University Senate                                                                                 

Proposed: December 5, 2008

Adopted: December 5, 2008

 

MEETING OF NOVEMBER 20, 2008

President Lee C. Bollinger, the chairman, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 103 Jerome Greene Hall. Forty-five of 91 senators were present during the meeting.

Minutes and agenda.  The minutes of October 24 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.

President’s report.  The president said his only message was one he expected to give for some time to come—that Columbia must prepare for a different economic environment from the one it had inhabited.  He said he would try to keep the Senate informed about where things stand, and to keep the process as open as possible.  He said revenues were still fairly strong except in one area.  Tuition revenues had not changed. Growth in federal funding had been slow, but not slower than six months ago. Fundraising, surprisingly, had been keeping up—even into November—with optimistic predictions that had preceded the current downturn.  At this point Columbia was ahead of last year’s record-setting pace.  The president expected to report at some point that fundraising was falling off, but that point had not yet arrived.

The president said the one area where Columbia would feel the downturn was in the endowment.  He said university and foundation endowments were down, like most individuals’ TIAA/CREF accounts, and life was not the same in the investment world as it had been.  The president said he would not make monthly reports on the status of the endowment.  There would be a report sometime later in the year. He said it would be fair and honest to say there had been a decline in the endowment. 

Because of the university’s procedures for spending endowment income, the decline would not show up immediately in the operating budget, but it would show up, and the university must prepare for it.  The president reminded senators of his recent letter to the community and said he would continue to try to keep everyone informed.  He said new processes for hiring review were being instituted in the central administration, and efforts were under way to find efficiencies, to take effect immediately.  Still more economies would have to be found in next year’s budget.

The president said the university’s budget is highly decentralized.  The site of the present Senate meeting, for example, is in the Law School, which, apart from a general contribution for services provided by the central administration, is responsible for its own budget. The president said Provost Brinkley and EVP for Finance Anne Sullivan were meeting with each dean about the impact of the downturn on their budgets for next year, and about measures they could take to address it.  These would inevitably include serious efforts to economize. 

These conditions did not mean Columbia would abandon efforts to move ahead on projects vital to the university’s future, the president said.  Funds that had been raised specifically for Manhattanville projects, for example, would be used for those purposes and were not fungible.

In a sense, the president said, none of us are economists and all of us are economists.  That is, economics was not his field and he was not qualified to opine about it. At the same time, he said, he lives in the economy, he feels it and sees it and reads about it and has various roles that make it somewhat apparent to him.  He thought the consensus of the moment was that the nation was in a process that would last at least a year to two years, before the return of conditions that would sustain economic growth.  Every sector of the society had too much leverage, not enough saving, and not enough balance in the use of resources, and the process of regaining economic stability in the consumer population and the financial community would take some time.

The president said the past five years of extraordinary economic growth had clearly benefited the university; the next phase, of retraction and recovery, would also have an impact. But as he had said in his recent letter, Columbia entered this period from a position of strength.  The current capital campaign was the most ambitious in the country except for one.  It was unusual for Columbia to be this optimistic about fundraising, he said.  The campaign was ahead of schedule, having raised nearly $3 billion toward its $4 billion goal with two and a half years to go.

Once again, for the year that ended June 30, 2008, Columbia would come in third in actual dollars raised in the Ivy Plus group, behind Stanford and Harvard, and ahead of Yale.  So Columbia was succeeding on that front, and in its plan to provide for its future space needs. The university was making great progress, with a brilliant future, the president said. 

The president remembered sitting in the same Law School room in the 1970s.  He said concern that New York City could revert to its condition during the 1970s was inescapable.  He was optimistic, based on his observations so far, that that would not happen.  If it were to happen, the consequences for Columbia would be very serious because its fate is intertwined with the city’s. 

Discussion. Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers) complained about noise from the construction of the new Interdisciplinary Science Building near his office in Pupin. 

Sen. James Applegate (Ten., A&S/NS) said the construction noise has set off fire alarms, which would be particularly disruptive during finals.  He asked if the construction activity that had been tripping alarms could be suspended during finals week.

The president said he would raise these issues with Facilities officials, and get a report.

