Fall 2011 / Spring 2012
Photo: Danielle Aquiline (MFA '06)
"The ability to write persuasively, think critically, solve complex problems, appreciate nuance, conduct research, question authority, work collaboratively, and make socially conscious choices—these are the aims of a liberal education," Dr. Love says. "Columbia, when it is at its best, aims at these objectives in all areas of study."
A Q&A with Dr. Louise Love
The Vice President for Academic Affairs/Interim Provost speaks to @LAS about the newly created faculty rank system, the impact of the Honors Program and its benefits toward improving retention, and how her own background in the liberal arts and sciences informs her responsibilities in overseeing academics at Columbia.
@LAS: How has your own background in the liberal arts and sciences contributed to your abilities and perspectives as an administrator?
Dr. Love: Shortly after completing my doctorate in English Literature, I came up with a presentation entitled “Only Connect: Lessons for Managers from the Liberal Arts” that I presented at several higher education conferences. In it, I drew lessons from writers from Suetonius to Conrad on leadership, management, and organizational life. For me, Shakespeare’s history plays—and even his tragedies and comedies—had a lot to say about duty, power, responsibility, and integrity. I am a person who learns best through story; so, a background in philosophy, literature, and the arts was a better guide for my life as an academic administrator than, say, an MBA.
@LAS: How does a background in the liberal arts and sciences contribute to students whose primary focus might be in other degree areas?
Dr. Love: I think the value of a liberal arts degree has been recognized most recently by the new “gainful employment” regulations from the federal government. In exempting liberal arts institutions from detailed reporting on graduates’ income levels and debt, the Department of Education has recognized that liberal learning is aimed at higher attainments than simple skill acquisition or preparation for a specific job.
The ability to write persuasively, think critically, solve complex problems, appreciate nuance, conduct research, question authority, work collaboratively, and make socially conscious choices—these are the aims of a liberal education. Columbia, when it is at its best, aims at these objectives in all areas of study. Ideally, the majors and the Core Curriculum work together to foster our students’ professional, creative, and artistic achievement in “the context of an enlightened liberal education.”
@LAS: What role, if any, do you see the Honors Program having toward improving retention at the college?
Dr. Love: Columbia recognized for many years that we had a significant number of students who wanted the opportunity to take courses that would challenge them in special ways and stretch their thinking by providing multiple critical lenses through which to view a particular topic or theme. The challenge for Columbia was to design a program that would not lead to a distinct and separate class of students and to design courses that offered challenge that was not simply additional work. The new Honors Program that was piloted in Spring 2010 and fully launched during the 2010-2011 academic year was designed to meet both of these objectives. Still in its infancy, the program has gotten off to a good start.
This initiative, along with other focused efforts around the college, has no doubt contributed to this fall’s new high in fall-to-fall retention. Ongoing assessment of the program will ensure that, as it develops, it will meet the needs of our students and maintain the college’s emphasis on access and inclusiveness.
@LAS: The college has implemented a faculty rank system and recently developed protocols for promotion from associate professor to professor. What prompted these important changes, and how do they benefit the college, our faculty members, and our students?
Dr. Love: Institution of rank at Columbia was just one element of institutional maturation that has been ongoing for many years. The faculty task force that made the recommendation to the [former] Provost found that there were many practical reasons for introducing rank, not the least of which was the college’s ability to compare faculty salaries at Columbia with those at peer institutions.
Many members of the faculty also found that it was difficult in external contexts, such as conferences or grant proposals, not to be able to identify their faculty status in terms of the received academic idiom of assistant professor (tenure track), associate professor (tenured), and professor (exceptional attainment). Members of the task force also argued that rank was important to the college’s ability to attract the best candidates for faculty vacancies. This ability has an immediate impact on the student experience as well as on the college’s reputation.
@LAS: Your office hosted a series of events under the heading of “Spotlight on Collaborations” over the last academic year. How do these interdisciplinary collaborations benefit faculty members’ approaches to pedagogy, and how do these collaborations benefit student learning?
Dr. Love: “Spotlight” was, for me, one of the highlights of the 2010-2011 academic year. The series was intended to showcase some outstanding examples of collaborations that were already in place and also to encourage further collaborations, as called out in Focus 2016. Along the way, we hoped to learn more about how collaboration has an impact on student learning and what institutional factors provide incentives, or disincentives, to collaboration.
Making interdisciplinary connections has often, in the past, relied on individual initiative and extra effort taken on by individual faculty members or even students. Clearly, the most sustainable collaborations are those that are built into the curriculum through course design, adjustments to prerequisites, reduction in requirements for the majors, and interdepartmental cooperation. I believe that the spirit of collaboration has become very strong at Columbia and that our students will be the beneficiaries of the opportunities that are afforded by the interdepartmental partnerships.