Delbanco for Dean
The deadline for nominating professors for Dean of Columbia College has passed, and the Selection Committee is now starting to sift through the internal candidates in the hope of choosing a new dean by the end of the semester (only a month away!).
I’m excited that this process is taking place with three student representatives (including the CCSC President-elect, Karishma Habbu) and alumni representation—factors that will ensure some of the interests that have been marginalized in recent events are represented in this search.
As for me, I hope they select Professor Andrew Delbanco, the director of Columbia’s Center for American Studies and recipient of the National Humanities Medal.
Though his name is less recognizable than our interim dean Prof. James Valentini, I think Delbanco is precisely the person for this job. To understand why, you first have to explore what we want out of our dean. It seems that a widespread belief among the student body is that the most important quality of a good dean is that he engages with and listens to the students. I completely disagree. The most valuable quality of a dean in this moment of college history is his ability to fight vigorously for the interests of the college as the University persists in its attack on its undergraduate program.
With the release of the McKinsey report in the past week, and with the events surrounding Moody-Adams’ resignation in mind, it’s a nearly indisputable fact that the central administration is attempting to radically shift the functioning of the University in a way that removes autonomy from the college. Recognizing that this is the case, the opportunity to select a new dean has even more importance. This is a crossroads. The next person to sit at that desk will not be an administrator. He will be a warrior with intruders already knocking down the gate. We do not need a dean. We need a defender of the college.
Given the weight of this responsibility, the new dean cannot gain his conviction to fight the university from student input. He cannot spend his time trying to make the greatest impression on the students while Hamilton’s halls are robbed of their authority. The Dean must have a firm personal conviction that the college must stand up to the University at all costs, regardless of whether students are reminding him to care.
When it’s him and the rest of the administration in a room, he shouldn’t simply claim that the students and alumni won’t like what’s going on and won’t stand for it. He needs to be able to claim that HE doesn’t like what is going on and that HE won’t stand for it.
Prof. Delbanco has that firm, personal conviction. In October, he gave a landmark speech outlining precisely these problems and why they are threatening. In many ways, he has already demonstrated his ability to stand up to the administration when it comes to defending the college. He knows what needs to be done and does not require anyone’s reminding. Imagine the impact if he could pair his powerful words with confirmed authority.
Unfortunately, I don’t see that firm personal conviction and willingness to fight in any of the other candidates for dean. Instead, there has been a seeming preference for the “student friendly” deans that may keep us happy in the short-term, but won’t do us any favors when it comes to institutional shift.
Delbanco has the fighting spirit to stand up to a threatening administration. He knows Columbia, he is an accomplished scholar, and he understands the manifold importance of an independent College. He has my absolute support, and he should have yours as well.
Derek Turner is a senior majoring in Political Science and Anthropology. He enjoys the blanched faces people make when he tells them he’s voluntarily moving to downtown Detroit for two years after graduation.
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