Sen. Hope Leichter (Fac., TC) asked the president about possible responses to the problem of the scarcity of student loan money in the current credit environment—a topic that had been raised at the previous meeting after he had left.

The president said that in Columbia’s decentralized budgetary environment individual schools manage their own financial aid funds.  He suggested bringing these issues up in schools and departments.  In the Arts and Sciences, where the central administration plays more of a role in financial aid decisions, he would be assessing the impact of the downturn in January, when a preliminary measure of financial aid needs for next year would be available. He said the A&S financial aid budget was stretched beyond the limit. To fulfill financial aid commitments for this year in the College and SEAS—and to provide some additional aid for General Studies—Columbia had had to go beyond its budget to make a bridge to money that had been pledged for financial aid, but that was not available yet.  He expressed doubt, in all honesty, that Columbia could devote new resources to financial aid, especially because the need for students would likely be substantially higher under current policies.  He said Columbia was trying to raise additional money as fast as possible, but was not in a position to do more at this stage.  He repeated that some schools may be able to do more for their own students.

Sen. Andreas Svedin (Stu., GSAS/NS) said the shortage of loan money is a more pressing problem for students in schools that depend more on external loans (SIPA, Business)  than on stipends (GSAS).

Sen. Karen Green (Lib. Staff) raised another noise complaint. She said large weekend events scheduled on South Lawn have been disruptive for users of Butler Library, particularly in the reference room. When she had gone outside to object to a band that had encouraged 200 children to scream as loud as possible, she was told the band had permission to be there.  She asked if such weekend events could be moved elsewhere.

The president said he would pass this complaint on.

Executive Committee chairs’ report.
Committee assignments. Executive Committee co-chair Paul Duby (Ten., SEAS) asked the Senate to ratify a new student nominee to the Executive Committee. Sen. Dionisios Vasilatos (Bus.) was unanimously elected to replace Daniel Y. Shin (Law), who had resigned. 

ROTC update. Sen. Monica Quaintance (Stu., CC) said undergraduate student councils had hosted a lengthy debate the night before in Barnard’s Sulzberger Hall on the question of whether a Naval ROTC program should be brought back to campus.  The event was a run-up to a week-long survey of undergraduates (prepared by the Student Development Office) that was scheduled to begin November 24.

Sen. Rajat Roy (Stu., SEAS) said the survey would not address the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. The question would be simply: Should NROTC come back to campus? 

He said the populations included in the survey would be Columbia College, SEAS, Barnard, and General Studies.

Sen. Quaintance said the issue could be raised in the Senate student caucus, regardless of the outcome of the survey.

Sen. Roy said the student caucus could decide later to survey the graduate student population.

Sen. Michael Adler (Ten., Bus.) objected to the exclusion of Continuing Education from the undergraduate survey. Other senators explained that while Continuing Education has undergraduate students, its degree programs are all at the master’s level.

Other reports.
External Relations: Update from the subcommittee reviewing a new policy statement on financial conflicts of interest in research.  Executive Committee co-chair and External Relations chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) said the new policy was drafted mainly by Naomi Schrag, vice president for compliance in the office of EVP for Research David Hirsh. She said the goal of the new policy was to replace the university’s three current policy statements on conflict of interest with a single policy, standardizing rules across the campuses, particularly in view of the growing importance of interdisciplinary research.

Sen. O’Halloran said the goal of the new policy was to balance the interests of researchers, the university, and the public in commercially funded scientific inquiry. An interdisciplinary faculty committee chaired by Sen. Henry Spotnitz (Ten., P&S) had been working for more than a year on a university-wide policy, and that draft had been revised extensively by an ad hoc Senate committee led by Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten., P&S).  There had been two public hearings in November, one at the Medical Center and one on Morningside.  In addition, there had been numerous individual discussions, some with deans.

Sen. O’Halloran asked for discussion at the present meeting, with the possibility of action at the next plenary, on December 5.  She asked Ms. Schrag to provide an overview, including the motivation for changing the current policy, the nature of the changes, and their implications for research on both Columbia campuses. 

