University Senate                                                                      Proposed: December 13, 2007

 

                                                                                                Adopted:

 

 

MINUTES OF NOVEMBER 15, 2007

 

President Lee Bollinger called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 107 William and June Warren Hall. Fifty-three of 98 senators were present during the meeting.

 

Adoption of the minutes and agenda: The minutes of October 26 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.

 

President’s report:  The Manhattanville rezoning process was at a critical stage, having now reached the City Planning Commission, after going through Community Board 9 and the Manhattan borough president’s office. A vote of the planning commission was expected in the next two weeks.  Then the rezoning proposal will reach the final stage—a vote of the City Council in December or January.

 

The president mentioned the continuing hunger strike on South Lawn.  He said a team of faculty and administrators led by Columbia College Dean Austin Quigley, Arts and Sciences Vice President Nicholas Dirks, and Provost Alan Brinkley, and including health workers, was trying to resolve the matter. The president said he could say no more at this point.

 

Sen. Eric Wang (Stu., CC) said the strikers’ demand that Columbia withdraw its rezoning proposal on Manhattanville is more complex than their demands involving the Core Curriculum.

 

The president said it would be wise for him not to comment on any of the demands or responses, except to say that there are many forums, internal and external, for discussing Manhattanville, including the Senate.  At the same time, decisions have been made and will continue to be made. Manhattanville is not an issue that Columbia can put to a vote in a particular forum. It is a major university-wide initiative, with extensive trustee involvement.

 

Sen. John Johnson (Stu., Law) noted that some of the strikers’ demands involve issues that have been part of an ongoing set of discussions within the institution, including the degree of diversity and multiculturalism in the curriculum, particularly in the Core, and the status of the “major cultures” element.  Sen. Johnson asked how the Senate could advance the institution’s interest in addressing these issues, as well as the protesters’ Manhattanville demands. 

 

The president said the answer depends on the particular topic under discussion.  The Core Curriculum, for example, is fundamentally a College and A&S issue, and not really under Senate purview.  Manhattanville, on the other hand, is a more appropriate concern of the Senate, which has been and will remain actively involved in deliberations about expansion plan that will take decades.  The president invited Provost Brinkley to comment.

 

 

The provost said the Senate was created to provide the Columbia community—particularly the faculty—with a voice in how the university responds to a great crisis like the disturbances of 1968, and possibly to a smaller crisis like the present one.  In practice this has meant consultation with the Senate on matters like bringing police on campus during a protest.  He thought negotiating an end to the hunger strike, particularly the day-to-day discussions with strikers and their representatives, was more the function for faculty and administrators, particularly given the urgency and subtlety of some of the issues.  At the same time, he said, the Senate is entitled to express opinions on any university-wide issues, including the present one.  

 

Sen. Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) said issues raised at the October plenary in a student caucus report about the university’s responses to recent bias incidents were now being addressed in a series of meetings of External Relations, which she chairs. The result will be a report identifying best practices, and making some recommendations. This is more appropriate work for the Senate than dealing with particulars of the curriculum, she said. 

 

Sen. Johnson saw the External Relations initiative as an important opportunity for the Senate. He expressed a wish to see major issues addressed through regular channels, and not through tactics like hunger strikes. He was troubled by the points some students have made that the only way to accomplish change is through drastic forms of protest.

 

Sen. Wang said important issues should be brought to elected representatives, whether they’re students or faculty.  He said going directly to the administration, as recent protests have, has the effect of sidelining elected representatives and regular channels of internal governance, as well as obscuring other issues that matter to Senate constituencies.    

 

Sen. O’Halloran called for earlier communication between elected representatives and other student groups. Otherwise, the elected representatives will hear about important issues only when there’s a protest—too late for them to do their job effectively.  If the Student Affairs Committee can get involved early enough, it can do everything in its capacity to facilitate discussion between students and administrators.

 

Sen. Sumeet Shah (Stu., SEAS) stressed the importance of the health and safety of the students.  Spectator had reported that day that Health Services had declared two of the strikers to be in serious condition, and they subsequently pulled out of the hunger strike.  Sen. Shah asked the president to elaborate on efforts to monitor the strikers’ health.

 

The president said the health of the strikers was the paramount concern of all administrators.

The provost added that physicians both from Columbia Health Services and St. Luke’s Hospital had been checking on the students at least twice a day since the beginning of the strike.  One student had left the protest because of health problems. Two other students were exhibiting signs of serious health problems the day before and were treated.

 

Sen. Tiffany Davis (Stu., CC) said the strikers’ demands imply a condition of institutional negligence about the issues in this strike. The Senate’s role, in this as in other serious issues that have led to protests, has been mainly reactive rather than proactive. She said the strikers are looking for institutional mechanisms to make sure the university is accountable for longstanding promises.  This is only one of a number of student complaints in search of a mechanism for solution, she said. Another involves the need for a procedure for reporting bias incidents. Institutional mechanisms are needed to address such issues before protests arise. But when protests do occur, there should be a set procedure for senators to respond.  At present student deliberations follow no particular procedure, with senators and student councils sometimes involved in different discussions. 

 

Sen. Andrea Hauge (Stu., Bus.) noted that the hunger strike was not the first attempt that strikers made to raise their issues.  She thought it would be appropriate for the Senate to repair institutional mechanisms designed to address student concerns.

 

Sen. Johnson said the Senate must do a better of job of communicating with its consituencies, specially students, to give them a reason to bring important issues to the Senate, and to appreciate the Senate for what it can and should be.

 

Executive Committee chair’s report:  Co-chair Paul Duby (Ten., SEAS) said he, along with co-chair Sharyn O’Halloran and the staff member, had met with University Secretary Jerome Davis and his staff to review all routine links between the Senate and the Trustees.  There will be more discussion in particular on the way Senate-consulted Trustees are selected.  Sen. Duby said the meeting had gone well.

 

In reference to the previous discussion, Sen. Duby said there are Senate mechanisms to enable almost any constituency to bring up issues.  All issues must go through the Executive Committee but, in his recent experience, all eventually reach the Senate floor, though there can be delays.  In some cases student initiatives have led to Senate actions.  But he did not think the Senate could usefully get involved in a crisis like the present strike, which requires rapid action by a small group of people. But he said that it should be possible for student or faculty senators to be involved in some of the discussions.  He suggested approaching the provost about this.

 

Sen. Duby said that on November 9 the Executive Committee had discussed the hunger strike, with attention to the health of the strikers.  The committee had the same information that the president and provost had just provided. 

 

Sen. Duby said the committee was still working to set up the Committee on Rules of University Conduct. The process was slow, but it was worth the trouble to find the right people. 

 

Sens. Duby and O’Halloran had met with Housing Policy on November 7 to discuss that committee’s resolution to limit rent increases in Columbia apartments, which the Executive Committee had remanded to them in September.  He expected to see another resolution before the December Executive Committee meeting.

 

Sen. Duby mentioned problems with the new Columbia ID cards, in which the many distinctions among Columbia constituencies have been collapsed into one—between students and employees. This has caused complications for teaching assistants, who are students and officers, for faculty, and others.

Sen. O’Halloran said a Senate resolution is not needed to fix this problem.  She was polling departmental administrators to learn all the problems that have arisen and working with the provost’s office to make sure the appropriate categories are restored.  She said the problem will be addressed as quickly as possible.

 

In response to a question, Sen. O’Halloran said there were previously 34 categories.  She planned to work with Pearl Spiro, who handles all titles for the provost’s office, and with the right people in Security and in Information Technology to make sure everyone has the right identity.

 

Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers), who has regularly raised questions about the status of research officers, asked what new titles were contemplated for officers. To laughter, President Bollinger asked Sen. Savin the motive for his question.

 

Sen. O’Halloran said it was clear that two categories were not enough, and that Columbia did not need more than the previous 34.  Those were the boundaries.

 

New business: 

            --Resolution to Establish a Dual Degree Program Linking a Columbia M.A. in the Mathematics of Finance with the M.S. in Applied Mathematics at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris.  Education Committee chair Letty Moss-Salentijn presented the resolution, which the Senate adopted unanimously without discussion.

 

            --Resolution to Establish a Dual Degree Program in International World History at Columbia and the London School of Economics. Sen. Moss-Salentijn presented the resolution.

 

In response to a question, she said the program would take two years.   

 

Sen. Richard Bulliet (Ten., A&S/SS), speaking for the History Department, thanked the committee for expediting the proposal.

 

The Senate adopted the resolution unanimously.

 

The chairman adjourned the meeting at 1:50 pm.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

 

Tom Mathewson

Senate staff