Faculty of Arts and Sciences

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The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is one of the 20 faculties of Columbia University. It is big. It is one of Columbia's two "super faculties" - administrative constructs intended to put one person (in this case the Executive Vice President of Arts and Sciences) in charge of a number of faculties with significant overlap in needs and goals.

It is headed by the Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences (who is simultaneously the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences), a position currently held (in interim) by David Madigan, following the resignation of long-time head Nicholas Dirks in 2012.


It is composed of itself six constituent faculties:

The first three of these 'faculties' are actually made up of the same people, since they share a single body of instructors. Once upon a time though, CC, GS, and GSAS had separate faculties (i.e. sets of instructors - although a professor could hold appointments to more than one of them.) Today the "faculties" of those schools really just exist administratively to correlate to the curricular programs of their schools.


The Faculty of Arts and Sciences is a recent creation, having been established in 1991 as the culmination of a series of administrative restructurings.

Ancient history

From the founding of King's College in 1754 until 1880, the "Arts and Sciences" at Columbia consisted of little more than rigid undergraduate instruction in the classics and a few other basic disciplines (maths, natural science, etc.) On June 7, 1880 the trustees, at the urging of University President Frederick A. P. Barnard, Professor John W. Burgess, and trustee Samuel Ruggles, voted to establish the School of Political Science, a graduate school granting the PhD degree.[1] Thus was born graduate study and education in the Arts and Sciences at Columbia. Ruggles telegraphed Barnard after the vote: "Thank God! The University is born."

Over the next twelve years, Political Science would be joined by the School of Philosophy in 1890, and the School of Pure Science in 1892. In 1891 Seth Low would reorganize Columbia, creating a system of University Faculties, which provided instruction to students through the vehicle of "schools". Tellingly as to Columbia's priorities, the graduate faculties were formed completely independent of the undergraduate division, unlike at other universities, where graduate schools were built atop the foundation of the undergraduate college. As Professor Roger Bagnall would note in a historical sketch he penned for the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 2003, the modern history of Arts and Sciences at Columbia would be profoundly effected by this siloed development, where by the mid twentieth century "there were three faculties dealing with arts and sciences subjects, the Graduate Faculties[2] and the faculties of the College and General Studies, for the most part in that order of prestige and power (although there were plenty of individual exceptions)." Bagnall noted that being appointed to an academic department had no correlation to appointment to a faculty, and that as late as 1980 he was still getting separate periodic appointments to the faculties of Columbia College and General Studies.

Ultimately, the economic pressures of the 1970s and 1980s forced consolidation. The "problem" of the organization of Arts and Sciences was reviewed repeatedly, by the Woodring Committee, the Rice Committee, the Marcus Commission, and the Commission on the Future of the University. Even Dean Peter Pouncey got in on the act, proposing a restructuring favorable to the power of the College. The 1980s especially saw repeated reorganizations of the constituent arts and sciences faculties until 1991 when the trustees voted to create a "Faculty of Arts and Sciences" without actually dissolving any of its constituent faculties (though they have ceased to have any actual meaning since then.)

Modern history

The modern history of a unified Arts and Sciences, which dates back to 1982, is a history of repeated reorganization and power sturggles. In 1982, in lieu of fighting a costly political battle with the faculty over the consolidation repeatedly recommended in the 1970s, the administration created the office of Vice President of Arts and Sciences, who chaired a Policy and Budgeting Committee consisting of the deans of the individual arts and sciences faculties. The VP himself (though often a faculty member) was not a "Dean" of the faculties, but just an administrator.

In 1991, the trustees voted to finally consolidate the faculties. Out of the merger came the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (ECFAS), giving faculty a direct voice on the PBC (rather than just through their deans). Since the creation of FAS in 1991, periodic reorganizations continue to be a hallmark of the organization. George Rupp re-shuffled the deck by creating a "troika" of administrators in charge of FAS, which proved dysfunctional. In 1994, yet another report was produced on the structure of FAS, "Arts and Sciences Faculty Consultation: The Structure of the Arts and Sciences." As a result of this report, the VP of A&S simultaneously became the Dean of FAS. According to Bagnall, after 1995, the office of Vice President began to act with greater efficiency, but at the expense of giving the deans and ECFAS a say in decision-making, and any sense of coherent overall policy.

In 2009, FAS undertook a review of faculty governance in the Arts and Sciences, and ECFAS was replaced by a more powerful Planning and Policy Committee (PPC). Since then, reviews of the structure (and related political maneuvering) has continued. A 2011 report on Arts and Sciences management consulting firm McKinsey & Company recommended centralizing more power within FAS at the expense of its constituent schools, and this resulted in the sudden resignation of College Dean Michele Moody-Adams over the proposed changes. And so it went.

In 2011, Professor Andrew Delbanco grieved that typical A&S meetings only draw 10-15% of the faculty. According to Spec, Delbanco "said the Faculty of Arts and Sciences lacks the 'esprit de corps' of the former Columbia College faculty"[3].

In 2012, EVPAS Nicholas Dirks announced the implementation of a new FAS structure based on 8 years of review dating back to his appointment of EVPAS, about which Spec reported "administrators did not implement any of McKinsey’s suggested structures."[4]

External links


  1. Resolutions Adopted by the Trustees 1880-1885, School of Political Science, pgs. 140-141
  2. While it appears that at some point the three graduate faculties of Political Science, Philosophy, and Natural Science began being administratively treated as one body, they weren't formally consolidated into one graduate faculty/school until 1979 when GSAS was formed.
  3. http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2011/10/25/delbanco-says-core-threatened-increasing-class-size-calls-columbia-focus-college
  4. [1]; [2]