Ms. Schrag explained the university’s main concerns about conflict of interest in research.  One is preserving the academic mission.  Unlike a commercial entity, Columbia is committed to expanding knowledge, not generating revenue.  The second concern is to maintain the public trust.  A university’s reputation is its currency, the basis of its efforts to recruit faculty and students and to secure the support of the government, of companies, and the public—not just financial support, but also moral support for the academic mission.

Ms. Schrag referred to recent articles in the New York Times about financial conflicts of interest at elite private institutions as evidence of erosion in these priorities. 

At the same time, Ms. Schrag said, the balance of priorities Sen. O’Halloran had mentioned was crucial. Collaborations with industry enhance academic research.  The public wants taxpayer dollars for research to provide new and useful products, and the federal government has created incentives and requirements to insure that institutions collaborate toward this end. 

The prime example is the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, which allows academic institutions to own intellectual property that their researchers invent using federal funding, license it, and keep the royalties.  In the years since, collaborations with industry had continued to grow and bear fruit at Columbia and throughout the country.

Concerns about conflict of interest have grown apace, Ms. Schrag said.  In 1995 the two biggest federal funding agencies, NIH and NSF, issued regulations that shared basic fundamental requirements, including criteria for financial interests that might lead to a conflict.  One of Columbia’s current policies derives from those regulations. 

Several developments since that time have prompted an effort to standardize research policies across the university, including new thinking about conflict of interest, an increasing focus on interdisciplinary research, and new recommendations from the Association of American Universities, as well as the Association of American Medical Colleges. In the spring of 2007 EVP for Research David Hirsh had appointed a 16-member drafting committee, including faculty members from the Medical Center, the Engineering School, and Arts and Sciences. It met every two weeks for six months, and produced a draft that from a policy perspective was very similar to the one now before the Senate.

Once the draft was complete, there were consultations with deans and faculty from the Law School and the Business School, as well as the vice deans for research at the Medical Center and Arts and Sciences, and the vice dean of Engineering.  Each session led to more changes.  At the same time, Sen. Silverstein’s ad hoc Senate committee was reviewing the policy line by line, and recommending many clarifications and refinements. The result was the current draft.

Ms. Schrag listed four main differences between the new policy and current policies. 

  1. Structure.  There was now a single institution-wide conflict of interest committee, but made up of two subcommittees, one for CUMC and one for the rest of Columbia.  Each one had the flexibility to address issues specific to its research community.
  1. Countervailing circumstances.  The current policies did not consider exceptions to situations that are not “ordinarily allowable.”  The new draft policy would.  For each case of potential conflict, reviewers would ask whether there were countervailing circumstances that warrant an exception.  Some of those were codified in the draft.
  1. Clarification of the review process. The draft policy provided a procedure for faculty on hard-working review committees to consider risks and benefits and assess countervailing circumstances. The procedure would also be helpful to faculty whose disclosures were being reviewed.
  1. Treatment of royalties. Under current policies royalties for researchers that derive from research conducted separately from Columbia were reviewed for conflict of interest, but royalties for research conducted under Columbia’s auspices were not. Under the new policy, both kinds of royalties would be reviewed for conflict of interest.

Ms. Schrag said the drafting committee spent many hours thinking about this question, and determined that there was no policy reason to treat these two streams of royalties differently.  But the policy also had a specific paragraph that acknowledges Bayh-Dole’s emphasis on the public benefits of commercializing the results of federally sponsored research, and it highlighted this point in its discussion of countervailing circumstances. 

Ms. Schrag said the draft policy also had examples of possible applications of the policy in an appendix, along with a set of nearly 40 FAQs. She invited suggestions for additional questions.

Sen. O’Halloran made one additional point.  The resolution enacting the policy would likely provide for a two-year trial of the new policy, followed by a review of such issues as the policy’s impact, if any, on the administration of research grants; the impact of including university-owned patents among financial ties covered by the policy; the adequacy of university support for the implementation of the policies; researchers’ experience with the policy, and the effect of any changes in applicable external regulations.  With an eye to these issues during the next two years, reviewers could revisit them and make needed changes.

Ms. Schrag emphasized this point—that the results of monitoring efforts would be reported back to the Senate ad hoc committee. 

