seeking after their own personal interests, and not those of the school's. The current administration has established guidelines and systems that prevent for personal gains and secure fairness for all at the School -- AND THAT, my friend, has them going crazy. 

If I were Bollinger, I would fire the dept. chairs who have refused to work with the deanship. Good luck to them finding jobs in another Ivy League. Dean Pena-Mora and his team have constructed a new SEAS platform that reach for higher levels of excellence. The angry profs are simply weary that if the school continues to grow, they will no longer fit in. 

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Anonymous posted on

Do you think Dean Feniosky is able to get a similar job or tenure at another Ivy League school (including MIT, Stanford and Berkeley)? If I were him, I would choose to forget about Columbia and go to another place. Academic quality is above all the B.$. I hate to see a place that talks about money and race.

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Anonymous posted on

No top tier university will hire Pena-Mora.

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CU_Alum posted on

Racism may have played a small part, but there is no evidence that it actually did.  It is not remotely plausible that more than a couple of SEAS professors would try to oust a dean who was doing a good job merely because of his ancestry.  That Feni is Dominican does not mean that his opponents are motivated by racism.

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CU_Alum posted on

Your argument would be plausible if only a small fraction of the school's professors felt this way.  But when a majority of the professors openly call for the dean's ouster, there is a serious problem. 

The professors are not some sort of special-interest group.  They are the essence of the school.  SEAS is as strong or as weak as its faculty, yet you seem to think their interests don't matter as long as the students are happy and the administration puts a positive spin on the issue.

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Anonymous posted on

 Get rid of those stupid profs?  They ARE the school, genius.  And, if they do leave, it will be to Cornell where the professors respect their dean.  Get rid of Feni quick before the defections begin. 

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Anonymous posted on

I definitely agree with CU_Alumn and LiteraryLion. These professors you despise are the ones who make SEAS work on a day to day basis, not only teaching, but through their research and managing to get research grants which are strictly peer reviewed. They supervise the dissertations that help grad students to get their degrees and jobs in their after-Columbia life. It's the academic environment they build up what attracts young bright professors to come to Columbia. Fund raising is necessary, but the end is precisely the work they do in teaching and research. That's why Dean and staff need to work together, which is obviously not happening here. As LiteraryLion wrote, if this isn't corrected soon, defections to competing institutions will begin, and heaven knows what kind of people will replace them. 

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Anonymous posted on

Yeah, well, I do not think Columbia SEAS profs can leave for Cornell. They are certainly NOT Cornell material, where the best Engineers teach at. 

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CU_Alum posted on

Cornell's engineering school may be stronger than Columbia's, but the difference is less dramatic than you think.  We have plenty of engineering faculty who would be welcome just about anywhere. Besides, there are top professors in any field who teach at schools that are not among the very best in that field.

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Anonymous posted on

Cornell has multiple engineeing tenure-level positions for their new program in NYC. They will go after a few stars at Columbia who are unhappy with the current situation at Columbia. Columbia will either have to take the loss or pay dearly to retain faculty. This is the cost of incompetence.

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Anonymous posted on

It is quite ridiculous and harsh to call these professors ignorant, pathetic, and especially stupid. I agree that there is growth happening within the engineering school, but we cannot base our success as a school on numbers such as rankings and increased funding. Do you think we'd have these things without these professors you think we should get rid of? Additionally, we may be getting ahead of ourselves in terms of growth given the size of our facilities. We can't just pump in grad students to increase our numbers when we have nowhere to fit them and the undergrads. Of course nice numbers are going to lead to more donations, but at the end of the day if we can't have proper communication between our dean and the professors we will be unsuccessful as an institution of higher learning. I think the professors have a valid point in voicing their concerns in a lack of trust in the dean, but I also understand that being a dean is by no means an easy task. I do think that to some extent the school has to be run like a business and we need someone like him to "market" it, but we must not lose sight of our ultimate goal to be a place of education. Without the professors we will have no educators or leaders of research that society needs. We don't do research for the rankings, we do it for the overall betterment of mankind. 

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CU_Alum posted on

 "...if we're going to compete with ... NYU Poly..."

Seriously?  SEAS is immensely stronger than NYU Poly.  They're not in the same league, and there may be two or three other leagues in between.  I'm no fan of the U.S. News rankings, but for whatever they're worth they rank Columbia's engineering school 15th and NYU Poly 67th.

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Anonymous posted on

Columbia's engineering school is better than ever, has more funding than ever, more research dollars than ever, more students than ever, more faculty than ever, and more applicants on every level. Please be specific on the problems.

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Anonymous posted on

Dean Pena-Mora has not only brought structure to the engineering school, but has also helped improve undergraduate student life. His signature class events like Just Desserts and initiatives like beanies for first year students is a good change within the engineering community.

He regularly attends campus wide events, student council meetings and is visible in the media. It is unfortunate that these professors are not changing with time and accepting the business like structure being implemented to run the engineering school more efficiently.

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Anonymous posted on

I think there's a difference between what you've described and running the "engineering school more efficiently." I don't think these events and all other superficial initiatives like beanies and what not are a true measure of efficiency let alone stability in the engineering school. 

When you have professors who are not on board with the dean's initiatives I think all hopes of running an efficient school are lost. He should really be focusing more on these issues or they will end up costing the school a whole lot more than he has worked for in terms of rankings, funding, and perhaps even prestige.

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Anonymous posted on

You have made an interesting analysis... Do you realize these are just superficial and frivolous changes? It looks like this is coming out of a Dilbert comic strip! Academia is NOT business to begin with. That's a huge mistake. In fact the academic environment is highly competitive, and even more so in an engineering and applied science context, in which people are constantly peer-reviewed. Survival is highly linked to creativity and productivity, and a Dean's job is to work together with the staff in order to reach these goals.

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Anonymous posted on

sad that students' good graces can be bought for incredibly cheap. free sweets and hats. bingo.

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Anonymous posted on

Why won't the faculty say what they do not like specifically?

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CU_Alum posted on

They have.  Plenty of their complaints have appeared in Spec articles (including this one) and in the Times.  They have been even more candid with the dean and the central administration.

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Anonymous posted on

Pena mora is responsible for not getting any money from New York City engineering competition. He was asleep at the wheel. Hundreds of millions of dollars were at stake. Stanford and Cornell were calling Bloomberg's office on a daily basis, and Columbia did nothing. Pick up the phone

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CU_Alum posted on

Columbia was never likely to win the competition because it was basically asking for city money to fund what was going to be built anyway.  That's an overstatement, but the basic point is sound.  Besides, the negotiators were in Low Library, not at SEAS.  Individual deans just don't have that kind of authority.

As for the "hundreds of millions of dollars", what the city offered was up to one hundred million dollars of infrastructure, plus land that Columbia did not want due to its location.

Finally, Columbia and the city are still negotiating.  Columbia will likely get many millions as NYU just did.  It may even get the city to withdraw its demand that the underground bus depot remain in place.

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Anonymous posted on

Columbia did not win the competition because the city was looking for a Top Ten Engineering School, which SEAS at Columbia is NOT. And, if the professors continue to slow down its growth, it will never reach a Top Ten ranking. 

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Anonymous posted on

Dude chill...

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Anonymous posted on

These professors are slaves cotrolled by American whites over years! They waiting for Bush family to control them.

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Anonymous posted on

I transferred from SEAS in foresight of this big storm

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Anonymous posted on

To where?

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Anonymous posted on

Some SEAS profs can't stand Dean Pena-Mora because he has refused to join the SEAS culture of disrespect, intimidation, and bullying. Prior to Dean Pena-Mora's arrival, SEAS profs did whatever they wanted, almost always seeking after their own personal interests, and not those of the school's. The current administration has established guidelines and systems that prevent for personal gains and secure fairness for all at the School -- AND THAT, my friends, have them going crazy. 

If I were Bollinger, I would fire the dept. chairs who have refused to work with the deanship. Good luck to them finding jobs in another Ivy League. Dean Pena-Mora and his team have constructed a new SEAS platform that reach for higher levels of excellence. The angry profs are simply weary that if the school continues to grow, they will no longer fit in. 

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Anonymous posted on

AMD is obviously an angry person, with little knowledge of history, particularly the academic world. I recommend to AMD to get some knowledge and understanding of how the academic world works and functions before you demonstrate again your profound ignorance.

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Anonymous posted on

Baloney.  The faculty would respect Feni if he would stop lying.  Period.

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Kim Dubling posted on

There are very few cases in life where the only solution to a problem or a set of problems is to make the other person leave (barring ethical, moral issues). This sounds awfully like the Republican Party demanding that the only way for the U.S. to recover is to remove Obama from office. 

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Anonymous posted on

-Columbia Spectator’s failed to live up to the ethics of  journalistic integrity by failing to provide
it’s readers with a balanced, investigative report on the situation at SEAS’s
faculty munity and the Dean’s efforts to bring the school into the 21st
Century.    

 Throwing the Dean under the bus:

1. Caption above the picture is offensive
and lacking objectivity , e.g.,  QUOTE
from an unknown source.

2. Anonymous sources are without
investigation or verification are quoted throughout the article.

3. The article seems to reflect Judge,
Jury and punishment without  a
fair or counter representation of the Deans’ input or any objective discourse
other than the comments in this section:

TRUST DEFICIT – PROLONGED ATTEMPT-ATTEMTED
RESOLUTION-A TEMPORARY FIX –NO WAY OUT

4.No reflections by this newspaper as to the possible  underlying issues of the conflict - to
push SEAS to enter the 21st Century of  rapid changes in technology and sciences.  Mayor Bloomberg stressed NYC and American’s  need to bring all our educational institutions
to the fastest and best technology possible. 
 SEAS have great professors. But change
is always difficult for everyone.  The
Dean’s difficult task does not come to bear in this article. 

a.      The article
needs to reflect Yale’s similar challenges in striving to build a top
Engineering school

b.      Harvard
developing one now.  NYU/Poly is actively
engaged.

c.       Cornell is
joining SEAS in NYC soon.

  Competition is good
for America and it is good for SEAS.   Currently
as one of the few top university’s with an excellent engineering school we have
many advantages but we must continue to strive to modernize the engineering
school. It is exciting and great deal of fun! 
The Dean has great vision for the future of SEAS (which I did not
see in this article).

5. The article did point out some of the disputes: space,
enforces school wide standards (vs. self-evaluations), he needs to fix his
mistakes, graduate students, verbal promises (For more space?), not qualified,
absences of respect.  All Complaints by anonymous
sources who are: First Senior Faculty, and Second Senior Faculty.

6. Kudos to Columbia for its’ 30 Million Dollar Rising Stars
faculty initiative to  bring excellence
and prominence to  its faculty which it recently
 launched!  SEAS did benefit tremendously from this
initiative under the Dean’s efforts. 
There are few women (which has been increasing) but it lacks any underrepresented
minorities in any senior or leadership role, except the Dean.   Being Dominican the Dean represents the
largest under-representative groups which are the majority inhabitants of Columbia’s
neighborhood: Washington Heights and Morningside Heights

7.  Please consider an
article on the general area of Engineering and why these engineering schools are
coming to NYC.  NYU’s Law school is in
par with Columbia Law school not necessarily because they all of a sudden got these
entirely new great professor, no!  NYU’s
Law School almsot caught up to Columbia’s  because it had a great President who made a
grand vision to take NYC Law School  to
that level.  Currently this same President
is determined to build NYU/Poly engineering like wise.   NYU’s efforts to improve their school’s
rankings especially the efforts of their trustees and central Administration
for backing a vision for the future are commendable. 

Trust is a two way street.  
What is the vision for SEAS?  Do
individual faculties have this total vision beyond their own chiefdom/or self-interest?   What are
the Dean’s visions? 

That is the question….where does SEAS want to be…..a relic of the
past or a dynamic innovative leader of the future.  The future takes hard work, and true excellence
requires audacious actions, courageous leaps to affect real, dynamic
change. Dean Feniosky is the rare change agent that comes along once in a
generation to drive such painful yet successful execution on a legacy and staid
institution like Columbia Engineering !!

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Anonymous posted on

I agree with your last point. Any new relationship goes through a rough start. In this case, the accomplishments of the deanship overweight the differences between the faculty and the administration. Hence, do we want to sacrifice a great new future, or return to lower levels of excellence because a few faculty members can't adapt to good change.  

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Anonymous posted on

A few faculty members? Wake up 90% voted no confidence, and half of the remaining 10% abstained from voting. Do you really think that so many thoughtful individuals will vote no confidence because of Feni's skin color? And in terms of vision, there are plenty of more competent individuals with a more inclusive, and less politically motivated vision.

