Investing in Our Mission

Photo: Phil Dembinski '08
Columbia’s new Senior VP of Business Affairs and CFO shares his insights on Chicago, the college and how he views his role in changing the world.

Born in Chicago, Columbia’s newly appointed Senior VP of Business Affairs and CFO Jerry Tarrer is back in the city that raised him. He officially started on January 17, 2017, and is quickly getting to know the campus community. Here, Tarrer discusses what drew him to the college, the importance of inner peace and what he considers to be the biggest challenge for higher ed.
Moving back, moving forward
What really drew me back to the city is Columbia’s mission. This notion that Columbia is preparing young creatives to go out and author the culture of their times, I thought, well that’s a powerful, potent mission. It’s one that carries a great deal of responsibility. In my opinion, culture is a glue that holds our society together. The people that are coming through our doors have the opportunity to go out and shape that culture.
Clear mind, clear decisions
My philosophy is that anyone – regardless of their profession – can benefit from meditation. What I’ve been able to gain from it is a deep sense of inner peace. It helps me to weather some tough situations and to remain calm. Calmness and inner peace lends to a certain clarity of mind. I’m not fettered by a number of negative emotions that might cloud my judgment. I firmly believe it helps me make better decisions. Good decision-making is always important, no matter what your job is.
Change starts here
As I look around the world (and I’ve got five children), there are times that I’m concerned about what I see [happening] and what’s waiting for them. As humans, we need to evolve our view of the world. Creative endeavors and creative output should have—and I believe have had—an impact on the way the world evolves. I want to be able to do something that is contributing to that, and I want to be a partner in it.
In that way, everyone’s gaining a competent and impassioned partner. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to the job of making Columbia stronger and even more durable. Columbia has a long and rich history that we want to continue to build upon. We want to make sure it’s living up to its mission of preparing young creatives to go out and change things.
Higher ed’s biggest challenge
Higher ed is an old institution, and while many of the challenges persist, there are a few trends that have come out in the last decade or so. It became acutely clear after the market crashed in 2008 that young people and their families started to question the value of higher ed.
My eldest son is 19 and studying film at UW Milwaukee. When he was a junior in high school he came to me and told me he didn’t know if he wanted to go to college. It was always our expectation that all of our children would pursue a higher education. He said he was questioning the value, time and money he was going to invest in the degree. So my wife and I worked very hard to help him understand that the data is out there on the return in economics. Individuals who don’t pursue a higher ed degree, on average, tend to make less.
I told my son he needed to master his craft, to find people who understand film and learn from them. I told him: don’t assume you know how to do this.
A rich community of resources
One goal is to build out the strength of my team. The administration functions to help support the faculty who interact with students on a day-to-day basis. We need to provide top-notch service for them.
A long-term goal of mine is to ensure Columbia has the resources to carry out its mission. That involves working with President Kim, my colleagues in Academic Affairs and the Board of Trustees to ensure Columbia is strong going into the future. I know one of my strengths is reaching across and working with people, but I also want people to rest assured that I have the technical skill set to do the job that needs to be done.
I want be a good partner to the whole Columbia community, and in order to do that, I need to understand all the challenges at the college. That starts with talking to people.