Sen. Soulaymane Kachani (NT, SEAS) said several colleagues in the Engineering and Business schools had voiced reservations about the new policy, but the most important one was that this would be a single policy for the whole university, with no bifurcation between research at the Medical Center and at other campuses, or between human-subjects research and other kinds.

He asked why Columbia was adopting a single policy that subjects everybody to the very high standard applied to research on human subjects.  He said his own department, Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, had invited Ms. Schrag to speak at its monthly meeting on December 4, and would respectfully ask to postpone a Senate vote on the policy till January.

Ms. Schrag responded that the drafting committee had spent many hours thinking about how a single policy should work, and whether there should be dual standards.  She said, first, that the current policy would not represent such a big change, because the current policy and current NSF regulations, which fund a lot of research in engineering, both required disclosure and set the same thresholds as the new draft policy for levels of financial interest that require review. 

Ms. Schrag also mentioned the flexibility that was built into the new policy, with two separate subcommittees and provision for case-by-case review.  She said there is no attempt to force the same result for different kinds of research.  The absence of risk to human subjects is considered a relevant factor in weighing conflict of interest in some kinds of research.

At the same time, she said, the drafting committee, including its engineers and basic scientists, came to a consensus that the risk of conflict of interest—of bias based on a researcher’s outside financial interests—exists in all research, whether it takes place in a lab or a clinical setting. 

Sen. Applegate asked whether review committees would simply require disclosure of financial interests, or actually prohibit investigators from pursuing certain research projects.  What standard of proof would the committees use? He noted that appearances of conflict of interest are in the eye of the beholder. 

Ms. Schrag said the question of appearances might amount to the question, How would this situation look for Columbia on the front page of the New York Times?

Ms. Schrag said Columbia’s science and technology committee on the Morningside campus had met regularly for many years to review conflicts of interest.  They typically look at a faculty member’s disclosure, ask what the potential risks are under Columbia’s policy, and make a determination.  The committee, a group of peers, may decide that there is no risk of conflict of interest, or that a financial interest must be disclosed in publications, or that further steps are required. 

In response to Sen. Applegate, Ms. Schrag said the committee could offer the researcher a choice: Pursue the research and eliminate or reduce the financial interest, or retain the financial interest and give up the research. So the committee not only requires disclosures, but also manages conflicts.

Sen. Applegate said that if the burden of proof were what shows up in newspapers, Columbia would have an ROTC program now.

Sen. O’Halloran said the new policy constructively laid out a management strategy for potential conflicts of interest.  She said the issue of possible bifurcation of the policy may rest on the question of whether the review process can give more weight to the potential innovation of a research project or to the risks of conflict of interest. 

President Bollinger asked if the view of the drafters was so broad as to require a faculty member to disclose any research that may involve a financial benefit.  Would that requirement cover a case in which a faculty member writes a book in such a way as to maximize its sales?

Ms. Schrag said that book royalties were excluded from the policy, adding, to laughter, that this decision was in part a response to conversations with people at the Law School. 

She said the new policy offered a particular definition of the idea, outlined in NIH and NSF regulations, of outside interests that may “reasonably appear” to be affected by the research.  The new policy spoke of an Interested Business, one that either funds the research, supplies technology that is the subject of the research, holds permissions for conducting research on the technology, owns or licenses or has some kind of contractual interest in the technology that’s the subject of the research, or is acting on behalf of another interested business.  The final point in the definition was that the business is likely to be “directly and predictably affected” by the outcome of the research. 

The president asked what the rationale was for excluding royalties from the policy.

Sen. Silverstein said it made sense to exclude book royalties so long as they come from an independent publisher.  If the publisher were Merck, and you were receiving royalties or monies in your laboratory, then the issue of conflict of interest would arise.  But the First Amendment guarantees the faculty member the right to put anything in the book, and, as the president had said many times, Columbia would not want to interfere with that process.  He said the most important issue in questions of conflict of interest is transparency.  So long as a relationship is transparent, the researcher must think it is legitimate, because otherwise it would not be made public.  When there is transparency, the researcher has done the most important thing, and then a university committee has to decide whether transparency is enough or whether the largesse that the drug company or the engineering company will give you to find in their favor is large enough to sway your objective judgment.

The president generally agreed, but offered a couple of observations, in the spirit of engagement with this issue. He thought it is within the power of the university—not the central administration but a school faculty—to tell a faculty member that certain work is not scholarly inquiry but work for hire, for money. 

Sen. Silverstein said he is forbidden to do that kind of work in a university laboratory, so that point was already moot.   

Sen. O’Halloran thought the president was speaking more of a conflict of commitment than of a financial conflict of interest.

The president said a conflict of commitment policy sets limits on the proportion of work a faculty member should be doing for the university.  But even if the faculty member honors those limits, his work may not be judged to count as scholarship.  And one reason it may not count is that it was done primarily for money.  He said it is important to say there is a concept of scholarship, and we live by that concept, which is enforceable basically by our faculties.  And part of that may be defined by what is done for money.

The president also said the new policy was an effort by the university to say that in an ideal world we want faculty to pursue research for the sake of knowledge, not financial gain.  We recognize that we don’t live fully in an ideal world, that sometimes people do things that benefit them financially, and we understand human motivation may include financial benefits.  We want to draw some difficult lines for cases where the financial component gets too big, where we want disclosure.  But generally speaking, when there is the appearance that we’re doing things for money rather for the advancement of knowledge, we’ve got a problem, and we want to try to address it, by prohibiting it or disclosing it. 

He said financial interests can intrude in the publication of books.  If he were hired by the cigarette companies to advise them on how to build a First Amendment case that cigarette advertising is constitutional, and then he wrote a piece for a journal or a book arguing that cigarette advertising is covered by the First Amendment, this would be problematic as scholarship.  So if the policy carves out book royalties or scholarly work outside the sciences, there has to be a rationale for that choice.  

Sen. Silverstein said he thought the collection of book royalties was not the critical issue. What matters more, he said, is transparency—whether you disclose your financial relationship with the outside company.  So the answer to the president’s hypothetical about the cigarette company is that he would have to disclose the financial relationship, and let the reader decide whether his article is legitimate.

Ms. Schrag offered the drafting committee’s thinking on this issue.  Their question about book royalties was, In what case could they bias or appear to bias someone’s research going forward?  And the committee could not come up with common scenarios in which conventional book royalties from a regular publisher would have that effect.

The president replied that the fact that the royalties are coming from an independent source does not take away the problem that I have designed my “research” not as an independent scholar but as someone who is acting for his own financial benefit.  He said the situation was analogous to one in which a company hired a scientist to advise them on the effectiveness of their drug, and the scientist publishes a book saying the drug is effective.  He said the key problem is, When does actual or apparent major financial benefit undermine our credibility as independent scholars?  When it does, there should be a procedure to follow.  And it doesn’t matter whether you’re publishing books or giving academic speeches or you’re in the lab—unless there is some satisfactory rationale for removing some particular activity.

Sen. Silverstein said that in the generic area the president had identified, the university has no policy.  But he could say that in contemporary medicine and science, it would be seen as duplicitous to be a consultant for XYZ company and go to a scientific meeting and not disclose that fact.  And most professional societies today require that kind of disclosure.

Sen. Steven Spitalnik (Ten., P&S) offered a scenario involving the popularity of herbal remedies. He said NIH has an institute now that supports research in alternative medicine, and you could get good NIH funding and do that research, and then write a popular book for McGraw-Hill, make a lot of money, and go on Oprah. Such a situation could certainly bias your research and NIH funding.  So he agreed that royalties should not be excluded from the policy.

Sen. James Neal (Admin.) said the conflict could arise not just from the book royalties for the author, but from a subvention from an individual or a foundation supporting the publication.

The president agreed.

Sen. Silverstein thought these considerations were muddying the waters because they involved a different set of circumstances from the mostly quantitative ones covered by the policy.

The president agreed, and said he didn’t want to disrupt the very careful drafting of the policy.  But he suggested that an addition might be desirable, something like the university’s basic conflict of interest disclosure document, required by various federal laws.  It requires him, for example, to reveal all his board memberships.  It includes an open-ended question about any activities with university funds that might have benefited an outside institution.  Some process like this could be beneficial to the university, he said.

Sen. O’Halloran understood the president to be calling for more specific kinds of disclosure, covering more kinds of activity. 

David Hirsh, EVP for Research, said a policy requiring total disclosure was different from the one before the Senate, which required a narrower range of information. 

The president agreed, adding that the question is, How far should the university go in all our activities in trying to deal with the problem of motivations other than scholarly inquiry?

Sen. O’Halloran referred again to the Bayh-Dole Act, which requires faculty to balance the concerns the president had raised against the opportunity to commercialize research.  When does risk, as in human subject research, override the Bayh-Dole imperative?  Where do you draw the line, and what’s the effective mitigation process?

Sen. Ron Prywes (Ten. A&S/NS) asked whether the new policy forbids funding from private companies.  So if Merck wants to provide a researcher with more than $10K to do research, does the researcher have to reveal that then, or only if he publishes the results of the research?
Ms. Schrag said the new policy only concerns a researcher’s outside relationships with Merck.  If you consult for Merck and they write a check larger than $10K for you to put in your bank account, and Merck is funding your research or you’re researching a Merck drug, or there’s some other relationship between Merck and your research, it would need to be reviewed.  But this policy has no effect at all on the everyday arrangement in which Columbia and a company agree to enter into a research agreement, and research funds flow into the scientist’s lab. 

Another senator raised the question of institutional conflict of interest, in cases where the university, along with the researcher, stands to benefit financially, for example through its share in patent royalties, from a relationship with an outside company. 

Ms. Schrag said institutional conflicts were a separate issue, not covered by the new policy. 

Sen. Jessica Brann (Research Officers) asked about ancillary services provided by textbook publishers that might lead to conflicts.  She also asked how to handle cases in which a professor requires his own textbook in a course he teaches.

Ms. Schrag said such a problem was not covered under the proposed draft policy.

At about this point the president left the meeting.

Sen. Silverstein said that to make good policy, one must draw a bright line.  Otherwise, a policy tries to cover everything and anything, and leads to ambiguity and confusion.  He said one reason scientists objected to the policy on misconduct in science was that it identified not only a handful of clearly defined types of wrongdoing, like falsification, but also “other practices” that appear to be out of compliance with conventional practice.

Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers) said the policy covered not only faculty, but also officers of research, officers of the libraries, students, and staff members, but the draft did not include the additional groups.  

Sen. Silverstein and Ms. Schrag said this omission would be corrected.

Another senator asked if the review committees would have the resources to implement the guidelines in the new policy. He had learned during a stint on the institutional review board that it was not an active, effective committee in addressing conflicts of interest.

Sen. Silverstein understood that the IRB communicates directly with the office of the EVP for Research. He added that privacy of financial disclosures is maintained by going exclusively to the EVP for Research.  The financial disclosure does not go to department chairs and is not publicly released. It only goes to the faculty review committee when there is considerable evidence of a conflict that needs to be settled.  So one’s financial affairs remain private. 

Ms. Schrag added that any disclosure of what is defined as a “significant financial interest” would have to be presented to the review committee.  But she said the information must be kept confidential within the committee.

            --Libraries on the “open access” movement, with remarks from Kenneth Crews, Director, Copyright Advisory Office, CU Libraries.  Sen. Duby, standing in for the president, said the long discussion of conflict of interest policy had crowded out the scheduled presentation by Dr. Crews on open access policy. Sen. Duby apologized to Dr. Crews, and promised him a place on the agenda for the next meeting.

Old business.
—Resolution to Limit Senate Committee Chairmanships to Two Standing Committees per Person (Structure and Operations). The Senate again lacked the supermajority of three-fifths of all incumbent senators needed to act on the resolution, which would amend the By-laws. 

New business.
--Resolution to Establish the M.S. in Narrative Medicine in the School of Continuing Education (Education).  Education Committee chair Letty Moss-Salentijn (Ten., CDM) presented the resolution.  She said narrative medicine is a rapidly expanding interdisciplinary  field in the medical sciences.  It emphasizes reflection of health care providers in the broadest sense possible on their interactions with patients.  It cannot be simple journal writing. The program has been proposed by the School of Continuing Education, an appropriate venue for this interdisciplinary degree.

Without further discussion, the Senate approved the program without dissent.

Sen. Duby adjourned the meeting at about 2:35 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff