University Senate Proposed: April 11, 2008
MEETING OF FEBRUARY 29, 2008
Lee C. Bollinger, the president, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 501 Schermerhorn. Fifty-five of 100 senators were present during the meeting.
Minutes and agenda: The minutes of February 1 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.
President’s report: The president was pleased to report that Columbia ranked fifth among American universities in actual dollars raised in 2007, and third in the Ivy Plus group. In recent memory Columbia has ranked around 9th or 10th, never higher than 7th. The president said this is a sign not only of the university’s resources but of an improving relationship with alumni.
Among major projects, the president said, the interdisciplinary science building now rising on the northwest corner of the Morningside campus needs an exciting name, as well as a major donor. Renovations continue in Knox Hall, and Manhattanville continues apace.
The president said Columbia would announce enhancements to its financial aid program early in the coming week.
Sen. Eric Wang (Stu., CC) asked for details of the plan, particularly involving international students like himself. He said 20 percent of Columbia’s undergraduate population are international students. He was now $150,000 in debt. He was a senior and recognized that no policy change would help him.
The president said he was not prepared to announce any details yet, partly because some of them are still being worked out. But he was prepared to report some of the parameters he had set for these decisions. He said Columbia has enormous needs and aspirations, but has less money to address them than peer institutions that have taken the largest steps in expanding financial aid.
He said Columbia must not base its allocation decisions on the latest moves of its richer peers. It is working on enhancements and does want to retain its competitive position, but it must rely on resources committed to financial aid, and not to other institutional needs.
The other main parameter, consistent with Columbia’s commitment to social mobility, is that the principal benefits of financial aid should be for lower- and moderate-income students. Some of the other plans reduce tuition for families with annual incomes up to $200,000—somewhere in the top 3-5 percent of incomes in this country.
The president said international students will not be included in the enhancements for next year, though the university very much wants to provide more financial aid for this group.
Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers) identified problems with Columbia’s accounts payable and purchasing operations. When he tries to buy a piece of major equipment (over $2500) for his scientific research, the order takes almost a month. At peer institutions such purchases take a couple of days. As for Accounts Payable, many vendors have not been paid, and some are now refusing to take orders from Columbia clients. Such problems make it difficult for many faculty, research officers, and students at this major research university to carry out their work, Sen. Savin said. He said he might not be able to complete his current research project before his grants expire or his post-docs finish their term with him and move on. He asked the president to comment, and to report back at the next plenary on efforts to address these problems.
The president agreed that it is important for the institution to handle research and teaching operations efficiently. He did not see it as necessary for him to report back to the Senate. Instead, he suggested putting Sen. Savin in touch with people responsible for procurement to see what solutions are in the works.
Sen. Alan Brinkley, the provost, said the entire administration is aware of this problem, which has to do with a transition between systems that hasn’t gone well. He said there was a serious effort to correct the problem.
The president reconsidered his earlier remark, saying it would be a good idea to have an appropriate administrator talk to the Senate about this issue.
Sen. Michael Adler (Ten., Bus.) asked if the Columbia endowment has management distribution requirements. His impression was that Harvard and Stanford enhanced their student aid programs largely in order to ward off new distribution requirements.
President Bollinger said Columbia is not required to spend a certain percentage of its endowment for education and research purposes. Some in Congress are considering the idea of a mandatory rule. The general practice in institutions of higher education is to determine a spending rate for the endowment, usually averaged over several prior quarters to balance the effect of fluctuations. And the typical current spending rate of about five percent is based on an estimate that over the long haul endowments will return about 8-9 percent. Subtracting about 3 percent for inflation leaves 5 percent for spending, a rate thought to preserve the underlying capital value of the endowment. It’s also a basic value of most universities to try to preserve the endowment forever.
When endowment returns are 18, 20, 20-plus percent over several years, and universities are raising tuition and other expenses faster than the general inflation rate, people may say universities should use more of their endowment to support ambitious projects. When endowments approach the level of the national income of small countries (for example, Harvard’s $35 billion), people start to see universities as sovereign entities. The president concluded that university decisions about financial aid are made in a political environment.
The president said he and the Columbia trustees believe these are trustee decisions. He said all university officers—faculty members, deans, presidents, provosts—believe they could do so much more with a little bit more money than anybody else, and we’re always in a special moment. He said administrators try to take the long view, but are inescapably drawn into the short view. Trustees, by definition, should be thinking long term, and should be the ultimate check on deliberations like these, but it is appropriate for others to make recommendations.
The president’s own view was that for certain limited purposes, especially those which can be justified as a real institutional investment, there should be exceptions to spending rules. Such exceptions are difficult to define. One way might be to take a broad view of an institution’s endowment, as not only the money in various managerial accounts, but also the quality of the faculty, the students, and the institution overall. At some moments, special investments in the long-term future of the faculty and the student body are actually ways to build the endowment.
The president thought that at this particular moment, given the rise of endowments and the needs of the institutions and the society, as well as the growing sense that tuition is putting some institutions out of reach of some Americans, some very modest increase for some period of time, limited to one-time investments, is appropriate.
Sen. Adler, who lives in 560 Riverside, on the edge of Manhattanville, repeated expressions of concern he had heard at a tenants’ meeting about the loss of neighborhood services—such as tire repair—that will be replaced by the new Columbia campus. He asked if there was an administrator associated with the Manhattanville project who is responsible for making sure basic services are maintained.
The president responded, to laughter, that the university’s flat-tire division would be directed to 560 Riverside immediately. More seriously, he said he would pass this question on to people working on the Manhattanville development.
Sen. Adler suggested a poll to see which services matter most to residents and neighbors.
Report of the Executive Committee Co-chairs: Co-chair Paul Duby (Ten., SEAS) reported that the Committee on the Rules of Conduct was finally underway, after a 12-year hiatus and several months of start-up. He said the committee had been very active during the early years of the Senate, and continued to review the Rules of Conduct governing rallies and demonstrations—and from time to time recommend changes—until 1996, when it went on standby. In response to complaints about the Rules from both administrators and students in the aftermath of the Minuteman episode in October 2006, the Executive Committee has revived the committee.
Sen. Duby reviewed the roster of the reactivated committee, which still needed two tenured members. He praised the student caucus for recruiting four qualified nonsenators.
Sen. Duby mentioned a breakfast event on February 7 put on by the Honors and Prizes Committee, whose chair is Sen. Debra Wolgemuth (Ten., P&S). It was a successful attempt to solicit recommendations for honorary degrees from a population of faculty and students largely outside the Senate.
Sen. Duby said Trustee chair Bill Campbell would be the guest at the April 11 plenary.
--Manhattanville template: Co-chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) said the Task Force on Campus Planning, which she chairs, has been pursuing a planning process on some aspects of the proposed Manhattanville campus. The Task Force, jointly with Physical Development, has met with deans from Business, Engineering, and SIPA to learn about their planning efforts.
The next step, Sen. O’Halloran said, is to involve Senate committees in the planning effort, matching their mandates with relevant aspects of the Manhattanville proposal. Only a few committees were mentioned in the template document distributed at the door, but others, such as Student Affairs and Research Officers, have expressed interest. Each committee will produce a three-to-five page white paper that considers the opportunities Manhattanville represents, as well as the challenges. The paper would look at three different options on a scale or range. The Libraries Committee, for example, might consider moving all Libraries resources, moving no Libraries resources, and something in between, perhaps involving resources shared among several units. Then the study might consider the negative and positive impacts of these different options, not only on the surrounding area but on units that will be left behind, at Morningside or CUMC. Another consideration is potential funding sources for a move to Manhattanville, either through capital expenditures, savings in the operating budget, or additional fundraising. The paper would conclude with a series of overall recommendations.
Sen. O’Halloran said the next step would be assembling these white papers in a 30-page report, which could serve as a point of departure for further discussion. She hoped to have draft white papers by the end of the term, refine them during the summer, and present a full report in the fall.
Student affairs. Student caucus co-chair John Johnson (Stu., Law) reported that the Housing Policy Committee had held a hearing earlier that day on housing discrepancies among student populations. Without commenting on the findings of this particular hearing, Sen. Johnson shared his impression that hearings are a thoughtful way to address issues of potential contention and misunderstanding, as well as flaws in administrative processes.
Sen. Johnson said the April 11 plenary will include a report on implications of last fall’s bias incidents, a Student Affairs project pursued with the help of the External Relations Committee. The report would include recommendations, and perhaps a resolution for Senate action.
Sen. Johnson also mentioned a survey that all members of the student caucus were taking to their schools about support services relating to issues of diversity and responses to bias incidents. The survey would be integrated into the findings of the report.
Sen. Johnson expressed satisfaction that the Rules Committee was up and running. He looked forward to getting important ground work accomplished this spring.
Sen. Johnson said that students have not yet discussed the Manhattanville template as a group, but that their perspective is obviously essential to a successful planning exercise.
Without going into detail, Sen. Johnson noted recent resolutions from different student governments expressing concerns about health services. The caucus may also present a panel on student leadership.
Education: Not ready.
Resolution to Establish the Executive MBA—Global Asia (Columbia Business School, London Business School and the University of Hong Kong). Education Committee chair Letty Moss-Salentijn said the proposed program is essentially the highly successful Columbia Business School executive MBA program, but offered to a rather specialized group of students. These are mainly mid-career individuals from Asia, who would spend 80 percent of their time in the program at the University of Hong Kong, 10 percent at Columbia, and 10 percent at the London Business School. The program would be taught by the faculties of all three schools, and the proposal calls for a single degree to be awarded by all three schools.
Sen. Moss-Salentijn said the Education Committee had based its decision to go forward with the resolution on its judgment of the quality of the program. It has left the problem of a single degree being awarded by three different schools to be worked out by administrators.
Sen. Wang asked if graduates of the program who have spent only 10 percent of their academic time at Columbia will be Columbia alumni. Sen. Moss-Salentijn said they would.
Sen. Wang asked if students will have access to Columbia faculty, even while they’re based in Hong Kong 80 percent of the time. Sen. Moss-Salentijn said students will have access to faculty at the sites where they are based while they are based there.
Sen. Wang asked if the program would replace any program already here. Sen. Moss-Salentijn said it would not.
Sen. Pollack (Ten., BS/A&S) asked what happens to the free-market model of competition for students in a program like this.
Sen. Adler, a Business School professor, said Columbia is one of the top ten choices for anyone who wants to study in the U.S.; London Business School is one of the top five choices for study in Europe; and Hong Kong has few serious rivals in Asia. He did not think these schools compete for the same students.
Sen. Savin asked about the provision in Senate resolutions calling for five-year reviews of new programs. How does that work?
Sen. Moss-Salentijn said Education Committee annual reports always list programs that received five-year reviews that year. But annual reports are the only places where those reviews are mentioned outside the committee.
Sen. Savin asked what happens to a program that has an unsuccessful five-year review. Sen. Moss-Salentijn says it is dropped, and is not presented to the Senate again.
By voice vote the Senate then approved the program without dissent.
Resolution to Establish a Master of Science degree in Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices in Architecture (SAPP). Sen. Moss-Salentijn said the proposal calls for a two-year, 48-credit master’s program. It is aimed at people with a background in architecture who want to become architectural critics, theorists, journalists, editors, publishers, or curators.
Again, the students would be mid-career professionals.
Sen. Adler said this program seemed to bear out the adage that those who can, do; those who can’t, become critics.
The Senate then approved the resolution by voice vote without dissent.
The president adjourned the meeting at around 2:30 pm.
Tom Mathewson, Senate staff