Opinion | Staff Editorials

A disconcerting resignation

Barnard’s dean of transfer and international students, Ani Bournoutian, BC ’75 and GSAS ’84, resigned suddenly and silently earlier this month. This situation strikes us as highly disconcerting, particularly because of its surreptitious nature. 

Bournoutian graduated from Barnard and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, worked at the University for 18 years, and was, by all accounts, beloved by her students. She was described by her advisees as not only incredibly knowledgeable and helpful about University policies and documents, but also as uniquely caring, a compassionate figure who improved the often difficult transition for transfer and international students.

That there has been absolutely no explanation for her resignation speaks to its strangeness. Longtime administrators simply do not leave, unannounced, for no reason.

We question the circumstances surrounding her resignation and ask that Barnard clarify, to the extent it can, why Bournoutian left. The college has the obligation to offer an explanation to the community and students that depended on her. Barnard students deserve to know whether this decision is reflective of changes to how Barnard will treat its international and transfer students.

Bournoutian’s sudden departure not only raised major questions about Barnard’s administrative direction but has also caused a number of logistical problems. There is currently no interim dean filling her position, with Barnard Dean Avis Hinkson, BC ’84, directing students to another administrator who lacks extensive experience both at Barnard and in Bournoutian’s areas of expertise.

Transfer and international students need administrators who have experience and compassion in dealing with their unique situations. Transfers need to feel comfortable navigating a new bureaucracy, moving their academic credits from their old institution, settling into the Nine Ways of Knowing, and generally building a life at a new school. International students struggle with a maze of paperwork and bureaucracy to verify their right to study, work, and be in this country, as well as the culture shock that often comes from changing societies.

This sudden shift in the administration could have a more direct impact on the student body than the similarly sudden resignation of Columbia College Dean Michele Moody-Adams two years ago. Bournoutian was, after all, heavily involved with students’ everyday lives, from signing visas to advising pass/D/fail choices.

Some might suggest that the administration does not need to defend or explain its personnel moves. Every coming and going need not be explained in extensive detail. But when a change is made so suddenly, with no warning to the college community and no real stopgap solution, it is the administration’s obligation to inform students about what is happening—which it still has not done. And it is essential that resources be put in place to support transfer and international students. All students are a part of our community; all students deserve an administration that keeps their interests at heart.

We call on Barnard to explain Bournoutian’s departure and to fill her vacant position with all deliberate haste. 

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To respond to this staff editorial, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Anonymous posted on

"That there has been absolutely no explanation for her resignation speaks to its strangeness."

No, it speaks to the fact that Barnard is obeying the law. Personnel matters are confidential, and employers are not allowed to disclose them unless the (former) employee consents.

Barnard is legally forbidden to reveal the information Spec wants unless Dean Bournoutian waives her rights. The article offers no reason to believe she has done so. Since the decision is hers and not Barnard's, she's the one Spec should ask for more information. If she doesn't want to provide it, Spec should just accept the fact that the information is not available.

The editorial says "Longtime administrators simply do not leave, unannounced, for no reason." Who says there was no reason? But whether the reason was ordinary or remarkable, it is still confidential information that Barnard isn't allowed to reveal.

Spec is calling for Barnard to commit an illegal act in order to satisfy its curiosity and that of many students. That curiosity is understandable, but it does not trump Dean Bournoutian's rights.

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CU_Alum posted on

Wow. Four downvotes for pointing out that Spec wants Barnard to break the law. Tough crowd.

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