University Senate                                                                      Proposed: January 26, 2007

                                                                       

                                                                                                Adopted:

 

 

TRANSCRIPT OF DECEMBER 8, 2006

 

President Lee C. Bollinger, the chairman, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 501 Schermerhorn. Fifty-seven of 97 senators were present during the meeting. The recording began shortly after the Senate had adopted the agenda.

 

ADOPTION OF THE TRANSCRIPT OF NOVEMBER 16TH

 

PRESIDENT BOLLINGER:  Adoption of the transcript of November [16th].  There is a motion and a second.  Anybody opposed?  It passes unanimously. 

 

REPORT OF THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE INVESTING

 

BOLLINGER: We’re going to go right to the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, Professor Hailey, because he has to catch a plane.  Thank you very much for coming.

 

PROF. CHARLES HAILEY (PHYSICS):  Yes.  Thank you very much for indulging me so that I don’t miss my airplane.

 

BOLLINGER:  Sure.

 

HAILEY:  I’m substituting for Merritt Fox, who’s actually the chair of the committee, who was unable to attend.  Just following our tradition: every December we present our agenda for the coming spring.  I’ll remind you that the committee was formed with the approval of the Trustees to advise them on their proxies for the stock that the university holds.  So we’re strictly an advisory committee, and we pass on our recommendations to the Trustees.

 

The committee is composed of both faculty and students and alumni as indicated in your handout.  Following the procedure that we’ve set up in past years, we hold a series of meetings in the fall to generate our agenda for the coming spring, and we also hold a town hall meeting where interested parties from the university community can come and express their sentiments about issues of particular concern with respect to the upcoming proxy season.  You can see on the handout the fairly diverse list of topics that the committee generally addresses.  We usually have a very large number of items on the agenda, and most of these will be covered at some level with the proxies that come up in any given year.

 

If necessary, we can select among the proxies if we want to spend more time, say, on one particular area of interest as opposed to another, and we do that as the proxy season evolves and we can see what kind of proxies are coming up that might be of particular interest. 

 

In terms of other initiatives, you may recall that last year we submitted to the trustees—and it was approved—a proposal for the divestment of stocks from companies that do business in Sudan. These would be publicly traded companies outside the United States, since it’s illegal for companies in the U.S. to do such investment.  And the committee has again this year looked into that issue, and has come up with a list of companies that we will forward to the trustees for their scrutiny in terms of companies that either were already on our divest list from last year, or companies that we feel should be added to the list this year as a result of change in activity from the past year.

 

The committee, as in the past, often discusses ways that we can have dialogue with companies and perhaps foster some communication with companies outside the normal proxy process, which is really sort of just an up-or-down vote on a particular issue associated with a company.  And as in the past, we will exploit expertise both within the university, in terms of getting experts to help us deal with some of these issues (which we’ve done very successfully in the past), as well as getting representatives from various companies and various organizations involved in socially responsible investing to give us their insights in very general philosophical terms about how they approach the issue of socially responsible investing.  The committee often finds this useful in dealing with these issues.

 

And it will be a busy spring as always.  This is an unbearably burdensome committee in terms of the amount of time that we spend.  But anyway, that’s all I had.  Thank you.

 

BOLLINGER:  Any questions? 

 

SEN. MICHAEL ADLER (TEN., BUS.):  There’s some research [can’t hear] that suggests that [there are] certain performance costs to the social investing compared to non-socially responsible portfolios.  Has anybody in your committee—first of several questions—has anybody in your committee actually undertaken to sponsor research to find out whether or not there is a cost to being socially responsible?

 

HAILEY:  No.  We’ve actually talked about sponsoring a conference to look into questions like that.  But so far the committee has—because of the desire of the committee to approach these proxies on a case-by-case basis, they tend to be enormously time consuming—and each year the committee decides whether they would like to go out and do things like that or continue, say, to do as many of these proxies on a case-by-case basis as possible.  As in past years, that’s sort of been the sentiment of the committee.  And once you’ve decided to do that, it sort of dominates your work load.

 

ADLER:  Second question.  Has anybody on the committee actually reviewed the entire university portfolio to see whether or not we are investing in ethically questionable companies?

