University Senate                                                                      Proposed: October 26, 2007

                                                                                               

                                                                                                Adopted:

 

 

MINUTES OF SEPTEMBER 21, 2007

 

President Lee Bollinger, the chairman, was delayed in reaching the meeting, so Executive Committee chairman Paul Duby called the Senate to order at about 1:25 pm in 107 William and June Warren Hall. Sixty-four of 91 senators were present during the meeting.

 

Adoption of the agenda:  Having determined that more than 55, or three fifths, of all voting senators were present, Sen. Duby (Ten., SEAS) called for revising the agenda to start with the resolutions to create the Information and Communications Technology Committee and to revise the mandates of the Education and Libraries committees. All three resolutions offered amendments to the Senate by-laws, and therefore required three-fifths majorities.

 

The agenda was adopted as amended.

 

Resolutions to create the Information and Communications Technology Committee and to revise the mandates of the Education and Libraries committees:  Sen. Duby reminded senators that several committees had discussed these resolutions at length last year, but the session had ended without Senate action, particularly because Senate attendance had fallen short of three fifths at the final meeting, on May 4.  He invited Sen. Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) to present the resolution.

 

Sen. O’Halloran said the Ad Hoc Committee on Online Learning and Digital Media Initiatives, which she chaired for several years, had been created by the Executive Committee in 2001 to report on Fathom.com and other digital issues.  Later, it reviewed other informational technology infrastructure developments, and began thinking of the need to oversee IT issues as an ongoing (that is, standing committee) responsibility.

 

With the restructuring of administrative oversight of IT in the last couple of years, it became important to reflect these changes in a new committee, Sen. O’Halloran said. The IT committee will share jurisdictions with Libraries, which originally oversaw ACIS (Academic Computing and Information Systems) and still oversees a lot of online technology, and Education, which evaluates the educational quality of online degree and certificate programs in a process that culminates in the NY State Education Department.

 

Sen. O’Halloran said it also makes sense to have a stand-alone committee looking at investments in Columbia ‘s infrastructure technology as the university expands into Manhattanville. 

 

The resolutions were moved and seconded. Sen. Duby asked for a show of hands for votes opposing the resolutions. There were no nays or abstentions. Sen. Duby declared the resolution adopted.  There was applause.

 

Sen. John Johnson (Ten., Law) called attention to a typo in one of the resolutions. Sen. Duby said the staff would correct it.

 

Adoption of the minutes of May 4, 2007:  Howard Jacobson, the parliamentarian, called attention to an editorial error on page 7 of the minutes, where the resolution on summer powers was mistakently said to have been adopted “with dissent.”  With this change, the minutes were unanimously adopted.

 

Executive Committee chairman’s report:   Sen. Duby welcomed all senators, new and returning. He read the names of 26 new senators and asked them to stand up. There was applause.

 

            --Nominations to committees:  Sen. Duby asked for approval of a new standing committee roster, which had been distributed. He said the new Executive Committee, whose student and faculty members are nominated by their own caucuses, had to be ratified by the full Senate.  He added that he had asked Sen. O’Halloran to join him as co-chair of the committee. He said she had done great work for the Senate over the past few years. There was applause.

 

At this point President Bollinger joined the meeting. He apologized for being late and said he would have to step outside at some point to take an important phone call.

 

The president conducted the vote to approve the new Executive Committee and standing roster, which was unanimous.

 

The president asked Sen. Duby to continue his report, to improve the chances that he could give his own report without interruption by the phone call he was expecting.

 

            --Committee work over the summer: Sen. Duby mentioned two committees that had met over the summer: Research Officers, which would be reporting in a few minutes, and Faculty Affairs, which had worked on some grievances as well as the problem of gaps in research funding. A few members had met with Executive Vice President for Research David Hirsh, and later decided to send a survey to faculty and research officers to gauge the extent of the problem.  He said Faculty Affairs will report on the results to the Executive Committee, which will likely decide to continue by appointing a task force. He invited Faculty Affairs Committee co-chair Robert Pollack (Ten., A&S/NS) comment.

