University Senate                                                                                  September 21, 2007

 

 

RESEARCH OFFICERS COMMITTEE:

 

2006-07 ANNUAL REPORT

 

Columbia University Medical Center salary issues:  Over the past few years the Research Officers Committee (ROC) has heard that researchers in some CUMC departments received no raises at all.  Additionally, when raises have been granted department-wide, they have been significantly below average raises at Morningside or Lamont. The ROC discussed this with Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg, who will investigate further. Unfortunately, the CUMC administration has been in transition and has not yet assigned an administrator to deal with this issue. This situation is expected to change this year.

 

As for postdoc salaries, the ROC met with Dr. Alvin Krasna, chair of the Committee on Qualifications and Salary Ranges for Officers of Research at CUMC.  Dr. Krasna said a planned series of above-the-average salary increases over the next few years will bring minimum salaries  for Columbia postdocs up to the NIH minimum by 2009.

 

Faculty Handbook: The Office of the Provost has been updating the Faculty Handbook.    Dr. Rittenberg asked the ROC to review the 2000 edition and offer suggestions for revisions.  We responded with a number of recommendations.

 

Housing:  In March the Housing Policy Committee surveyed all professional research officers (PROs) and postdocs to learn about their access to, and experience with, Columbia housing.  The data reveal a wide range of experiences, both positive and negative. A statistical summary of the results will be made available this year.

 

At the final Senate plenary last year, Housing Policy presented a resolution to cap annual rental increases at the rate of the mean annual salary increase for officers of instruction and research until the administration provides the University community with a strategy for maintaining affordable housing in the face of escalating operating costs.  The resolution was brought forth in response to a proposed guidelines increases of 5 percent for Columbia rents and 3 percent for salaries for 2007-2008.  The resolution was postponed when the meeting lost quorum.

.

Office of Diversity Initiatives mandate: Research officers, especially postdocs, are an important part of the academic pipeline and a key channel for accomplishing ethnic and gender diversity in academia. However, this role was not explicitly recognized in the mandate of the Vice Provost for Diversity Initiatives.  Last year the ROC raised this issue with President Bollinger and Vice Provost Jean Howard. The president responded by updating his mandate to explicitly include research officers and Vice Provost Howard updated the Diversity Initiatives web page similarly.

 

Postdoc issues:  The ROC met several times with Beth Israel, head of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, and her assistant Natalie Cox. Last year they completed a survey of postdocs, the results of which are due for release this year.  The ROC has been monitoring the survey, which identifies a number of concerns, including career development training, salaries, inequities in benefits, and the lack of housing.  

 

Professional research officer titles: The professional research officer (PRO) ranks

include senior research scientists/scholars, research scientists/scholars, and associate

research scientists/scholars.  According to the Faculty Handbook, theses titles are equivalent,

respectively, to full professor, associate professor, and assistant professor.  But this equivalence is recognized neither inside nor outside the University, with a large negative impact on the ability of PROs to win funding, both at Columbia and externally. By this measure Columbia appears to be trailing many peer institutions, in the Ivy League and elsewhere, which grant professorial titles to PROs.  The ROC will report further to the Senate on this issue.

 

Salary equity study:  In response to a request from the ROC, the Senate Commission on the Status of Women and Vice Provost Howard launched a salary equity study for research officers.  It was conducted by the provost’s Office of Planning and Institutional Research, headed by Lucy Drotning. She and her assistant Jose Uribe met with the ROC to define the scope of the survey and discuss preliminary results.  The administration also formed a small committee, including two researchers, to review the findings.  We anticipate a presentation to the Senate this year.

 

Staff Officers survey:  During the summer of 2006, the ROC surveyed the nearly 400 staff officers of research, who make up about 20 percent of our constituency. About 80 (20 percent) responded.  Here follows a brief summary of the results (the full report is available at  www.columbia.edu/cu/senate/committees/resrch_officers/SSASAreport.pdf):

 

The vast majority of respondents indicated their responsibilities primarily

involve research. Most wanted to have co-author status on manuscripts presenting

research results and to attend conferences.  Additionally, most wanted periodic performance evaluations.

 

A majority who supervise others indicated that they had received inadequate training and support for this supervisory role.

 

Most felt adequately informed about their benefits. Many were dissatisfied with the Columbia dental benefits. One third had not received a raise in the past 2-3 years. A large number consider their salary inadequate to support themselves and their family. A third said they would like Columbia to sponsor their green card applications.

 

The vast majority of respondents holding Ph.D.s indicated they wanted an opportunity for promotion to the professional research officer ranks.

 

A large majority consider the working environment at Columbia positive or very positive.  But most felt inadequately informed about the termination policy for their position, and most had never received an appointment renewal letter before their appointment expired.

 

The ROC will follow up on these findings this year.

Retirement benefits for staff officers and postdocs: Currently both staff officers and postdocs are ineligible for retirement benefits during their first two years at Columbia.  The ROC

will press for a change in this policy.

 

Termination policy:  The ROC has met with Vice Provost Rittenberg on its request to change the current termination policy for research officers (which provides severance pay only in the rare instance of an unexpected loss of funding in the midst of a grant) to the policy governing administrative officers (which provides severance pay based on length of service).  This year Dr. Rittenberg, in consultation with the ROC,  will investigate the feasibility of such a policy.

 

For the Committee,

 

Daniel Savin