University Senate Proposed: October 22, 2004
In the absence of the president, Lee Bollinger, Executive Committee chairman Paul Duby (Ten., SEAS) called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 501 Schermerhorn. Fifty-six of 95 senators were present during the meeting.
Sen. Jeremy Waldron (Ten., Law) asked if the president’s absence signified a change in practice. Sen. Duby said the reason was a conflict with the World Leaders Forum. He said the Senate office schedules meetings to suit the president’s schedule, but in this case it didn’t work out.
Sen. Duby welcomed senators. He said that contrary to a recent Spectator article, the Senate needs only a simple majority to pass most resolutions. The exceptions, requiring the support of three-fifths of all incumbent senators, are proposed amendments to the Senate By-laws.
Minutes and agenda: The minutes of April 30 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.
President’s report: Sen. Duby said the provost, who sometimes reports in the president’s place, was also absent.
Executive Committee chairman’s report: Sen. Duby said the Executive Committee did not have to exercise its summer powers. Two new task forces created last year, on sexual misconduct and ROTC, also did not meet during the summer.
On September 17, the Executive Committee carried out its recurring September duties, reappointing former senator Roosevelt Montas to the University Judicial Board. Sen. Duby also noted the recent appointment of Prof. Jean Howard, a former chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, to the new position of Deputy Provost for Diversity Initiatives.
--Trustee relations: Sen. Duby said that over the last year or so the Trustees have resorted more frequently than before to executive session, both in plenary and committee meetings.
Sen. Duby said two Senate committees, Education and External Relations, enjoy good relations with their Trustee counterparts, with the Senate chairs making brief reports at Trustee committee meetings that are often cited at plenary meetings.
Sen. Duby said one item discussed at the Trustees’ plenary meeting was the University budget, which was reported to be in good shape.
Another important interaction with Trustees, Sen. Duby said, is the nomination of “Senate-consulted” Trustees, a joint effort by an Executive Committee subcommittee and a group of Trustees.
Sen. Duby invited the chair of the Senate Honors and Prizes Committee, Sen. Debra Wolgemuth (Ten., HS), to speak about still another interaction with Trustees—the joint consultation over university honors.
Sen. Wolgemuth called senators’ attention to a solicitation in their packets for nominations for the honorary degrees awarded at Commencement, and urged them to nominate candidates before the mid-October deadline. She urged those who have ideas but don’t have time to fill out the biographical information required on the nomination form to seek help from Justine Blau of the Senate staff, who can assemble a lot of information quickly. Sen. Wolgemuth said the current round of nominations is for Commencement 2006.
Sen. Michael Adler (Ten., Bus.) suggested a unanimous Senate resolution to award an honorary degree to former president George H. W. Bush.
Sen. Duby asked if the honorees for Commencement 2005 have been agreed upon. Sen. Wolgemuth said she thought the final decision would be made at a meeting in October.
She added that the current procedure, which allows the University to invite the honorees to Commencement about a year in advance, is a major improvement. Previously, the committees deliberated during the fall of the same academic year as the Commencement at which Columbia would award the honorary degrees. That procedure obliged the university to invite honorees to campus only a few months before Commencement.
Nominations to committees: Sen. Duby first asked the Senate to vote on three faculty senators who had been nominated by their caucuses to serve on the Executive Committee: Debra Wolgemuth to a vacant tenured seat and Soulaymane Kachani (NT, SEAS) and Laureen Zubiaurre (NT, SDOS) to nontenured seats. The Senate elected these senators without dissent.
The Senate then unanimously approved a Standing Committee Roster that had been distributed, along with the following late changes: the replacement of Susan Feagin in the administration seat on Alumni Relations by Eric Furda, Vice President for Alumni Relations; the appointment of Loretta Ucelli, Executive Vice President, Communications and External Affairs, to External Relations; and the addition of research senators Daniel Savin and Christopher Small to External Relations.
Late annual reports for 2003-04:
--Housing Policy: Sen. Matan Ariel (Stu., GS), standing in for chairman Sen. William Harris (Ten., A&S/SS), summarized the highlights of the report, which had been distributed:
Sen. Eugene Litwak objected to Sen. Matan’s final point, saying that the University budget is a zero sum game, and that if renters are relieved of the cost of rehabilitating IRE housing, it will fall on some other segment of the budget.
Sen. Leni Darrow (Stu., CE) understood the committee to be arguing that housing rehabilitation, like new construction, should be paid for from a capital budget, not from rental income, which is part of the operating budget.
Sen. Ariel said Housing Policy will continue to pursue this issue this year.
Sen. Michael Adler (Ten., Bus.) asked if the Senate has any real power to require information from the administration. Sen. Duby said the committee has been getting information, but the timing does not always fit the Senate schedule.
Sen. Henry Levin (Fac., TC) said paying rehabilitation costs from a separate budget amounts to a subsidy. He said the suitability of such an approach depends on the philosophy behind Columbia’s housing policy. Does it include subsidies for certain purposes?
--Structure and Operations: Sen. Jeremy Waldron (Ten., Law) said the committee had spent most of its time on the problem of Senate attendance, particularly the problem of getting three-fifths of the Senate present for major votes. He said the group had considered some ingenious but doomed constitutional devices, including one based on a distinction between attendance requirements and voting requirements, and such other ideas as moving important items to the front of the Senate agenda and developing some sort of “wall of shame” for senators with poor attendance records.
Sen. Adler suggested dispensing with the three-fifths requirement altogether, and requiring simple majorities for all Senate votes.
