Moving Curriculum Forward

Photo: Jacob Boll '12
Provost Wearden on curricular enhancements and recent academic appointments.

Dear Columbia colleagues,

With a new semester underway, I thank you all for the great progress we already have made this academic year in advancing Columbia’s curriculum. I also would like to preview what to expect in the weeks ahead. The spring semester is going to be an exciting one at Columbia, as we continue to advance on the curriculum and on structural changes that will define our future as a leader in arts and media education.

The work completed to date and the work ahead will remind prospective and current students that we are innovative, effective and collaborative educators. At the same time, I am well aware that change can bring uncertainty and, in turn, a degree of discomfort, which is why I want to preview the broad concepts driving our curriculum decisions and also to highlight the appointments of four new leaders, who will help steward these changes.

I continue to be inspired by the creativity, dedication, and passion so many of you bring to your classrooms and to your practice. As we move forward with our strategic plan and curricular enhancement, our actions are designed to support and bring out the best in our faculty, and in turn, to provide Columbia students with the innovative education they expect from us and need to be successful.

As I wrote to you in November, our goal on curriculum, as articulated in the strategic plan, is to ensure Columbia’s offerings to students are current, intentional, and relevant. In talking with you and your deans, it’s clear current structures at Columbia create some walls between disciplines that oftentimes no longer exist in the industries for which we’re preparing students. This semester, you will hear about proposed changes aimed at eliminating some of the structural silos currently preventing you from better collaborating with your colleagues across schools and departments. As we consider how to best structure our programs to reflect the demands of a modern curriculum and the future of creative and media arts, we are looking to maximize your talents and the exchange of ideas across the college for your benefit and that of our students.

In the coming months, we will announce new curriculum proposals in tandem with structural suggestions for many departments. In the coming days and weeks, you will hear from your deans, who will share more details about the changes within your respective schools and outline plans to hold conversations with you and students to discuss how to make improvements to proposals that may affect your departments. As we all work together in reimagining the curriculum, I want you to know that the energy and enthusiasm I’ve seen from your deans throughout this process instills confidence that the curriculum we produce together this year will carry Columbia to a bright and thriving future.

Our work, however, is not complete. And during this process, I hope you will contribute to the conversations about curricular and structural change. You are leaders in the field and in the classroom, and we welcome your informed insights on proposed changes as well as additional ideas you may have for how our schools, departments and courses could be structured to best achieve our collective goals.

To help prepare you for that conversation, I want to share with you some major proposals, changes and hires you can anticipate hearing more about this semester.

Core Curriculum

  • Core curriculumand Integrated First-Year Experience (IFYE): Over the next few months, we will be discussing the proposed framework for a new core curriculum and programming for an Integrated First-Year Experience. The mission for the new core curriculum is to provide a strong, interdisciplinary framework that supports universal learning outcomes for our students. The heart of the core is what we are calling “The Columbia Experience,” which requires credits in three central concentrations, “Big Chicago,” “Creative World” and “Business, Technology and Communication.” These core requirements are designed to provide our students a solid, shared foundation upon which to build academic and creative pathways, no matter their majors. This core will provide a common learning experience that will distinguish a Columbia education from that offered by any other institution.

College Academic Leadership

  • We will be launching an internal search to find a new dean for the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. As we progress in the search process, I will share more information as it becomes available.

I also am proud to let you know about several important new appointments, most of which involve promotion of excellent members of the Columbia community. Their jobs in these new roles will be to support you:

  • Associate Provost for Faculty Research and Development, Ames Hawkins: Ames will provide full- and part-time faculty with individual support, as well as direct-instruction workshops, faculty showcases, an open lab for technology support and department-oriented course development. The goal of Ames’ position is to enrich the intellectual life at Columbia, and we are confident in her ability to do so, in no small part because of the full- and part-time faculty with whom she will be working.
  • Dean of Academic Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Special Advisor to the President, Matthew Shenoda: Matthew will help ensure the principles of diversity—the foundation and heart of Columbia—are reflected in the course curricula you are crafting, as well as in our hiring and academic budgeting practices. As President Kim has made clear, ensuring diversity in our curriculum is one of the best ways to attract and encourage diversity in talent and thought. As we imagine Columbia’s future, providing an educational infrastructure that prioritizes diversity and allows for engagement with the greatest number of perspectives, cultures and traditions is essential to our promise to students, a promise to prepare them to be creative leaders of their times.
  • Provost Faculty Administrative Fellow for Student Recruitment Initiatives, Amy Uhl: Amy will establish pathways for faculty to engage in the new student recruitment process and will work closely with you and the admissions staff to help define and elevate faculty’s roles in recruitment.
  • Academic Ombuds, Connie Meyer: Connie has deep experience in the area of dispute resolution, with work as a mediator, coach, and conflict management skills trainer, and in her capacity as ombuds, will serve as a designated, neutral and impartial resolution resource for full-time faculty to help address workplace or academic conflicts voluntarily and confidentially.

Please join me in congratulating our colleagues, old and new. I encourage you to contact them directly if you have questions or thoughts about their roles moving forward.

I am excited by these additions to our team and by our college-wide rethinking of curriculum—and I know you will be too—but I also recognize that changes bring uncertainty, especially when it seems as if so many changes are happening at once. One of our obligations as leaders is to ensure our faculty and staff have a clear sense of what to expect, and when, with regard to changes underway. This semester, I am committed to providing clear communications about changes underway—through notes like this, in face-to-face meetings, and in working more closely with your deans to understand your needs.

I will be back in touch soon with specific opportunities to connect, and I look forward to another productive semester.


Stanley T. Wearden, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President and Provost