William Theodore de Bary [Letter]
Dear David Fine,
I have just read your editorial in the Winter issue of The Current, and wish to commend you for its reasoned and balanced account of the situation facing Columbia College and its Dean. Allow me however to add a few points to those you made so well:
1. The position of the College Dean needs the support of an active faculty if it is to have any more weight in the administration. The support of the alumni and undergraduates is important but what is sorely missing now is the crucial role of the College Faculty which was leading the development of the Core from the beginning. The decline in the authority of the Dean started with the abandonment of the College Faculty in the 1980s. Statutorily I believe there is no reason why the Dean cannot reconvene it, but practically speaking it would fit better within the present structure of the Arts & Sciences if the Dean simply convened a Core Faculty consisting of all the teachers actively teaching the Core courses, across the divisions, which should include the Asian Core courses specifically designed to fit the traditional Core. This Core Faculty could serve to define policy for the Core as no Arts & Sciences body can do and it could offer recommendations as to priorities in the allocating of a Core Endowment, which could be crucial in fund-raising, and overall strengthen the Arts & Sciences itself as well as the College and the Core.
2. The College Dean has no place at meetings of the Arts & Sciences; he is just a spectator at a meeting conducted by the Arts & Sciences administration, in which there is almost no time for the discussion of academic or educational issues. As Chair of a Core Faculty, assisted by the other undergraduate deans, the College Dean could assure that educational issues are discussed seriously and openly by the responsible faculty.
3. For educational responsibilities to be decided by a confidential managing consultant like McKinsey is actually a serious derogation of both academic responsibility and academic freedom. In the late 1960s when the University was under attack for its research contracts with the Defense establishment, the University Senate adopted a policy approving the conduct of such research only if its results could be made public – no confidential or secret research. That policy has governed since, and a similar disallowance of confidentiality should prevail in the conduct of academic governance. This basic principle goes to the heart of all academic freedom and responsibilities, inherently attaching to its exercise.
Ted de Bary
William Theodore de Bary is the John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University. He was provost from 1971-1978. From Columbia, he received a Bachelor of Arts in 1941, a Ph.D. in 1953, and an honorary Doctorate of Letters in 1994.