University Senate Proposed: November 19, 2004
MEETING OF OCTOBER 22, 2004
Lee Bollinger, the president, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 501 Schermerhorn. Fifty-two of 100 senators were present during the meeting.
Minutes and agenda: The agenda was revised to move a report from Prof. Patricia Grieve, chair of the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct Policy, near the top of the agenda. The minutes of September 24 were revised to correct a mistaken identification in a Student Affairs report of an agreement that is due for renewal in two years as the Columbia-Barnard Affiliation agreement. Sen. Peter Platt (Fac., Barn.) said that agreement is not due for review until 2013; he offered to help find out if some other agreement is up in two years.
--Report from the Task Force on the Sexual Misconduct Policy: Task force chair Patricia Grieve said the group has done some more thinking about its goals, and decided to add some new members to achieve a broader representation of the Columbia community. It has also decided that it can hear from more people more efficiently by holding some town meetings, or “listenings.” Summarizing a brief statement that had been distributed at the door, Prof. Grieve said the task force will send a campus-wide e-mail announcing some open meetings which she hoped would take place in November. There will also be a task force e-mail account that people can send comments and questions to, and the task force roster will also be publicized so members of the community can contact any member to discuss confidential issues.
Prof. Grieve said that in addition to confidentiality, the group wants to assure access and a measure of transparency about its procedures. The committee hopes to report in March, but is committed to finish in April.
Sen. James Applegate (Ten., A&S/NS) recalled that the last time the student sexual misconduct policy was renewed, in 1999-2000, the Senate discussed the task force report at three plenary meetings before voting at a fourth. He said the issue may be less controversial this time, but a report delivered in April may need to await discussion and action next fall.
Prof. Grieve said the report is likely to generate passionate views, no matter what it says. She said her priorities are comprehensiveness, integrity, and getting it done right rather than fast. If necessary, she said, she is prepared to keep working into the fall. She asked senators to encourage people to communicate with the task force.
Report of the president:
--Academic freedom and freedom of speech: The president returned to a topic he had addressed at some length in the last two Senate meetings, stressing the need for clarity about his position on an issue that has stirred several controversies in the last few years.
The view of the present administration is that statements made by faculty in public discussion will not be considered by the university in promotion, tenure, hiring, salaries. This is not an uncontested position, the president said. Many people think that a private university like Columbia need not adopt such a policy, or should adopt a different one.
The president said Columbia also embraces the principle of academic freedom in research and teaching, which means, among many other things, the opportunity for faculty to explore ideas consistent with standards of their field, in an open, contentious, spirited atmosphere. But the principle of academic freedom is not unlimited, and there are other fundamental values. It is not acceptable, for example, for faculty to threaten or intimidate students in their classrooms under the protection of academic freedom, especially for expressing points of view that are relevant and within a range of reasonable discourse about the material being taught.
The president said he also believes that if a classroom can be shown, through evidence over time, to have been turned into a political platform which the faculty member is using to indoctrinate students to a particular political ideology, that also is incompatible with the principle of academic freedom.
The president said there is also general agreement that stupidity is not acceptable in a faculty member—that is, academic freedom does not allow a professor to speak nonsense in class or to fail to address the subject of the course.
The president knew his views on academic freedom are not universally held outside the institution, but he wanted to make sure they are shared within Columbia. So a year ago he set up a faculty committee and asked its advice. The committee agreed with the president’s positions, though it expressed some unease about defining political indocrination.
Last spring the president summarized these conclusions in a letter to the community. He stressed the importance of the fact that the committee was not set up to investigate particular complaints of intimidation in the classroom, but to think about the principles and their articulation. Nevertheless, in the course of talking to people around the campus, the committee gained impressions about how the campus is handling academic freedom, and told the president that they did not encounter claims of systematic political bias or intimidation. The president also conveyed this finding to the community.
The president said there is a process in place now for students, faculty, and staff to lodge complaints. Any student or faculty member who believes that we are not living up to our values can complain to chairs of departments, deans of schools, and the administration. Any credible statement will receive serious attention.
The president said a controversy that has been around has resurfaced and is getting a great deal of attention. He predicted it will receive more attention. He did not want to comment on the merits of the controversy. Instead, he said, he will continue to articulate the principles and to remind the community to live up to them, a commitment that is essential to the institution’s sense of integrity. This commitment goes hand in hand with a willingness to defend to the end the freedom of Columbia’s faculty and students to take part in public debate.
As for procedures, the president said he and other senior administrators this year will be thinking about whether Columbia has the right ones in place to enable it to live by its values.
Sen. Eugene Litwak (Ten., A&S/SS) expressed support for the president’s approach. But he mentioned another kind of case—outside the classroom—of freedom of speech and the right to intervene, a grievance in which a junior faculty complained that a senior colleague had knowingly mischaracterized the junior faculty member’s work in an interview with a federal agency. This is a question of scientific integrity and whether a senior faculty member has a right has a right to say things that actually can affect the reputation of a junior colleague.
