Columbia University

About Arts and Sciences

History

The Arts and Sciences at Columbia


The Arts and Sciences at Columbia are the centerpiece of the University, the home of the undergraduate students of Columbia College and the School of General Studies, graduate students studying for Masters and Doctoral degrees in a wide range of fields in the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the distinguished faculty of twenty-nine departments and two major professional schools, one in the arts, the other in continuing education. Without a vital and excellent Arts and Sciences, Columbia would simply not be the major University it is today.

The history of the Arts and Sciences as an entity larger than Columbia College—itself established in 1754—might be said to date back to the establishment of graduate studies as separate from the College in 1880. From the late nineteenth century, Columbia developed as a group of separate schools and faculties, defined respectively by the composition of the student body and the methodology or subject matter of scholarship. The structure we have today—an Executive Vice President who oversees the operation of five schools and is also Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—is the result of decades of steps, in an effort not just to simplify administration, but also to generate more scholarly communication and pedagogical cooperation in an effective community of faculty, students, and administrators.

The office of the Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences has itself continuously gone through changes to improve the coordination, planning, and integration of its different responsibilities and constituencies, most centrally the faculty, the departments, and the schools. Each new structure has been regularly reinvented, modified, and fine-tuned since the Arts and Sciences was first constituted in 1982, and it will doubtless continue to change as we work through the remaining challenges that persist as the residue of our unique institutional history.

A number of reports were produced between 1957 and 1982 that examined the problems with the Arts and Sciences administrative structure and precipitated the creation of a single Faculty of Arts and Sciences as well as the creation of a Vice President for Arts and Sciences. With each report the urgency to create a unified organizational structure above the schools and departments became more and more pressing, although contention over these administrative changes never ceased.

In 1974, the Woodring Committee1 concluded that there were serious problems with the current organization, coordination of resources among the schools, the centralization of administrative authority, and policy planning over the long term. Although the committee agreed about the problems that had to be addressed, they did not agree on the recommendations. Some committee members supported the creation of an Executive Council to head the arts and sciences, some hoped for the eventual creation of a joint faculty, and some supported the creation of an administrative executive such as a Vice President. Not long after, in 1977, the Rice Committee2 reiterated the strongest recommendations of the Woodring Committee; a unified faculty should be created and headed by a Vice President for Arts and Sciences and Dean of the Faculty but added that a Planning and Budgeting Committee be created as well to make all decisions pertinent to academic planning. Only a couple of years later, in 1979, the Marcus Commission3 reiterated the main recommendations of the Woodring Committee.

When the Breslow Committee was convened in February 1982, the committee members again supported the creation of a Vice President for Arts and Sciences, but stopped short of recommending the creation of a unified faculty and, by default, a dean of the faculty. In their report to President Sovern in April 1982, they concluded that the Vice President should represent the faculties of the arts and sciences as a whole to and within the central administration. The officer's primary responsibilities would include coordinating and balancing the varied claims of the different parts of the arts and sciences, recommend faculty lines and salaries, formulate plans for the short- and long-term, and chair the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Arts and Sciences.

On May 3, 1982, President Sovern announced that he was creating the position of Vice President, though not a unified faculty of the arts and sciences. He appointed Donald Hood to the post, with the charge that he was also to chair the Arts and Sciences Planning and Budgeting Committee (the P&B), which was to set priorities, allocate resources, set faculty lines, and approve faculty appointments in the Arts and Sciences. The Deans of the College, School of General Studies, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the School of International and Public Affairs4 joined the Vice President on the P&B. Vice President Hood described the Arts and Sciences as "a budgetary unit comprised of twenty-eight departments and four schools. Students enroll in the schools, and faculty are hired into the departments.5

Although the Office of the Vice President had been created and there was coordination among the constituents of the Arts and Sciences, the problem of separate faculties did not disappear. In 1987, five years after the establishment of the Office of the Vice President, the "Report of the Presidential Commission on the Future of the University" recommended that a unified faculty of Arts and Sciences should replace the four faculties of the College, School of General Studies, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the School of International and Public Affairs, headed by a Vice President and Dean.

In 1991 the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was created as a sixth faculty (the separate faculties have never been formally disbanded, though they ceased to have any real meaning, except for SIPA and SOA) and held its first formal meeting on December 9, 1991. Its purpose was to "address the common concerns of the departments of the Arts and Sciences and their members, reserving to the Faculties of Columbia College, General Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, International and Public Affairs, and Arts the powers in Sections 35 and 152 of the statutes" which included setting academic requirements, designing programs of study, and granting degrees.6 The Vice President was now in immediate charge of the educational administration of the work of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and was its executive officer. Nevertheless, the Vice President was still not the Dean of the Faculty, even though, for a time, Vice President Marcus also held the position of Dean of Columbia College.7

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences took up the vexed question of the administrative organization of the Arts and Sciences in a 1994 report to President Rupp, "Arts and Sciences Faculty Consultation: The Structure of the Arts and Sciences." One of the committee's recommendations was to enhance the position of the Vice President by conferring the additional title of Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to whom all the departments and schools would report.

The recommendation was implemented. The Vice President was confirmed as the highest executive officer of the Arts and Sciences and was appointed as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. This more centralized and coherent structure greatly increased both the administrative efficiency and the institutional centrality of the Office of the Vice President for Arts and Sciences. Interdisciplinary programs and institutes flourished in large part because of the new structure.

For the next eighteen years, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences consisted of twenty-nine departments in the social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences, as well as the five schools: Columbia College, General Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Arts, International and Public Affairs, and Continuing Education8. Numerous institutes and centers are also among the primary constituents. The School of International and Public Affairs became an independent school, reporting directly to the Provost, in July of 2012, in recognition of its growing financial and academic autonomy from the departments and institutes with the Arts and Sciences that had fostered its initial creation and subsequent expansion.

The Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was created along with the faculty, and worked closely with the Executive Vice President as well as with other committees in the Arts and Sciences. In 2009, the Executive Vice President, in collaboration with ECFAS, asked the Academic Review Committee to commence a review of faculty governance in the Arts and Sciences, leading to the creation of the Planning and Policy Committee in place of ECFAS (assuming as well the work of the Faculty Budget Group). Academic planning takes place with full faculty consultation and in concert with key academic leaders in the University and with the full participation of the Arts and Sciences Deans. The Arts and Sciences has never been stronger, and never more central to the mission of Columbia University.

And yet the work to improve the Arts and Sciences never seems fully complete. With each organizational change the goal has been to bring about increased coordination, more cohesive planning, and a structure that gives the faculty a forum for their concerns and provides for the accountability of the administration. While these goals have been realized more and more successfully over the history of the Arts and Sciences, there remain opportunities for enhancement. During the last year the Planning and Budget Committee was reinstated, with representation from two members (Chair and Vice Chair) of the PPC; and a new Executive Committee, made up of the Executive Vice President, the Dean of the College (Vice President for Undergraduate Education) and the Dean of the Graduate School (Vice President for Graduate Education) was charged with reaching consensus about major budgetary decisions in the Arts and Sciences. Given the continuing vulnerabilities of the budget, and also the dependence of the overall budget on policies and enrollment targets in the constituent schools of the Arts and Sciences, the new Executive Committee is uniquely positioned to work with faculty governance committees and the administrative staff of the Office of the Executive Vice President to ensure the smooth working of the myriad parts of the Arts and Sciences. Based on the collaborative working structure in place, the Executive Vice President works closely with the President and the Provost to ensure sufficient financial support for the work of the Arts and Sciences, and has become the central figure in the fundraising and development activities of the constituent units of the Arts and Sciences.

In recent years, the office of the Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences has grown significantly, and as the range and excellence of the activities of the Arts and Sciences continues to expand, so will the office. We are committed to work to enhance, and rationalize, the work of the office, the structures within the Arts and Sciences, the centrality of undergraduate education within the larger context of a leading research University, and the relationship between the Arts and Sciences and Columbia as a whole. As we do so, we hope that we will be able to continue to realize the aspirations of previous generations of faculty who have worked steadfastly to change and adapt this venerable institution to meet the challenges of the present and the future.

Vice President Term of Office
David Madigan March 15, 2013 to current
Nicholas B. Dirks July 1, 2004–November 8 , 2012
Ira I. Katznelson (interim) July 1, 2003–June 30, 2004
David H. Cohen July 1, 1995–June 30, 2003
Steven Marcus July 1, 1993–June 30, 1995
Martin Meisel July 1, 1989–June 30, 1993
Jonathan R. Cole July 1, 1987–June 30, 1989
Martin Meisel (Acting) July 1, 1986–June 30, 1987
Donald C. Hood July 1, 1982–June 30, 1986

 

1 The Woodring Committee produced the "Report of the Committee to Study the Organization of the Arts and Sciences."

2 The Rice Committee produced the "Report of the Arts and Sciences Policy Advisory Committee."

3 The Marcus Commission produced the "Presidential Commission on Academic Priorities in the Arts and Sciences."

4 In 1981 the School of International Affairs was renamed the School of International and Public Affairs.

5 Letter to the faculty from Don Hood, VP for A&S, Oct. 30, 1986

6 In 1989, the School of the Arts was added to the Arts and Sciences.

7 Vice President Marcus was Dean of Columbia College from 1993-1995.

8 The School of Continuing Education was created in 1995 and was granted final approval by the Board of Trustees in 2001.