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Anonymous posted on

I am taken aback by this publication and the editorial board's decision to publish an article that fails to meet basic journalism standards. I certainly understand this is a student publication -- hence, I will cut you some slack. But, come on! Any first-year journalism student knows to focus an article on multiple sides of an issue, whether sources on all sides are willing to talk on the record or off the record. Most of the time people do not want to talk. THAT is why journalists exist. The information is for the source to know and for the reporter to find out. Ms. Mattes failed to dig deep down for the information and her editorial board turned their heads in the process. I know you are a student. If you did not have the time to present a bold article, you should have not written it. Now, let this article serve as an example of what you should NOT do as a journalist; and as a contrasting corner to the great  work you will publish as you continue to grow as a journalist. 

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Anonymous posted on

Those who posted noxious comments against SEAS faculty members should take a moment to consider respecting and admiring the individuals who teach so many of our peers. This article should not lead anyone to criticize or disrespect the prestigious professional and academic careers of our SEAS faculty. 

With that in mind, asking for the resignation of the Dean is a radical solution to a problem. Differences are destined to exist between a new administration and established actors. Those differences can always be resolved, so long as both sides are willing to cooperate with one another. 

I am not clear on the following: What has the Dean done so wrong that the faculty wants him out? Why is the faculty unwilling to recognize the great accomplishments of the school during Pena-Mora's tenure, while simultaneously inviting him to discuss what has not worked? Does Pena-Mora not know how to converse or reach consensus? Is he that much of a savage creature? Does the faculty truly believe that SEAS has not grown since 2009? If the faculty rejects Pena-Mora's vision for SEAS, what alternate vision do they propose? 

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Anonymous posted on

Margaret, we love you. You are not expected to act as a propaganda agency for incapacitated leader

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Anonymous posted on

The fact is that a) Pena-Mora has promised certain things that he cannot deliver on (more space, more funding, etc) to both prospective faculty recruits and graduate recruits, both in public and in private. When he has failed on these promises, his attempts to mitigate the matter worsen the problem at hand.

b) Pena-Mora is micromanaging the departments. You may think he's instituting "standards across all departments", but the fact of the matter is that each department cannot be judged by the same metric. It's unfair to judge Civil by the same standards as BioChem, etc. Furthermore, he's created himself as a nexus through which most important decisions must be approved. It's impossible to have functioning departments work when, in order to hire vacant positions that must be filled, they need the Dean's approval.

c) The focus on what brings the most money is hurting Columbia. We are not able to hire stellar faculty because their research is not "the hot thing in academia" at the moment. The hot research topic is a fickle thing, more so in the US. It's like trying to chase a shadow that is ever moving.

d) How do you like having 1 TA for 30 students? Do you like the fact that your TAs are tired and cannot handle the LARGE increase in class sizes across all departments? Thank Pena-Mora for that. He's cut funding across all departments for TA-ships and fellowships to all but "the most promising students" who come to Columbia and then leave once they milk us dry (and go to MIT, for instance).

I can guarantee you that the lack of trust in Pena-Mora has NOTHING to do with race. It sickens me, a fellow Latino, that he or anyone else would claim that. Columbia faculty is not this "old guard" of stiff, old men who live on ivory towers. In fact, if that's the case, it's because we can't hire new faculty to replace them.

So please, tell me: what should the faculty do? They clearly do not trust the Dean. They have made their voices clear and were ignored. If you were them, what would you do?

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Anonymous posted on

The situation is serious when you have the department heads and over 50% of the faculty calling for his resignation. Some have even threatened to leave Columbia for Cornell. There is a problem and we're stupid if we don't recognize it. I've talked to the dean before, and I find him to be more of a politician than an academic. His answers were all politically correct, kind of answering the question but not really and always made you feel good/presented the school in a good light. That's great, he knows how to market the school, but if he doesn't fix the problem with his professors soon, there won't be a school for him to market.

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Anonymous posted on

"some professors are thinking of conducting a vote of no confidence in Peña-Mora at the SEAS faculty meeting on May 9"

Today is May 9.

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Anonymous posted on

The vote is in on Dean Pena-Mora.  It is > 85% of all SEAS faculty voted for no confidence.

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Anonymous posted on

vcm = Van C Mow?   ;)

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Anonymous posted on

Peña Mora was forced on the faculty by the central administration.

The faculty knew he had been denied tenure at MIT, and that he had very little administrative experience.

The faculty gave Peña Mora a fair chance, but he har repeatedly disappointed the faculty.

He has also coaxed junior, untenured, faculty to support his cause.

This shows that Peña Mora lacks a moral compass.

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Anonymous posted on

It must be another racism for denying his tenure. Thanks MIT and now Columbia has our beloved prodigy son Dean Peña-Mora.

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