 

HAILEY:  Well, certainly with respect to the Sudan initiative we have done so. 

 

ADLER:  I mean the whole portfolio, not just Sudan.

 

HAILEY:  I think the answer is no, in that the committee is set up to observe the proxy landscape, and on a case-by-case basis look at proxies that are in these various areas here.  And in that sense we do make an assessment among ourselves on the committee whether it is socially responsible to invest in those particular stocks through a variety of means, including the bringing in of experts.  There’s a number of institutional investor organizations that provide input.  So I guess, effectively, if you look at it that way, we do it, but only within the context of the proxies that come to us.  We don’t do any global assessment of the entire portfolio.

 

ADLER:  Last question.  Have you any sense of how vulnerable the university might be to some muckraking journalist who might accuse us of being morally bankrupt when it comes to investing? 

 

HAILEY:  The committee has never addressed things within the framework that you’re describing it.  I think the mandate that we have used is to evaluate these proxies and decide whether issues that come up that have been raised either through the university community—for instance, in the case of the Sudan issue—or other issues that have come up through these institutional investor organizations, or the proxies themselves, have sort of been the trigger point we’ve used to address this question.  But in no sense have we attempted to address sort of an overarching, strategic type issue that you’re raising.  Yes.

 

SEN. KATHRYN HARRIGAN (TEN., BUS.):  Does the university invest in the stocks of tobacco companies?

 

HAILEY:  No.  For a number of years, and I don’t quite remember how long, but the first action of divestment that the university took was with respect to tobacco stocks, and there are no tobacco stocks in the university’s portfolio.

 

SEN. DANIEL SIMON (STU., CONTINUING EDUCATION):  Does the committee look at ways to make socially responsible investments here at Columbia?  For example, Harvard has, I think for six years, been running a sustainable revolving fund that finances costs on projects at Harvard that have a verifiable payback time that increases, for esample,  the energy efficiency of a classroom or building like this, and that are realizing returns that are better than you’d get [inaudible]. 

 

HAILEY: Yeah.  I think as a general rule the committee hasn’t considered questions like those outside their mandate, other than within the context that there has been discussion about having, like I say, sort of a conference where issues like that could be particularly raised.  It’s important to recognize that we are an advisory committee to the trustees, and in some sense our agenda is driven by community interest.  So, in fact, if members of the student body or others that had particular interest in issues such as the ones that you’re raising were to actually come to the committee, those issues would certainly all be fair game to look at. But so far this is what the agenda is for this year. 

 

PRESIDENT’S REPORT:

 

BOLLINGER:  All right. Thank you very much.  Let me just identify a few things as part of my report.  I want to thank the people and the groups and the administrators who have worked on reaffirming freedom of speech on the campus over the past semester.  The controversy surrounding the Minutemen appearance and the disruption that resulted continues—I’m sorry, the proceedings, the processes that came out of that continue.  And we have nothing to comment on that because that’s all quite private.  But the general principles about the freedom of student groups in particular to invite controversial speakers to campus—that principle and the countervailing principle of the right of students and others to protest speakers, but not up to the point of interfering with their ability to actually speak—that set of principles, I think, has been deeply and happily reaffirmed in the course of statements, including statements coming out of the student caucus of the Senate. Many, many people have worked over the course of the semester to try to bring students together on these issues.  Of course, the questions go beyond freedom of speech and the rules and our principles; they also go to what kind of community we want to have and help people use free speech in the context of discussion of public issues. 

 

So I just want to say that over the course of the term I have been impressed and grateful for all that has gone into making sure that this campus remains a place open to controversy and using speech as a way to deal with ideas that we disagree with.

 

Also, I’d just like to note the appointment of Mamadou Diouf to the faculty here and to head up the Africa Institute in particular—and simply to say that we have in the administration, within SIPA and more broadly in the institution, a really, really deep commitment to thinking about and understanding, teaching and doing research on the continent of Africa.  There has been speculation or arguments—early in the semester in particular—that perhaps there was some intention to diminish or even abandon work on Africa.  Absolutely the contrary is the fact.  And indeed, over the next several months we expect, we hope, to have really major announcements of other new initiatives to add to the work that’s already being done across the campus, across the schools on Africa.  And I’m fairly comfortable in predicting that within some period of time, and I’m thinking a year or more, we will have the leading work being done both at the educational level and on the research level on issues and the riches of Africa. 

 

I also want to thank all the people who have been involved in making the seven-week residency of Vaclav Havel such a stunning success.  This was, I think, the best example we could hope for of bringing someone of this character and accomplishment and set of sensibilities into our community and really using the occasion to advance our education and research goals—just   absolutely wonderful and I want to congratulate everybody on that.

 

Just to say a word at the end of the semester on the task force on undergraduate education which we set up.  There are many members of the faculty, I’m not exactly sure the number, but 20 to 30 people on the task force, mostly faculty, but some administrators, and now student representatives from each of the three parts of the undergraduate program: the College, SEAS, and General Studies.  I’ve been trying to begin work on thinking about how we can improve the undergraduate educational experience. 

 

And there are two broad areas that the task force will be looking at.  One is what one might think of as structural; that is, what is the right size, scale of the undergraduate population and what is the appropriate balance between the various parts?  My own view is that over the next many years Columbia will grow.  I think that’s been the history of higher education.  Certainly it’s been the history of Columbia.  How and in what proportions and over what time period I think is really something that has to be sorted out.  But I have no doubt that the student body will grow to some extent.

 

Where will we put our emphasis as we do so?  And in particular questions like, How should we relate to the more globalized world?  And, Should we have more undergraduates from abroad, more international students here?  Those are the kinds of questions that the task force is beginning to take up, but no recommendations yet.  The other questions relate to the content or curriculum of the undergraduate programs.  How do we do in offering majors opportunities to explore other areas, work in an interdisciplinary way, have opportunities to study abroad or to experience these phenomenal changes in the world?  What is the relationship of the core curriculum to these questions?  We’ve said from the beginning that the purpose here is not to rethink whether we should have a core curriculum or not.  It’s assumed that a core curriculum is a great heritage.

 

But everything bumps up against the Core Curriculum in some ways, and we ought to be open to thinking about it in that sort of context, and just beginning to define issues that the task force thinks are worthy of consideration and then possibly to make some recommendations.  This is a task force that has no power.  It has the power to think and to try to arrive at some collective judgments.  But whatever happens with those judgments, it’s our intention to really try to make them happen, and to bring them to the community for further discussion.

 

Don’t know exactly what the timetable will be.  March, April, might bring forth—I actually hope will bring forth—some recommendations, and then we’ll see where we are. It may come as a surprise to you to know that we are not the first university in the United States in history to look at undergraduate curriculum questions.  So we’re part of a broad effort, entirely appropriate at this moment and I think really called for, to think about these questions and to come up with our own thoughts and judgments for our own community.

 

I think that’s it for me. But I’ll be glad to take any questions.  Yes.

 

SEN. PAIGE WEST (FAC., BARNARD):  I was wondering. . . I teach quite a large and fabulous introductory level class, and over the last five years the number of teaching assistants available to me has gone down, and I wonder if this task force is thinking about that at any length.  The growth of the university is obviously fabulous and the big classes are sometimes fun to do, but that balance seems to me something that might be worth consideration.

 

BOLLINGER:  Yeah.  I should have said—if we had more time I would flesh out some of the things I said.  We’re thinking about the scale of the Arts and Sciences faculty in relation to the scale of the undergraduates.  It’s been our view that Arts and Sciences faculty should grow, and we’ve made some investments indeed to accomplish that.  It has been growing, will continue to grow, but how much more and where? 

 

And the same is true with respect to the graduate students.  One of the great accomplishments of the past decade has been to shrink the graduate students down and then fund them fully, but I think there is a sense that we need to expand that now more, and that of course ends up relating to teaching assistants. 

 

[Pause] Great.  [Laughter].  I want to wish you a happy end of the semester, and since there are some people here in the room who are actually taking exams, our condolences, our sorrows to you.  But don’t forget, we have to draft them and then grade them.  I mean, it’s not that easy.  Paul?

 

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN’S REPORT

 

SEN. PAUL DUBY (TEN., SEAS):  Yes, thank you.  Well, of course it was very easy to draft the agenda for this meeting.  So we didn’t spend too much time on that. But the Executive Committee had some discussion about what to expect in the following meeting, in January.  We had some discussion of what Faculty Affairs was doing, Physical Development and Budget Review, but very, very informal.  And of course those committees will report in due course.

Among the committee reports there will be a report from Structure and Operations by the chair, Chris Riano. 

 

But before that I would like to tell you that possibly there is still some cheese and some food left there, and, since you all came here in this terrible weather, there is also some fuel, you know, for going through the wind and the cold when you’re coming out from here.  So we have a couple of bottles of wine that I didn’t want to open before the meeting.  I wanted to make sure we don’t have an unruly assembly. 

 

So maybe one comment to the president.  You mentioned--

 

BOLLINGER:  Let me just say that only an engineer would think of wine as fuel.  [Laughter].  Go ahead.

 

DUBY: Well, I know there has been mention of you being considered by Harvard in the press, but you did indicate that.

 

BOLLINGER:  Let me just say the question has come up.

 

DUBY:  I want to thank you.

 

BOLLINGER: Great, terrific.  Because I have said there’s just no circumstance under which I can imagine leaving here and I love what I’m doing. I love the institution and am thrilled to stay. But thank you, Paul, very much.

 

DUBY:  We thank you for that.  [Applause]

 

BOLLINGER:  Thank you very much. Chris, for Structure and Operations.

 

REPORT FROM STRUCTURE AND OPERATIONS

 

SEN. CHRISTOPHER RIANO (STU., GS):  So very quickly, we had our second meeting of the semester yesterday, and I want to report on the different items we have been discussing.  At the January meeting we’ll be bringing forth the resolution that we passed yesterday, which will effectively change the way that we apportion seats in the University Senate, and instead of reapportioning them every two years, we’ll be reapportioning every five years.  It seems like doing it every two years, it’s too much time, it’s too much quick turnover. It takes so much time to look over the population and reapportion seats accordingly when  it doesn’t change very much.  So we did pass that and will bring that for passage in January.

 

Secondly, we revised the Elections Code, the Elections Code will be revised internally within the Elections Commission.  I just wanted to report to everybody that one of the things that we’ve added to the Elections Code is that we no longer feel it is valid with list-servs that you may have access to as a student or faculty member or administrator, to use the list-servs in a way that advertises your campaign.  I know that the student body has basically actually [this practice]—all the student elections commissions—and we want to make sure that that kind of levels the playing field. So we’ve made that change, and that change will go into place starting in the spring.

 

Also we’re in the process of still reviewing things on the [Committee on] Online Learning. I’m going to be talking to Sharyn soon.  We’re going to hopefully try to flesh out a better understanding of where Online Learning fits and a better mandate for where it fits.  Because I think the work that they’re doing is great.  I just think we have to kind of figure out where it fits in the University Senate, and I’m going to talk to Sharyn about that.  So we’re going to work on that in the next couple of months and see where it falls.

 

So that’s Structure, and I’m going to be giving a full report in January. 

 

REPORT FROM STUDENT AFFAIRS

 

RIANO:  From the Student Affairs committee, just a follow-up report on what we brought to the Senate last time. This Tuesday. myself and a couple of my senators will be sitting down with Robert Kasdin, as well as with Maxine Griffith, to flesh out some ideas and some constructive movement that we can put to work on Manhattanville. 

 

Also, following up on what President Bollinger said, thank you for mentioning our free speech report—I know that our free speech report went to the trustees this Saturday, and they’ve read over the report which the Student Affairs Committee put out, which I think was great, and I’m glad that we were able to provide some input into that discussion.

 

And lastly, I know we’ve been talking with Provost Brinkley’s office about bringing on line a graduate student board that could recognize, fund, and advise graduate students. And I’ve had meetings with deans this week. And it looks like that’s coming on line in January. And we’re very pleased to offer to interdisciplinary groups this ability to be funded, recognized, [can’t hear], etc.  So, very quickly, that’s what we’ve been up to. Thank you very much. [Laughter and applause at the speed of Sen. Riano’s presentation].

 

BOLLINGER:  The race to the end of the semester has finished, and the business--.

 

[Here the tape ends; the president adjourned the meeting shortly afterwards].

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff