Dear GS Students, As we head into the holiday break, I write to update you on some recent changes that we hope will have a meaningful and positive impact on the lives of all GS students. I would be remiss if I did not first take a moment to address the current economic outlook. While Columbia and GS are not immune to global financial issues, and some difficult days may be ahead, we are a strong and vibrant community, with reason to be proud of our recent accomplishments as a College and much to look forward to as the fall semester comes to a close.
Over the summer, Acting Dean of Students Scott Halvorson, Associate Dean of Students Dominic Stellini and I met regularly to discuss a reorganization of the staff in the Dean of Students Office. The goal is to provide more effective service to students in the areas of advising and student life.
We have made great strides in the last decade in terms of the quality of our academic advising and we intend to continue to improve academic advising and the academic support services offered primarily through the Academic Resource Center, guided so ably by Dean Leslie Limardo. It is now time to focus more intensely on enhancing student life. We have therefore restructured the Dean of Students office into two teams: one, led by Dean Halvorson, focuses on academic advising and opportunity programs (PALS, the Global Scholars Program); the other, led by Dean Stellini, focuses on student life. Both teams advise students and ultimately report to Dean Halvorson in his role as Acting Dean of Students.
A concrete sign of our commitment to enhanced services is the appointment of two new Assistant Deans, both of whom will be in place before the beginning of the spring semester. Our hope during the spring semester is to hire a third Assistant Dean, although the current economic climate may require us to delay hiring this position. I do want to assure you that we are committed to moving forward as soon as possible. I have asked Dean Halvorson to send an email in the coming days that provides more detail on these new positions as well as some other general updates. I want also to update you on the plans for searching for a replacement for Dean McGee. First let me say how happy I am to have Dean Halvorson as our Acting Dean of Students. He is skilled, experienced, and an articulate spokesperson for GS around the University. Because our priority was to fill three advisor positions, and because it was of paramount importance to have implemented the new structure in the Dean of Students Office, we scheduled the search for a new Dean of Students to succeed the staffing of the advisor positions. We expect the planning process for a new Dean of Students to begin in the spring semester.
As you must expect, many of our plans for future enhancements will have to be tempered in the light of the current economic crisis. While GS is healthy, with a robust fall class and strong applications for the spring semester, we realize that the impact of the crisis is particularly challenging for each of you as you plan ways to finance your education. I hope you will keep us aware of the issues you are facing both in the job market and in your efforts to manage the remainder of your Columbia education. In our effort to assist you further, we plan to add another financial aid officer, who will report to Skip Bailey, Director of Educational Financing, and assist in financial aid counseling for new and continuing students. In addition, the financial aid officer will be our point person for veteran GS students and will assist them in navigating their GI benefits. This is especially important in the light of the recent passage of the new GI bill, which will provide greatly enhanced benefits to our current and future GS veterans. Oversight for admissions, financial aid, and communications falls to Curtis Rodgers, Dean of Enrollment Management. This core team will help to spearhead an in-depth review of our financial aid policies, and will make recommendations on how to improve these policies so that they respond more effectively to students’ demonstrable need while also rewarding academic excellence.
Housing is equally critical. In order to expand the number of available spots for GS students, we have entered into private lease agreements with landlords. The rents are subsidized by GS, which means that students pay for these privately rented units the equivalent of what they would pay for a similar unit in traditional Columbia housing. While UAH manages these units for us, they are not part of the Columbia housing stock. Even though this leasing arrangement has added over 60 spaces to the GS housing allocation, more needs to be done to begin to meet the demand. We are in the process of reviewing ways we might be able to provide a modest housing subsidy to a limited number of students to help them pay the market rate for an apartment or share. We will have a plan drafted by the end of the spring semester. We are working our hardest to implement such a pilot program, knowing it might be hampered by the availability of resources in this difficult economic climate.
There is good news to report in the area of Academic Affairs. Dr. Andrea Solomon, Dean of Academic Affairs, has spearheaded a number of important collaborations with academic departments and with both Columbia College and the Office of the Vice President for Arts & Sciences. A concrete sign of progress is the standardization of the major requirements for GS and CC students. In addition, because of increasing demand, there will be an additional section each of CC and Lit Hum added for the 2009-2010 academic year. Finally, Dean Solomon has been working closely and effectively with Dean Michael Pippenger at Columbia College to manage and support the increasing number of applications for fellowships like Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright, etc.
I continue to work closely with members of the senior administration and with the Office of Development and Alumni Relations to increase fundraising for GS financial aid. Since the GS endowment is part of the overall University endowment, we expect that the return on endowment for the coming years will be significantly reduced because of the decreased value of the overall Columbia endowment. Our hope for GS is to make up the loss to the degree possible with new fundraising, both for the endowment as well as for immediate use. I am very grateful to a number of key GS alumni who are taking a leadership role in this effort to support and enhance GS financial aid.
I hope to provide you with an update on developments at GS at least once a semester. If there are particular issues that are of interest to you, let me know and I will see whether it is possible to include them in my next update. On behalf of all of us, I want to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving holiday. Sincerely, Professor Peter J. Awn Dean