The president stressed the need for caution in talking about a particular case like this. He agreed with the general point that there are many kinds of speech issues. He repeated that his advisory committee had affirmed that Columbia’s various policies governing speech were excellent. One reason may be that the policies benefited from the focused attention of the Columbia community in the years after 1968. They have stood the test of time, the president said.
In response to a question, the president said he will use Spectator, a letter to the students, and other means to make sure students know about these issues.
Sen Penelope Boyden (Ten., HS), a member of Faculty Affairs, thought the president’s views on inappropriate faculty behavior in the classroom could be extended to cover interactions among faculty colleagues: some faculty, under the cover of academic freedom, may make statements that intimidate junior colleagues. Sen. Boyden emphasized the need for clarity about procedures, to keep speech issues of various kinds from snowballing.
Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten., HS) agreed with Sen. Boyden. He said his experience in scientific conduct disputes is that it is the events that immediately follow the reporting of a complaint to a chairman or dean that are most seriously mishandled. He said it is essential for chairs and deans to know how to proceed once they receive a complaint, because enormous errors with real legal repercussions can occur.
The president noted the importance and difficulty of the issues under discussion. He said further discussion is essential, along with thorough education of chairs and deans about how to handle different kinds of complaints. This task requires extraordinary delicacy of judgment because there are many pitfalls, and the responsible administrator has to hew very closely to the principles in order to get the right outcomes.
The president said we always desire refined, precise rules, but it is impossible to achieve them beyond a certain limit. For example, in the search for refined tenure standards, we gravitate toward a precision that is unhelpful. What is excellent work? Well, two books at least 250 pages long, published within three years of each other. But what if the candidate published only one book, but it’s outstanding? Here it becomes necessary, after pushing for precision, to cycle back to the general standard—excellent work.
The principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech similarly require constant discussion to enable us to understand and live by our values, the president said.
In response to a question from Sen. Marya Tolstoy (Research Officer), the president said the principles he has articulated cover research officers and students as well as faculty.
Sen. Litwak raised the question of secrecy in important deliberations and its varying different effects—an encouragement for free expression for participants in the deliberations, but a sense of unfairness for people affected by those decisions, who sometimes bring grievances to Faculty Affairs. Sen. Litwak said this imbalance should be addressed in any assessment of procedures.
Sen. Michael Adler (Ten., Bus.) suggested something like an internal tort proceeding for adjudicating grievances. The president said he didn’t fully understand the suggestion, and in any case had to move on to other issues. He mentioned the following:
--Space: There is enormous progress on space issues, though it is not visible to all. The president said there is even a possibility that the space problem for Columbia may well be solved for several decades. Columbia is now trying to secure a number of sites around Morningside Heights and Washington Heights that would be extremely desirable for different parts of the university. Plans for a building on the northwest corner of the Morningside campus are proceeding, though for reasons that elude him there is persistent skepticism about this project. He expected interviews with architects to begin soon.
Senior administrators Alan Brinkley, David Hirsh, and Gerald Fischbach have been working with scientists uptown and downtown for the past year to consider scientific uses for new space. Arts and Sciences Vice President Nicholas Dirks has joined in those conversations. One major initiative is a neuroscience institute uptown, to be run by Thomas Jessel, with Eric Kandel and Richard Axel as key players, which may also have a significant impact on the development of scientific research and instruction on the Morningside Heights campus.
Manhattanville plans are also progressing, the president said.
--Resources: The central administration now faces extreme constraints in resource allocation. There is painful awareness of the justice of claims for improvements in salaries, classrooms, student social space, the configuration and supply of faculty offices, and space for graduate students. The administration is committed to meeting as many of these needs as it can, but it has very little flexibility now. There is a constant effort to achieve greater efficiencies and to generate additional funds through research grants and licensing. But the main way to expand resources is through a new capital campaign, which has begun promisingly. The president said all of these efforts are laying the groundwork for a bright medium- and long-term future, but there is some frustration in the administration that the benefits will not be felt immediately
--Academic quality: Among a number of current initiatives, the president mentioned an effort to strengthen economics, the most popular major, and a new planning effort to envision the scale and size of Columbia ten to twenty years from now.
Sen. Adler made two budgetary suggestions: cost out the various levels of desires and identify some which can be removed in each category, and raise the endowment spending rate. In recent studies, he said, Columbia has maintained about the same spending rate as Harvard, which is thought to be underspending on a much larger endowment. Unless Columbia is competing in a race for the biggest endowment, Sen. Adler said, it seems to be underspending.
The president agreed that it may not make sense to stick to a rigid formula for its own sake and in order to preserve capital for some future when there’s reason to think that the institution may not be as good as it otherwise could be if it bent the rule now. The president said that he favors informed bets on the quality of an institution, but that the current collective judgment of the trustees is that changing the spending rule now is not advisable. Here the trustees are the critical players, he said. But he added that the topic deserves continued attention.
The president added that the administration is making very large strategic investments in fundraising operations, based on a major bet that this will pay off in the way of returns.
To Sen. Adler’s first question, on costing out various options, the president replied that he doesn’t think that way, preferring a more Gestalt approach. He explained that the provost has learned something about the dreams of every part of the institution, and this year will be refining them for the capital campaign. There is now a pretty good sense of what those dreams would cost, and the administration is trying to set the priorities among those dreams.
Sen. James Schmid (Stu., Bus.) asked about the status of a project at 113th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The president replied that he could not report, other than to say there is great progress.
Report of the Executive Committee chairman: Sen. Paul Duby (Ten., SEAS) noted that the trustees at their October meeting approved the addition of a new voting student senator from Teachers College. He understood that the new senator would be Nathan Walker, co-chair of the student caucus. He offered congratulations.
Sen. Duby also noted that the Trustees approved the recommendation of the administration, after discussion with the Executive Committee of the Senate, to appoint Sen. Jeremy Waldron (Ten., Law) as a university professor. Sen. Duby congratulated Sen. Waldron.
--Executive Committee meeting of October 15: Sen. Duby said the Executive Committee had taken up a resolution from Structure and Operations on a recent request from the provost’s office for Senate documents, including the minutes of a Senate committee. The Senate staff usually tells committee members that those minutes are confidential, but if a subpoena were issued in a lawsuit they would have to be produced. The Executive Committee decided to form a subcommittee to discuss this issue with the University Counsel and work out a procedure with some formality for administration requests for Senate documents.
Another question raised by Structure and Operations concerns the degree of independence from the University enjoyed by the Senate when there is litigation against the University. The possibility has arisen in the past that a faculty member might sue the Senate. The Senate needs to ensure that there is indeed legal advice for committees that need it. In the past colleagues from the Law School have helped out, but more formal advice may sometimes be needed. Sen. Duby said he will report again on this inquiry.
The other major discussion item at the Executive Committee was trustee relations. Sen. Duby called attention to the 1987 letter from University Secretary Marion Jemmott (distributed in the packet) affirming certain Senate-Trustee ties. This letter was a response to a report by an Executive Committee subcommittee asking the trustees for more interaction. This was 17 years ago now, and the Executive Committee has decided to revisit the issue. Two members, Sens. Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., A&S/SS) and Sean Kelly (Stu., SEAS), will suggest a membership for a new subcommittee, which will have seven members, five of them faculty.
Sen. O’Halloran said the group will resemble the subcommittee of 17 years ago, with a member of the General Counsel’s office and the Secretary of the University.
Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officer) asked for the addition of a research officer to the subcommittee. Sen. Duby replied that the group is a subcommittee of the Executive Committee, which has no seats for research officers. He said a request from research officers for a seat on the Executive Committee will be addressed later this year.
Sen. Kelly said one subject for study by the subcommittee, as for its predecessor in the 1980s, is the possibility of student and faculty voting trustees. This will be one of a number of ideas for strengthening ties among students, faculty, and trustees, he said.
Sen. Duby said Senate groups are already at work. The Task Force on ROTC has held its first meeting. The Senate had heard from the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct.
--Nominations to committees: Sen. Duby called senators’ attention to a sheet of changes in committee assignments that had been distributed at the door, and asked for additions.
The president added Dean Peter Awn of General Studies to Honors and Prizes, in place of Keith Walton. Sen. Savin added Sen. Mercy Davidson (Research Officer) to Online Learning.
More committee reports:
--Student affairs: Student caucus co-chair Matan Ariel reported on four items:
National Tuition Endowment: Students have reached the last stages of their efforts to create a website and have it approved. Through this site Student Affairs will approach 3300 institutions of higher education, seeking their endorsement of a proposal for a national tuition endowment that the group will be presenting to Congress. For this initiative there are student volunteers from all of Columbia’s schools.
Business School mentoring forum: The two Business School student senators, James Schmid and Adam Michaels, are organizing an event on November 14 for all Columbia undergrads. Student Affairs hopes this event will inspire more graduate senators to create forums for undergrads.
Student-Trustee relations: Student Affairs is studying relations among trustees, students and faculty at peer institutions. Sen. Kelly is involved in this effort, along with Christopher Riano (Nonsen., Stu., GS) of General Studies.
Legal filesharing: There are companies offering universities various options for legal filesharing, which would enable students to download music and other kinds of information without getting sued. Sen. Ariel saw this issue as a suitable agenda item for the Online Learning Committee.
The president adjourned the meeting at around 2:30 pm.
Tom Mathewson, Senate staff