 

Sen. Pollack said he hoped the survey would provide the dimensions of the problem, including a sense of the amount of money it would take for the university to provide bridge funding for researchers in a time of cutbacks of federal funds. Such a policy decision would be for the president to make, not the Senate, Sen. Pollack said.

 

            --Executive Committee meeting of September 12:  Sen. Duby said the committee had taken up two items of old business from the May 4 plenary:

            Resolution to Publish a Senate-approved Policy in the Faculty Handbook. This measure, calling for publication of a set of guidelines for the administrative conduct of deans and department chairs that the Senate had adopted unanimously in March 2003, had been tabled at the May meeting. On September 12 the Executive Committee decided not to press further for publication in the Handbook, but to post the guidelines on the Senate Web site instead. With the provost’s help, there will also be more discussions about the content of the guidelines with deans and chairs.

           

            Resolution to Limit Rent Increases in Columbia Apartments in 2007-08 (Housing Policy):  Sen. Duby said this measure, which he described as quite controversial, had been on the floor at the May plenary for a report and discussion (not a vote) when the meeting lost quorum.  On September 12 the Executive Committee decided to remand the resolution to Housing Policy for further discussion, possibly including the Budget Review Committee.  He added that the resolution as drafted for the May meeting was now moot because rent increases for 2007-08 had already gone into effect.

 

Sen. Duby said the Committee on the Rules of University Conduct has been on standby for a number of years because there was no perceived need to review the Rules. But there is an impetus now, from the administration as well as from student senators. So the Executive Committee will be reviving the Rules Committee shortly.

 

Committee reports:

            --Research Officers:  Committee chair Daniel Savin reminded senators of the dimensions of his constituency: 2000 Columbia researchers, including some 640 professional research officers, 900 postdoctoral research scientists and scholars, and 400 staff officers.

 

Sen. Savin highlighted issues from the committee’s annual report, which had been distributed. 

           

Salaries at the Medical Campus:  Research officers at CUMC are funded by external grants which typically have salary increases written into them, but researchers have not always received the raises written into the grant.  In some cases the average raises of CUMC researchers have been below averages raises at Morningside and Lamont.  Sen. Savin hoped to take up this issue with CUMC Dean Lee Goldman this year.

 

            Postdoc issues:  Sen. Savin stressed that without adequate housing, Columbia will not be able to recruit the most talented post-docs.

 

            Last year, at the request of the Research Officers Committee, the Office of Diversity Initiatives changed their mandate to mention research officers. Sen. Savin stressed the importance of postdocs in this group, as a key section of the academic pipeline in the sciences leading to faculty positions.

 

            Last year the committee met with Beth Israel, director of the Office of Post-doctoral Affairs.  The committee had been impressed with her work, including a survey of postdocs and a list of action items.  Sen. Savin thanked the administration for creating this office in the last few years

 

            Professional research officer titles.  These titles—senior research scientists or scholars, research scientists or scholars, and associate research scientists or scholars—are treated in the Faculty Handbook as corresponding to the faculty titles of full, associate, and assistant professor.  But the equivalence is not generally recognized, a situation that has consequences for funding.  At some Ivy and other peer institutions, professional research officers have the word professor in their titles.  The committee will be reporting to the Senate on this issue during the academic year.

 

            Salary equity study.  Sen. Savin said his committee has collaborated with the Commission on the Status of Women on a study of salary equity among research officers. The survey has been conducted by Lucy Drotning of the provost’s Office of Planning and Institutional Research. Sen. Savin looked forward to a report on the study this academic year.

 

            Survey of staff officers. The results of a survey of staff officers of research conducted by the committee last year is now posted on the Senate Web site. Issues highlighted in the survey will be presented to the Senate and the administration.

 

            Termination policy.  There is now no termination policy for research officers. The committee is seeking a policy similar to the one for officers of administration, who receive severance under certain conditions.

 

            Researcher representation on the CUMC Faculty Council.  The stated rules of the Faculty Council, a governance body at the Medical Center, make clear that research officers can be members of this rather large body, but there is not a single researcher member. The committee has written to Deans Goldman about this subject.  The response has been that the choice of Faculty Council reps should be left to the departments. Sen. Savin said the administration should show leadership and press departments to fulfill the Council mandate for fair representation. The committee will pursue this issue.

 

            External Relations: Sen. O’Halloran, the committee chair, updated the Senate on the Manhattanville process.  On June 18 the City Planning Department certified Columbia’s expansion proposal, launching the automatic 200-day approval process known as ULURP, or Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

 

ULURP has involved a series of reviews, starting with Community Board 9, which held a hearing and a nonbinding vote on August 15. The vote was no, with a set of 10 conditions for Columbia to meet, including a ban on eminent domain, a call for an independent study of certain impacts the project would have, and a ban on the infrastructural “basin” the university plans to provide for the development zone.

 

The next step was Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s public meeting on September 19.  He had not stated his vote yet, but he was expected also to vote no, with conditions.

 

A key step will be the October 3 hearing of the City Planning Commission, which makes concrete recommendations for modifications of the plan.  This vote too is non-binding, but a strong recommendation would give an indication of what steps must be taken to move the project forward, and might significantly change the cost of the development as well as the university’s options in what to build.

 

The next step is the City Council, whose hearings should take place in December. The result will be a binding vote on whether the proposal moves forward or not. 

 

Sen. O’Halloran said another issue for External Relations, and some other committees, is to take up an invitation from the president to consider some of the academic implications for space vacated by units moving to Manhattanville. For example, what will happen to Uris Hall after the Business School moves?  What would be the implications for the Medical Center if Public Health were to move?  

 

Sen. O’Halloran said Senate committee could consider a few scenarios or possibilities, and divide them into different dimensions, such as space planning and reutilization, educational programming consequences, implications for students, and implications for information technology.  The goal is to bring these efforts together into a report, which may provide a basis for further discussion with the university community.  Sen. O’Halloran hoped for input from many committees for this effort

 

A senator asked who in the university would address the reservations contained in the conditional no votes of different city groups.

 

Sen. O’Halloran said the administration will have to address these issues as it refines the Manhattanville proposal.  She said President Bollinger might want to speak more directly to this question. She thought the conditions were part of a healthy negotiation process, designed to end up with a plan that works for everyone.

 

Sen. Johnson asked what the process will be for student input in the remaining stages of Manhattanville deliberations.

 

Sen. O’Halloran said she had given many presentations to students, with input that goes back up to the Trustees. She would be speaking soon at Sen. Pollack’s Center for the Study of Science and Religion, with many students present. In addition, LaVerna Fountain’s office in Community Affairs has run numerous Manhattanville tours, with opportunities for input, and Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin has held regular meetings with students. 

 

Sen. O’Halloran said there has been student input at each step along the way, both formal and informal, which has improved the plan. 

           

New business:

            --Education chair Letty Moss-Salentijn (Ten., CDM) presented the following three resolutions to create new academic programs:

            --Combined BS/MS in Electrical Engineering:  Sen. Moss-Salentijn said the MS degree is virtually a requirement for employment in this industry.  One benefit of the program is that undergraduate seniors would have the flexibility to take graduate courses in a combined program beyond requirements for the BS, so there is no double-counting of the same courses for both degrees. There is also a very selective applicant pool, with only top seniors qualified to apply.

 

In response to a question, Sen. Moss-Salentijn said that if the proposal is approved, the program could be advertised next semester for students to begin in the fall of 2008.

 

Another senator asked in what year of their careers students would enter this program.

Sen. James Applegate (Ten., A&S/NS), who participated in the Education Committee’s review of the proposal, said students are admitted to the program in their senior year, and would then have a fifth year in the master’s program.

 

--Ph.D. in Behavioral Nutrition (GSAS, Teachers College).  Sen. Moss-Salentijn noted the committee’s initial reservations about the proposal.  Faculty proponents made clear that this is a rapidly expanding field of specialization, and that the program really is complementary to an existing Ph.D. in nutrition offered at the Medical Center. In communication between the programs, there has been complete agreement that there is no overlap.

 

Sen. Salentijn said her committee was impressed by the program’s faculty strength in behavioral sciences, with well-funded research programs.  She expressed satisfaction that a need had been sufficiently demonstrated, and could be met in a reasonable way.

 

A senator asked if the program would need new funds from the university, to be acquired through grants. Sen. Moss-Salentijn said the faculty involved already have solid grant funding.

 

--M.A. in Oral History.  Sen. Salentijn said the Morningside campus has a very large data base in American history, including many taped interviews. This abundant supply makes it logical to offer a degree here. There is also a large pool of students interested in the program, which is “M.A. only.”  The program may not be urgently needed, but it is justified by the enrichment it offers.

 

The Senate approved all three programs by voice vote, without dissent.

 

President’s report:  The president said he wanted to talk mainly about the Ahmadinejad visit, after summarizing other issues. 

Fundraising. The previous fundraising year had ended extremely well.  As of June 30, the university had received about $422 million.  When he started in 2002, Columbia was raising about $270 million.  This year’s total, for the first time that he was aware of, was the third-highest in the Ivy League.  Combined with the $400 million Kluge gift, this result puts Columbia on target in the $4 billion capital campaign.

 

The president said he keeps in mind, for comparison to Columbia’s $422 million, that Harvard raised about $600 million last year and Stanford raised about $800 million, after raising $900 million the year before. Nevertheless, he said, Columbia’s fundraising is getting stronger, thanks to an  institution-wide, community-wide effort.

 

Space.  Construction of the Northwest Corner science building has begun. The president described the design, by Rafael Moneo, as bold and spectacular. He called the building an important final addition to the campus on Morningside Heights.

 

            Manhattanville.  The president said the hearings in the ULURP process have been difficult, especially at Community Board 9, where organized groups shouted down anybody who spoke on Columbia’s behalf.  It was not a pretty scene, he said.  CB9 voted 32 to 2 against Columbia’s plan, but the president agreed with Sen. O’Halloran’s assessment that this was not a total rejection, but a set of conditions to be met. 

 

The president said the Manhattanville process has been under way for many months, and Columbia hopes to bring some kind of resolution very soon with a Community Benefits Agreement.  He said the university, from the beginning, has followed the process laid down by the city, requiring a CBA with an organization called the Local Development Corporation, made up of representatives of various constituencies in Harlem and upper Manhattan, including housing, the arts, the environment, and so on.  The LDC is a large group, and it took quite a long time for the community board to identify its 18 members.  Since then several successful meetings have taken place.

 

The president said Columbia cannot and will not go to other parties to work out separate deals and alliances.  In the past community benefits agreements were often reached that way, but it’s not an option now.  Columbia has said many times in public that it is prepared to make major contributions to affordable housing, with details to be worked out in negotiations, and to provide jobs in large numbers.  He reminded senators of the study showing 6000 net new jobs to be provided over time by Columbia’s Manhattanville development, in addition to the 1200 construction jobs to build the campus. A portion of the new jobs could be set aside for community residents, and Columbia would help with job training. 

 

Columbia is also committed to sustainability for the Manhattanville campus.  Quite apart from a CBA, Columbia will participate with the City in developing a new public high school on the corner of Broadway and 125th Street.  It’s an important school, he said, which will have a significant fraction of places for children from upper Manhattan and  Harlem.  Some children are already enrolled in a tutorial program to prepare them for the high school when it opens in a couple of years.  The president said Provost Brinkley has been involved in this initiative.

 

The president said Columbia has shaped a design to animate 125th Street, with a black-box theater in one of the buildings, along with the relocated Wallach Gallery.  He said Columbia is doing everything it can to make Manhattanville a place that’s good for the surrounding communities as well as the university.

 

The president concluded that Columbia has wonderful long- and medium-term plans.  He added that the system of independent management of the endowment put in place shortly before his arrival in 2002 is continuing to produce great results, with 20 percent returns so far this year.  The challenge is to get from the present to this brilliant future which is still a few years away; in the meantime the university has to struggle along because the space and the funds for the future are not in hand yet, and he has the difficult task of continuing to ask for patience. 

 

Ahmedinejad visit.  On the invitation to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to speak at Columbia in three days, on September 24, the president began by affirming his commitment in this case, as in any other involving academic freedom and freedom of speech, to act according to principle.  He said that he had also tried to base all other decisions in similar situations on principle, and not on accommodating other interests or outside pressures. He said it is critical to understand this choice and the principles involved.

 

The president said one key part of the academic freedom idea is that departments, schools, faculty, universities will not only conduct courses, lectures, and research, but also invite people into the institution to be part of the academic mission, to help the Columbia community understand the world in somewhat special ways.  Decisions to have speakers are as important as decisions about courses to teach, and areas of research to pursue. 

 

The same idea implies that there should be no exception to reject certain ideas as too offensive for academic discourse.  Such an exception is very dangerous, like banning certain books or courses.  A university must have a robust commitment to entertain and confront ideas, the president said, to consider the world in all its ugliness as well as its beauty. 

 

The president summarized the history of the last invitation to Ahmedinejad to speak, in the fall of 2006.  Lisa Anderson, then dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, called the president on a Wednesday to say an invitation had been extended to Ahmadinejad on SIPA’s behalf to speak that Friday, and to ask if the president wanted to have the university sponsor the visit as part of the annual World Leaders Forum.

 

The request prompted the president to reflect on an important qualification of the principle of freedom of speech—that Columbia does not simply open its doors to anybody who wants to come and speak.  That is, the university makes choices, according to academic and not partisan or political criteria.  Its speaking invitations must be based upon the interests of students and faculty in their effort to understand the world. One consequence of this commitment is the need to assure dialogue and a question-and-answer session as part of the speaking engagement.

 

The university contacted the Iranian Mission to find out whether that condition could be met.  By Thursday, there was no response, and the security and organizational issues were becoming too serious to make it possible to hold the event safely.  He notified Dean Anderson of this decision, but said the university would support her decision to have Ahmadinejad speak. She decided SIPA would be unable to arrange the event in the time remaining, and canceled the invitation.

 

At the time, the president said, some people praised the university for withdrawing the invitation, thinking that it had deemed speaker’s ideas were too offensive.  He tried on every possible occasion to explain that this interpretation was incorrect, that the real reasons were his inability to satisfy himself that academic criteria could be met, along with the difficulty of the security and organizational issues.  It was not that speakers with offensive views should not come to Columbia.  The president said at the time that he would defend a decision to invite a person like Ahmadinejad to the university for academic purposes.  He repeated this position many times, though it was not widely reported.  His sense was that some people did not want to believe it.

 

A few weeks before the present meeting it became clear through faculty contacts that it might again be possible to invite Ahmadinejad, and SIPA’s acting dean, John Coatsworth, decided to and to ask if the university could include Ahmadinejad in the World Leaders Forum.  The president decided that the conditions could be met for a university-wide role this time, and an agreement was reached with the Iranian representatives early in the present week. The university then immediately announced the invitation.

 

The president said everyone was aware how much controversy this decision stirred. He said there have been many free speech and academic freedom controversies at Columbia, around the United States, and indeed around the world.  But the level of vehemence about events at Columbia seems to take on a special order of magnitude, he said.

 

The president had issued statements about this visit, and he and the provost and the trustees are in complete agreement about the principles and about their application in this instance.  The president expressed confidence that there wasn’t a single person on campus who did not detest the views expressed by President Ahmadinejad, that there was a consensus across the campus that this was a very dangerous individual and that issues about Iran’s leadership and the potential for a kind of global conflict were significant.  He said the university was not facing a trivial matter.  In many ways Iran was at the center of world politics at that moment.

 

The president said universities are places that must exist in a society to be able to consider beliefs and ideas, to confront the people who hold them, and the more important and critical they are to the world, for good or bad, the more important it is for universities to be places that really do confront them.  He believed that mistakes this society makes are more likely to be based on ignorance than on bad judgments.

 

The president said the television show 60 Minutes would be broadcasting an interview with Ahmadinejad on Sunday evening, on the eve of the visit to Columbia.  The press is engaged in the issue. He thought universities should be more engaged in issues like this.

 

At the same time, he said, the university must make clear that holding an event that confronts ideas does not mean in any sense that Columbia endorses the ideas, or that it is lacking in resolve to resist them. He said this effort is just part of the academic commitment—the scholarly temperament—to be courageously open to thinking through and confronting ideas and beliefs.

 

Sen. Michael Adler (Ten., Bus.) raised the technical problem of room capacity.  Some on campus were objecting that not enough people could participate in the session. Sen. Adler asked for a solution to provide major buildings on campus with electronic connections to the room in which Ahmadinejad is speaking, so that questions can be asked by a wider corss-section of the university population.

 

The president said he had heard that Sen. Adler’s idea might pose additional security problems. But he added that event organizers are trying to provide access to as many people as possible.

 

Provost Alan Brinkley understood that there were plans to use four remote locations.

 

Sen. John Johnson (Stu., Law) noted that the Rules of Conduct were applied last year to protests against the visit of Minuteman Project leader Jim Gilchrist. Sen. Johnson  requested that the Rules be made clear and readily available on the day of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia people who may want to protest.

 

The president said an important part of free speech is the right to protest, and Columbia wants to facilitate that right.  But it must preserve the extremely important line between free speech and the need to prevent disruption. These two priorities must not cancel each other or trump each other.  It is essential for people protesting to know what the limits are, and administrators are focused on this important problem.

 

Sen. Johnson raised the question of consistency in handling these events:  Why not insist on including questions and answers and statements for other controversial guest speakers?

 

The president said this was an important question.  He had made it clear, and would make it clear again, that he vehemently disagrees with many of the professed beliefs of Ahmadinejad and his actions.  On other occasions the president has not expressed his beliefs about speakers whose views are offensive to some members of the Columbia community. When students raised this issue in a meeting with him the day before, he had answered that he and other senior administrators don’t have enough time to comment on every speaker who comes to campus.  But the more important answer is that he does not want to chill speech on campus by announcing from Low Library which ideas are good or bad. He added that students are free to invite guests to campus for purely political purposes; faculties and schools are not free to do this, because they can’t use their power for political purposes.  In this case, however, he thought there was consensus across the institution that Ahmadinejad has some really terrible ideas and beliefs and actions, and it’s important to express those objections on behalf of the institution.  He also thought such a statement in this case would be unlikely to have a chilling effect.  These are the kinds of calculations he makes.

 

Sen.  Katherine Franke (Ten., Law) expressed doubt that there was a consensus on this point. She said she would prefer for the president to be clear about when he was expressing his own views on Ahmadinejad’s public positions and when he was speaking for the institution.  She said Ahmadinejad is a complicated man, who has said many different things, and it concerned her a bit to hear the president identify an absolute consensus.

 

The president said when he spoke of a consensus he was thinking of positions like Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust.  Sen. Franke said again that Ahmadinejad had made many different statements on that subject.

 

Sen. James Applegate (Ten., A&S/NS) expressed support for the president’s principles and the way he had expressed them. He thought it was important to resist an idea he had heard on the floor of the senate, in Spectator, and in conversations, that university by its affiliations, by the speakers it invites, by the students and scholars that it accepts, somehow expresses political opinions, endorses various political ideas, or condemns them.  He thought there is a dangerous slippery slope in deciding that the invitation of the president of Iran means Columbia endorses his ideas, for example,or that Columbia’s acceptance of students from China means that it endorses the crackdown in Tienanmen Square.

 

The president agreed, adding that there are people who are actively trying to perpetrate a stereotype of academic institutions like Columbia as trying to pursue a political agenda.

 

Sen. David Rosner (Ten., Public Health) said on behalf of some faculty members who are often skeptical of administration actions that in this instance he wholeheartedly supported the president’s position.

 

The president was thankful for this comment, though he admitted he didn’t feel quite as good as he’d like to. There was laughter.

 

Sen. Paul Thompson (Alum.) was certain that he did not represent an alumni consensus in expressing support for everything the president had said.

 

Sen. Karen Green (Lib. Stf.) said she oversees the anonymous email alias for the Libraries. In the previous days she had seen an uptick in aggrieved and angry responses to the Ahmadinejad visit.  She had forwarded some of these to the Libraries’ director of outside services, who is the security liaison. She felt conflicted about whether she was doing the responsible thing or acting as part of some security force tracking people down. Is there a procedure for distinguishing harmless cranks from real threats?

 

The president said the security problems surrounding this event are not a small matter. Columbia security teams actively follow up on serious threats, and are plugged into the New York Police Department and to federal law enforcement agencies.  He added that the Ahmadinejad visit would be a Secret Service event, which he assumed was the highest level of security oversight.

 

The president also said he did not think that Columbia is enabling a kind of monitoring that could be inhibiting speech and civil liberties.

 

Provost Brinkley said administrators are getting many emails, too many to read, let alone answer. His own custom is to respond only to people inside Columbia. He added that some of the emails are kind of scary. He did not think it was inappropriate for anyone in the university who might be getting such emails to forward them to Security.

 

The president added that this was an important point.

 

Sen. Adler questioned the mental health of an institution that obliges itself to listen to views it already knows and detests. He asked whether Columbia was going to hear anything new from Ahmadinejad.

 

Sen. Andrea Hauge (Stu., Bus.) replied that what is new about this encounter is that it affords Columbia people to ask questions that challenge his ideas, though he might not choose to answer.  She said Columbia students feel the weight of that responsibility, remembering that their counterparts in Iran do not have the same opportunity.

 

Sen. Jane Khodarkovsky (Stu., Barn.) asked if there would be ways for students, faculty, and various groups on campus to engage in dailogue with each other during the event.

The president said many people were working on event arrangements, and suggestions were welcome.  He said Columbia is a big, complicated, diverse, decentralized place, and administrators hoped to foster some kinds of dialogue, but also hope that good things will happen just happen because of the nature of the place.

           

The president added that Columbia would be dedicating the whole year and maybe beyond to having speakers about Iran. He hoped to see representatives of different segments of Iranian society, including reformists.  He supposed that many Americans, including people in higher education, are inadequately informed about Iran, as well as the Middle East, and much of the world for that matter.  But given the centrality of Iran at the moment, it was particularly important to have a better understanding of the dynamics of that society and how a person like this could get into this kind of position. He said that an actual encounter with someone has a remarkable impact on one’s interest in a subject and in pursuing other subjects as well.

 

Sen. Johnson said he thought the Ahmedinejad visit had already been an educational experience, obliging many students to articulate the grounds of their reactions and their ideas about the boundaries of free speech.  But he added that not everyone accepts the principle that no ideas are too offensive for discussion on campus.  How should that view be addressed? Also, what can be done about how the event is playing outside the university? It’s not possible to review the issues for every outside inquiry.

 

The president said the reason he had to take a phone call was to address one of those inquiries.  He said the Senate is an entirely appropriate body for thinking through the limits of free speech and academic freedom, and has already done that in various settings.  He said other groups could also take this on.

 

The president said Columbia has principles that have been articulated over a long time, and there is a national sense of norms, but they are always open to debate, and if there is a feeling that such debate is needed, it can be facilitated.

 

Sen. Hauge asked if there has been outreach to Iranian students on campus, some of whom are worried about being identified when asking questions.  The president said he wasn’t aware of such an effort, but he was sure it was being considered. 

 

The president adjourned the meeting shortly after 3 pm.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff.