This Tuesday, Columbia College Dean James Valentini and School of Engineering and Applied Science Dean Mary Boyce announced that Interim Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez will be leaving Columbia at the end of May. Martinez will follow former Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger to Johns Hopkins University, after serving as interim dean of student affairs since last June and dean of community development and multicultural affairs for four years prior. Throughout her time at Columbia, Martinez has actively sought to engage and involve students, and because of that, she will be missed. This is part of a worrisome trend—hers is only one link in a long chain of administrators who have left Columbia after a relatively short tenure.
But Martinez’s exit is even more alarming than those of former Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nicholas Dirks, former Provost Claude Steele, and former Interim Dean of the School of International and Public Affairs Robert Lieberman, who was also poached by Johns Hopkins. The dean of student affairs is the most senior administrator who is likely to directly impact the daily lives of CC and SEAS students. For this reason, it is paramount that this individual have a strong understanding of the community, and in particular, the undergraduate student body.
This is not an easy task. When we discussed what we wanted from the next dean of student affairs in a past editorial, we noted that “Columbia’s location and culture present a unique set of challenges.” Alma’s unique and nontraditional community is based on factors like the Core Curriculum and a physical campus in an urban setting. Columbia’s culture similarly includes strange blends of activism and reverence for tradition. Discerning the nuances of Columbia is difficult enough for students, who have four years on the front lines to gain that knowledge. We cannot expect administrators to learn any more quickly.
In light of the announcement that two finalists for the position were visiting Columbia this week, we ask that the administrators and students involved in the search assess whether or not each candidate is willing to dedicate the time and energy it will take to understand—to join our campus community. We want a dean of student affairs who will always be aware of Columbia’s environment and remove themselves from the seemingly constant game of musical chairs played by administrators in higher education, in which each job is nothing more than a stepping-stone up. Only with this long-term commitment can the next dean of student affairs work to effectively better student life at Columbia.
As we head into the final weeks of the semester and seniors take the plunge into postcollege life, we are constantly reminded of our attachment to Columbia. For many of us, this University becomes a home, a team, and a family—perhaps in spite, or because, of the fact that it’s an intellectual crucible. We expect nothing less than the same level of attachment from the next dean of student affairs.
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