University Senate Proposed: February 29, 2008
MEETING OF FEBRUARY 1, 2008
President Lee Bollinger called the Senate to order shortly 1:15 pm in 501 Schermerhorn. Forty-nine of 100 senators were present during the meeting.
Minutes and agenda: A report from Housing Policy on student housing issues was added to the agenda. In the minutes of December 13, 2007, two changes were made as the result of a revision of the record of a remark by Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten., P&S).
Sen. Paul Duby (Ten., SEAS), Executive Committee co-chair, mentioned that Structure and Operations was conducting a review of the status of Senate committee and plenary minutes.
President’s report: The president said the major news since the last plenary was the City Council vote to approve the University’s rezoning proposal for Manhattanville, along with the completion of an agreement with the Local Development Corporation, which had been authorized by the city to negotiate a community benefits agreement with Columbia.
He said this outcome provides Columbia with the historic opportunity—indeed the privilege—to develop a new campus over a period of several decades, in partnership with surrounding communities—particularly Harlem—and the city. He said this is a great result, and a tribute to the many people who have worked on the project, including senators.
The president said the University now has to build this new campus, requiring efforts as extraordinary as those needed over the last five years to bring the University to the present point.
On behalf of the university, the president thanked the Senate. He particularly thanked Sen. Sharyn O’Halloran, chair of the Task Force on Campus Planning. He thanked faculty, staff, trustees, donors, and the political people and communities involved.
The president said the approval from the city is historic partly because it changes the dynamics. He said people like himself, who were at Columbia in 1968, have a keen sense of how much has changed. Who would have thought then that Columbia would be able to build in West Harlem—and not just a building or two, but a new campus? He said this success is a tribute to several decades of efforts to change Columbia’s community relations.
Manhattanville remains a long-term project, the president said. It won’t happen tomorrow, or in three years—although a number of Columbia’s administrative operations have already moved there. But the flowering of this campus will not take place for at least another five years.
The president said the university has to address the complexities of this transition, partly by engaging the Columbia community in a new process of consultation about what the university is going to be. Over the next month and beyond the administration will be unfolding this process, just as it did at the beginning with Manhattanville.
Executive Committee chairs’ remarks: Sen. Duby announced that Dan Mausner, after four years on the Senate staff, had left to take a position outside the university on January 9. Sen. Duby praised Mr. Mausner’s work for the Senate, and welcomed his successor, Jessica Raimi, who had begun on January 25.
Sen. Duby said the last Executive Committee meeting had to be rescheduled to a Tuesday (January 29), which made it difficult for several members to attend, though the committee did achieve quorum for most of the meeting.
Effort reporting: Sen, Duby saw no need to repeat the remarks he had made at the plenary on December 13, but he did summarize what happened afterwards. On December 20 Executive Vice President for Research David Hirsh, along with his compliance director Naomi Schrag and associate controller Richard Ruttenberg, had met with a small group of senators, including himself, Samuel Silverstein, and three research officers, as well as two science professors not in the Senate.
Sen. Duby said this meeting was useful—more useful, he recognized in retrospect, than a discussion of the same topic at a Senate plenary. It helped to develop a dialogue, as well as a much better understanding of how faculty and researchers approach their research grants. Their goal is to maximize research results, he said, and they feel they’re reporting only to the director of a program. On the other hand, the administration has to certify that federal research funds have been spent in the ways described in grant proposals. And there is often some conflict between the two priorities.
Afterwards, Sen. Duby said, EVP Hirsh did accept some suggestions from the December 20 meeting, making some changes in the Website and in the presentation of the training course, which Sen. Duby had criticized at the previous plenary. There were also other meetings with departmental chairs and other faculty during the intersession. He said the administration did a lot of work in just a few weeks, though it would have been better if this work had been done earlier.
In a recent conversation, Naomi Schrag had agreed to have additional meetings in coming weeks, and to consider other suggestions, which could also be offered by email. Sen. Duby had proposed that the Executive Committee create a subcommittee, whose nucleus would be Sens. Silverstein and Daniel Savin (Research Officers) and himself. He would also invite chairs of science departments to participate.
Sen. Duby identified some remaining issues on effort reporting. At the previous plenary, he had mentioned poor communication between the administration and the faculty, which he said was not unusual at Columbia. What is needed is a better document, he said, one that spells out rules and responsibilities for faculty, and that might go in the Faculty Handbook. The current arrangement is for junior faculty to ask the chair or a senior professor for guidance, and they’re getting conflicting information, Sen. Duby said.
Another issue, Sen. Duby said, is the need to start the effort reporting process earlier. At one of the recent meetings an outside lawyer who has been advising the university gave an excellent presentation. Sen. Duby said there should be more discussion with this lawyer, in search of a clearer interpretation of federal guidelines. One example involves summer compensation. When the government funds research to be carried out during the summer, the researcher is not supposed to do anything else. So if a chairman, for instance, does any other duties during those three months he or she is not entitled to those three months of salary.
Sen. Duby said if there were no objections, he would interpret the Senate’s response to his report as tacit approval. The president said there seemed to be tacit approval.
Manhattanville: To applause, Executive Committee co-chair Sharyn O’Halloran thanked President Bollinger for his leadership on Manhattanville. She said it has been a Herculean undertaking, and the university community is very grateful for the opportunities it creates. She said many people in the Senate also did a lot of work, and deserve thanks as well.
She said Manhattanville is a valuable exercise in collaboration between the Senate and the administration that she hoped would continue, especially in relation to academic planning issues.
There had been a constructive conversation with Provost Brinkley in the Executive Committee about the Senate’s contribution, which he saw as an analysis of a process for thinking about academic planning, as opposed to individual decisions about who goes where. That’s not the Senate’s job, she said, but it is essential to have a process that’s seen as fair and transparent, or at least one in which the rules are known ahead of time.
The development of a framework for Manhattanville planning—involving several committee chairs—is what the Task Force on Campus Planning is now engaged in, Sen. O’Halloran said. The group has been meeting with deans who have gone through different planning processes. On January 25, the task force heard from SEAS interim dean Gerald Navratil, who had presented a precise, thorough overview of the current standing of Engineering and its planning process. The School is also providing the Task Force with additional information. The Business School has also presented its own planning process for its impending Manhattanville move in some detail.
Sen. O’Halloran said other schools, like SIPA, are at a preliminary stage of their planning effort, as interim dean Coatsworth explained at the January 25 task force meeting. She said it would be helpful for schools starting the process to see how other schools have proceeded.
Sen. O’Halloran said other committees—Education, External Relations, Libraries, Budget Review—are considering aspects of Manhattanville relevant to their own mandates, and will issue brief reports, which will be pulled together in a combined Senate effort. She looked forward to working collaboratively on this project with the Provost’s office.
In response to a question, the president said Columbia has purchased property in the Manhattanville development zone from 37 owners, and only three lots remain. He said a state process is under way for eminent domain for those lots, which he had declined to waive. But he remained optimistic that the University can work out a deal with each of those three owners.
The president said one of the key features of the rezoning agreement is that Columbia will never have to go back again for permission to build in the development zone. Though Columbia does not own everything in the zone, it owns enough to build a whole campus. Negotiations remain to be conducted over the future of some public property in the zone, but otherwise Columbia is ready to proceed.
In response to another question, the president said that the first internal consultation process about Manhattanville involved a lot of Senate, faculty, administrative, and student input, particularly in the first two years, because at the time there were other options about where to go for a new campus or whether even to have a new campus. Now it’s time to figure out the right kind of consultative process for the next phase.
Another senator asked for details about the Community Benefits Agreement. The president said the CBA, not surprisingly, was literally negotiated at the eleventh hour, concluding near midnight on the eve of the City Council vote. It involves a $20 million commitment to support affordable housing, spread over 12-15 years. The city, not Columbia, will build the housing.
There are also provisions on education, including the public science high school, as well as collaboration between Teachers College and the city on a demonstration elementary school. There are a number of commitments for retail at the ground level, and a number of design elements. There are also commitments involving health programs and jobs. He did not remember all the numbers, but said they had been published at the time of the agreement. He would distribute the agreement again.
The president said the final vote in the Local Development Corporation on the Community Benefits Agreement, roughly 17-3, was a strong expression of support. This was a great outcome, because the whole rezoning process could have reached a conclusion without a CBA, but that would have left a lingering sense that Columbia had never completely resolved its longstanding tensions with the city. But the final LDC vote provided a sense of completion.
Student Affairs. Co-chair John Johnson (Law) announced some goals for the student caucus in the new semester. He said the previous semester had been an active one, and the caucus had tried to help find ways to steer through the various events.
One task for the caucus is an exercise in introspection on the bias incidents of last fall, which the caucus is conducting in collaboration with the External Relations Committee. The caucus had produced a report which, without pointing fingers or assigning blame, had offered a framework for an investigation that might provide helpful answers. That investigation is underway, and the next report will offer recommendations for dealing with issues of communication, diversity, and related issues, and for dispelling areas of unnecessary confusion or miscommunication.
Another major student caucus goal is to assure productive student involvement in the next round of Manhattanville deliberations.
Another perennial issue is the campus climate, Sen. Johnson said. How can students break down the natural divisions that run along school lines?
Housing Policy. Co-chair Paige Lampkin (Stu., GS) read a committee report on disparities within the university in student housing. It recognized that some schools have better access to housing than others, but asked why even units that are available to GS and graduate students go unfilled, and students remain unhoused. These student populations also report dissatisfaction with the services they are receiving from University Apartment Housing (UAH).
Some feel the problem is that this housing is not being administered directly by the university. In addition, the fact that apportionment of units sometimes takes place before GS admissions decisions are made means that the housing needs of GS students are sometimes underestimated. Furthermore, students under the jurisdiction of UAH who apply for housing after mid-semester are informed that regardless of availability their applications cannot be considered until the following semester. One consequence is that GS had two students attending classes last fall who were homeless. Both took up residence in Butler Library.
Housing Policy’s goal is to separate fact from fiction on student housing, and to seek the best possible service for all students, Sen. Lampkin said. The co-chairs have already met with AVP for Facilities David Greenberg, GS Associate Dean Dominic Stellini, and former EVP for Student Services Lisa Hogarty (before she left for the uptown campus). They also plan to meet with Scott Wright, Vice President for Student and Administrative Services; Monica Kuth, Acting Director, Leasing Operations, Facilities; and Facilities EVP Joe Ienuso. The committee will also hold a hearing on this topic.
Resolution to Develop a Policy for Allocating Rental Income (Housing Policy). Sen. Lampkin then read another report that had been distributed at the door. It reviewed the legislative history of the resolution, which had been presented in a different form at the May 4, 2007 plenary, without reaching a vote. Objections were raised at the time by administrators and others to the resolution’s linkage of rent increases to median salary increases. In September the Executive Committee remanded the resolution to Housing Policy, and the Executive Committee co-chairs met with Housing Policy in October to discuss revisions. On December 12 Housing Policy approved what was essentially the resolution now before the Senate.
The revised resolution calls for a policy with a rationale for mechanisms to finance capital improvements, Sen. Lampkin said. The committee recommends that such a policy should not rely on rental income to cover shortfalls in the capital budget. Sen. Lampkin said her committee was concerned about rent increases anticipated over the next three years, but was not trying to set rents. She said that only if there is no policy would the committee recommend capping increases for the time being.
Sen. Craig Schwalbe (Nonten., SW), Sen. Lampkin’s co-chair, said the resolution resulted from the committee’s concern over escalating rent increases. He said these have tended historically to range between two and three percent. But last year Facilities announced its intention to raise rents by five percent for this year, and projected the same increase for the next two years.
Sen. Schwalbe said part of the pressure on rents comes from long-term capital investments in the housing stock. He said he would be carrying a stroller up and down the stairs in his Columbia building for the next three or four months while the elevator is being replaced. He said others have reported what appear to be unnecessary capital investments from the standpoint of tenants. These investments are financed with debt, which is ultimately paid through rental increases. He said the need for capital investments is growing, so the pressure to increase rents to cover these outlays will only increase.
Sen. Schwalbe said the current resolution does not impose a moratorium on rent increases, nor does it preclude meaningful rent increases to cover normal operating expenses related to the housing stock. He said the resolution asks the administration to evaluate its policies and practices for developing rent increases, and to weigh the merits of using rental increases for long-term capital investments as against other sources. The resolution also asks the administration to consider the financial burden that current and projected rent increases will impose on faculty, staff, and student tenants.
Sen. Schwalbe asked the Senate to support the resolution. He committed the committee to work closely with the administration as they undertake the policy review due on April 1, and promised to provide a progress report at the April 11 plenary.
Sen. Paige West (Fac., Barn.) suggested that any accounting of housing costs should include the cost to departments of recruiting junior faculty.
Sen. Alan Brinkley, the provost, said he understood faculty concern about rental increases, but said there were inaccuracies in the committee’s account. First, he said, rent increases do not begin to cover the costs of capital expenditures for Columbia’s rental properties. Capital expenses are now paid partly from contributions from the schools, which now average $40,000 a year for every person in residence, at least in some of the newer apartments. A large portion of capital expenditures is paid by debt because Facilities has been for a long time in deficit. And some portion is paid from rents. The provost said he knew of no commercial building anywhere in the world in which rental income did not contribute to capital expenses.
The provost said the average rent increase in New York City last year was 15 percent. Several major real estate owners raised rents by 25 percent. This is partly because the market could bear those rents, but costs have also risen astronomically in recent years, especially energy costs.
The provost acknowledged that 5 percent is a bigger increase than most faculty receive in salary. He said rents have not yet been set for the coming year, a decision that always takes salary increases into account. But he said he would be troubled by a requirement to set a cap on rent increases that are unrelated to the environment in which Facilities has to work. What if energy costs doubled next year and rents were capped? He said capping rents would also require the university to reduce capital investments, as well as acquisitions of new housing at a time of acute shortages in faculty housing.
The provost said Housing Policy meets with housing administrators every year before rent increases are determined, and he understood that there is generally agreement about the coming year’s budget. He didn’t understand why the committee was now saying that there is no process, and that some new plan needs to be created. There is a plan for financing Columbia housing, the provost said, though it may not be a plan the committee likes.
Sen. Michael Adler (Ten., Bus.), a member of Housing Policy, said the committee’s point of departure is not so much an objection to administrative procedures or standards as an expression of the general pain over what amounts to an attack on salaries. He said the whole issue could be resolved immediately without a formula, if the administration could agree to reduce the planned 5 percent increase for next year.
Sen. Adler then responded to the provost’s points. There may be a financial plan for the housing stock, he said, but it has not been sent to the committee. While the committee has routinely approved 2-3 percent rent increases in the past, this time the committee is asking for an explanation. He said the committee also now has the manpower to examine the budgetary assumptions reasonably well.
Sen. Adler said the committee does not want a formula capping rents, and understands that variations in costs may require variations in rent increases. But he said the economist in him needed to instruct the historians in the room. He said there is no relationship between the market and Columbia’s rents. The market has real estate owners who require a reward for taking the risks in real estate, and typically they will require returns on capital of 20-25 percent. Columbia’s function, by contrast, is to restrict access to its real estate to those who belong to the university, and then covering the costs of housing them.
Sen. Adler said the way for Columbia to get a market return on its real estate is to sell it, and put the proceeds in the endowment, which can then earn 20-25 percent.
Sen. Andrea Hauge (Stu., Bus.) said the resolution asks not for a cap but for planning and transparency, a request that should be easy to satisfy. She also agreed with Sen. Adler’s point that the university is competing not with the New York City housing market, but with peer institutions. The key concerns for students are faculty hiring and retention, as well as their own loan burden. Any increase in that burden limits the options students can pursue after graduation.
The provost responded on the question of a cap by reading the second Resolved clause, which said that, in the event the university did not provide a report on rent policy by April 1, rents should be capped at the rate of the urban consumer price index. He repeated that there is a policy in place, but one the committee does not like.
The president said the parliamentarian, Howard Jacobson, wanted to comment on the Senate’s jurisdiction in matters of this kind.
Mr. Jacobson said the characterizations of some of the speakers seemed to be at odds with the text of the resolution. Housing Policy has a jurisdiction to review and recommend policies, he said. The first Resolved clause, by contrast, requires the administration not to take capital expenses into account when it’s setting rents. The second request, also in the first Resolved clause, is for a report from the administration, which seems reasonable, except that it’s a report on the policy that this resolution is asking the Senate to adopt, which he thought was unrealistic.
Mr. Jacobson said the third request, in the second Resolved clause, is to resort to the consumer price index for urban areas in setting rents if the administration doesn’t do what the first resolution calls for, which is to set a policy that doesn’t take capital expenses into account in setting rents.
Mr. Jacobson said he would not speak in detail about statutory provisions on this point, which raise questions about whether the Senate is supposed to try to mandate administration policies in this area. But he offered an observation on the notion that Columbia rents have nothing to do with the New York City housing market. He said there are many people, including faculty, who have no university housing. He said the entire university housing effort is focused on solving this problem, which is made much worse by the shortages in the housing market, where non-regulated rents are now astronomical.
Sen. Johnson said Mr. Jacobson seemed to be speaking as parliamentarian—interpreting the Statutes—and offering personal observations at the same time. He added that one of his concerns, upon first reading the resolution, was the language of the request. There is now no “must” or “shall” language, and the last operative word in the last clause is that the rent increase “should” be capped under certain conditions. Such language takes the teeth out of the resolution, in a certain sense, but provides an assurance that the proponents are dealing in good faith. The resolution does not conclude that a 5 percent increase is wrong; but says in effect, Show us the plan. If the plan supports a 5 percent increase, then the resolution is satisfied. If there is no plan, then the next step is to recommend—not to mandate—a cap on rents.
The president offered his own interpretation of the resolution. He said it asks for a discussion with the administration about the housing policy. He said the provost says there is a housing policy; others wonder what it is. The resolution provides an opportunity for the university to outline a policy and for the committee to say it would like a different policy.
The president said it is not within the power of the Senate to mandate caps on rents. So the resolution offers recommendations about what “should” happen. There appear to be two underlying concerns, the president said. One is the amount of the rent increases, and the second is the relationship between rents and capital expenditures. Both issues are part of the dialogue this resolution asks to undertake.
Sen. Adler said it might be useful for the administration to examine how much income it would forgo if it were to scale back the guideline increase from 5 percent to, say, 3.5 percent. He said a Facilities administrator had offered a rough estimate of $1.5 million. Sen. Adler said this was roughly the amount wasted at 560 Riverside on a landscaping project that nobody seems to like. He said there are ways to address rent issues that are non-confrontational, and the committee wants to find them.
The president appreciated Sen. Adler’s last point, and stressed the administration’s concern about expenses for faculty, as well as about allocations to other critical priorities.
The president then put the resolution to a voice vote. It was adopted with one nay and one abstention.
Resolution to Establish a Ph.D. in Nursing. Education chair Letty Moss-Salentijn (Ten., CDM) said the proposal, in line with a national trend, would replace the current Doctor of Nursing Science program. She said the Nursing School has an excellent group of faculty to support the new program, and her committee, thanks to Sen. Silverstein, had actually improved on the proposal.
Sen. Adler enthusiastically supported the resolution.
The Senate then approved the proposal without dissent by voice vote.
Resolution to Establish the Master of Science in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (Continuing Education). Sen. Moss-Salentijn said the proposal had built on work in the same field at Teachers College and the School of International and Public Affairs. She said people in those programs support the present proposal, which is focused on the practice of conflict resolution, not just the theory.
The Senate approved the resolution by voice vote, without dissent.
The president adjourned the meeting shortly after 2:30 pm.
Tom Mathewson, Senate staff