Howard Jacobson, the parliamentarian, reminded senators that most Senate resolutions require only simple majorities, but he said it was the sense of the committee, after lengthy discussion, that it was appropriate to require super-majorities for certain kinds of resolutions, such as proposed amendments to the University Statutes or the Senate By-laws. For that reason, the committee focused on ways to strengthen attendance. He noted that it took a few meetings last year to muster the super-majority needed to pass a couple of by-laws amendments, possibly because they lacked the usual constituency to support them.
Sen. Frances Pritchett (Ten., A&S/ Hum.) renewed a plea she has made in the past to allow proxy voting for serious issues. She said even loyal senators often have conflicts on Friday afternoons with conferences or other professional obligations.
Sen. Waldron said the committee had canvassed a variety of proxy arrangements. He said he thought the earlier notice last spring of the dates of this year’s meetings might help bolster attendance. He also pointed that the issues requiring three-fifths majorities, however important to Senate structure, don’t always stir the controversy that would draw a crowd.
Sen. James Applegate said that issues eligible for three-fifths majorities are often non-controversial by their very nature.
Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten., HS) asked if information about senators’ attendance records could be available to voters during Senate elections. Sen. Waldron said the committee has reviewed that idea sympathetically, and might recommend it to the Elections Commission.
Sen. Avery Katz (Ten., Law) asked if it was the view of the committee that adding a proxy procedure would require structural changes to the Senate. Sen. Waldron said a majority of the committee hold that view. Mr. Jacobson recalled that several proxy schemes were considered last year, and the committee found most of them wanting for practical reasons.
--Reports from committees:
--Research Officers: Sen. Daniel Savin, chairman of the Research Officers Committee, called attention to a one-page statistical profile of the research officer constituency that had been distributed at the door. He noted that 80 percent of the roughly 1800-member group have Ph.D.’s; about 40 percent of this ethnically diverse group are female.
Sen. Savin noted that post-doctoral research officers, who comprise 48 percent of the Senate researcher constituency, not surprisingly have an average seniority of only two years. But the rest of the group, including staff officers and junior and senior professional research officers, have been at Columbia between 6.5 and 13.5 years, on average.
This relative longevity in the University is a main reason why researchers are focusing this year on the question of termination notice. Most researchers have only one-year appointments, but many are working on continuing projects and come to expect their terms to be renewed each year. But the Faculty Handbook says the University is not obligated to inform researchers that their positions will not be renewed. A number of departments and centers have abused this provision, terminating research officers by letting their appointments expire without informing them they would not be renewed. A senior researcher with a lab and perishable samples is unlikely to find a new institution to move to on short notice, Sen. Savin said.
The researchers committee will recommend a minimum notice period for researchers with some number of years of service, a period that would increase with seniority. Sen. Savin said such a provision would amount to reasonable and fair reciprocation for the long-term commitment that research officers have made to Columbia.
A second goal for researchers this year is expanded representation on Senate committees. In particular, the group is seeking a seat on the Executive, Education, Budget Review, and Structure and Operations committees. Sen. Savin noted that researchers, who now have the third-largest Senate delegation, after students and faculty, make contributions across the University and should therefore play a more central role in the Senate.
The third agenda item is the quest for better titles for research officers. In the pharmaceutical industry, a research scientist (a position the Faculty Handbook treats as equivalent to tenured associate professor) is an entry-level position. Sen Savin said this kind of confusion has led granting agencies to turn down proposals from Columbia applicants, saying it is not clear from their titles whether they are independent researchers.
Sen. Savin said current titles also do not reflect the full educational contribution of many researchers, who mentor students at various levels, and bring in research funds that provide educational opportunities. The committee may recommend the title of research professor, which is in use at Stanford, Penn, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Brown and other institutions.
Finally, Sen. Savin said, researchers are seeking the formal power to hear research officers’ grievances that the Faculty Affairs Committee now exercises. The current grievance procedure, which allows researchers only to appeal to the University administration, has a built-in conflict of interest, Sen. Savin said, since most grievants are complaining about some administrator.
In response to a question, Sen. Savin said the main differences between researchers and faculty are that research officers are not required to teach classes, and have no prospect of tenure.
Sen. Litwak said that researchers are often hired for particular projects, without an expectation of continuing employment. He thought that even if the promotion procedures for faculty and research officers are similar, the criteria are different. But he also expressed general support for the goals of researchers, a group whose growth he saw as part of a troubling university-wide trend toward long-term nontenurable appointments.
Sen. Silverstein asked why any distinction between research and faculty titles should be retained, if that division serves as an impediment in the outside world to getting grants.
Sen. Silverstein asked if there was any evidence from the schools with “research professor” titles that they help in getting grants. Sen. Savin only mentioned rejection letters from granting agencies citing a Columbia’s applicant’s title as a reason for turning down the application.
Sen. Silverstein asked about the possibility of longer-term contracts for professional researchers. Sen. Savin said senior research officers can be appointed for up to five years. He said the same idea should be considered for lower-ranking researchers.
--Student Affairs: Nathan Walker (Stu. Obs., TC), co-chair of the student
caucus, summarized issues from the last Senate session that the group is still pursuing:
Mr. Walker also mentioned the following new issues:
The student caucus will seek the endorsement of the Ivy Council in October and in January will present petitions from institutions around the country to Congress to press for passage of the National Tuition Endowment Act of 2005. He said the initiative has already won the enthusiastic support of Provost Alan Brinkley, TC President Arthur Levine, and administrators at Barnard.
Sen. Bradley Bloch (Alum.) said it was his understanding that the Senate had supported a measure to bring the issue of diploma redesign to the attention of the Trustees, without formally recommending a particular diploma design for Trustee approval. Mr. Walker said he shared Sen. Bloch’s understanding, and thanked him for the clarification.
There being no further business, Sen. Duby adjourned the meeting at around 2:30 pm.
Tom Mathewson, Senate staff