University Senate                                                                                 

Proposed: February 27, 2009

Adopted: February 27, 2009

 

MEETING OF FEBRUARY 6, 2009

President Lee Bollinger, the chairman, called the meeting to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 104 Jerome Greene Hall.  Sixty-one of 91 senators were present.

Adoption of the agenda:  Sen. Timur Dykne (Stu., SEAS) asked to add a Student Affairs resolution to the agenda, which Sen. Rajat Roy (Stu., SEAS) read aloud: “Be it resolved that the Columbia University Senate observe a moment of silence during the February 6th, 2009 meeting for Eric Harms – student, leader, musician and Columbian.”

The president said the Senate would just take the resolution by general approval. He called for a moment of silence, which followed.

With this addition the agenda was adopted.

Adoption of the minutes.  The minutes of December 5, 2008 were adopted as distributed.

Old business.
            Resolution to Limit Committee Chairmanships to Two per Person (Structure and Operations):  Noting that a three-fifths majority of all incumbent senators was present, the president called for action on the resolution, which had been postponed since May 2008. 

Without discussion, the Senate approved the resolution by voice vote without dissent.

Report of the president.  The president said he didn’t have much to add to his January 29 statement to the community about the state of the university budget.  Columbia, like all universities, was experiencing a significant decline in its endowment.  As a result, the university has fewer resources, and every unit, including the central administration, would have to plan accordingly.  He didn’t see the point of saying more at this point, but offered to answer questions.  He said no one knew how long the present situation would last.

Sen. Michael Adler (Ten., Bus.) said Columbia had been included twice in a list of victims of Bernard Madoff, who had been accused of conducting a massive investment Ponzi scheme. Sen. Adler asked for more details, including the amounts of money Columbia had lost.

The president said he could not provide details, but he said the amount of money involved was very small relative to the university endowment.  He said this case was a rare exception in the history of the institution to the rule that the university decides how to invest funds it receives as gifts.  In this case, the concession was made to the donor that the gift could be managed as designated in the gift.  The president said this case occurred many years ago.  He said the usual steps are now being taken to recapture the money, but this loss has not damaged the financial health of the institution. 

Sen. Ron Prywes (Ten. A&S/NS) recalled the president’s statement that each unit would face a cut of about 8 percent of the amount it receives from the endowment, and that on average the endowment accounts for 13 percent of Columbia school budgets.  He asked what the impact would be on individual schools. His own, Arts and Sciences, gets 30 percent of its budget from the endowment. 

The president said, to laughter, that this is the bizarre case in which one hopes one has a very small endowment.  He said the central administration is actually very dependent upon the endowment, and is in a tougher position than most schools.  He said he didn’t have the numbers at hand, but noted the perennial budgetary stresses of the Arts and Sciences.  His administration had tried very over the past six and a half years not only to shore up the A&S budget, but also to find ways, particularly through fundraising, to support a 10 percent expansion of the faculty and other enhancements.  But the current downturn would have an impact on this process, and a period of stabilization would have to ensue.  The president said Columbia was not in a crisis as an institution, nor was any part of the institution facing a crisis.  But he added that many current events and comments would naturally add to a sense of alarm about the future.  Some anticipate worse news six months from now, while others believe the bottom has already been reached, and the economy will turn around in the second half of 2009, with the expected benefits for the university.  The president said each of us has an inner compass on what forecast to believe, but we simply don’t know.  He repeated that Columbia is not facing a crisis though the stresses in Arts and Sciences must be addressed.  With a period of significant tightening, the institution would be fine, he said. 

The president said he was very encouraged that fund raising was still on course. As of December, Columbia was still ahead of the previous year, which was ahead of the year before that.  This success speaks volumes about the capacity of the institution to weather the downturn, he said.  The president noted that grants and contracts were up, along with patient revenues at the Medical Center.  He said the university would have greater financial aid needs, and he reaffirmed his January 29 statement that the commitment to need-blind financial aid in Columbia College was unqualified; the desire to provide need-blind throughout the institution was also unqualified, although it remained only a desire. 

Sen. Adler said one response of companies or municipalities to recessions is to postpone investments to support current operations.  Was Columbia contemplating postponing expenditures on Manhattanville? He referred particularly to the expensive early stages of the project. Should that money be used to support academic requirements? Or was the university constrained by the fact that funds for Manhattanville are earmarked already to comply with donors’ wishes.

The president said there is always a balance to be struck between an institution’s long-term and current needs.  He said Manhattanville was a once-in-a-half-century, maybe a once-in-a-century opportunity. He doubted that it would ever be possible again in Manhattan to find an 18-acre contiguous piece of property near the university available capable of accommodating a campus.  He said New York City and New York State had been magnificent in supporting Columbia since it launched this effort in 2003. He said the City Council and the mayor and local political officials, beginning with Congressman Rangel and Governor Paterson, had gone to great lengths to support Columbia’s effort to create a new campus.  The community was also supportive partly because jobs are a top priority, the president said, and people know that this is one of the few projects in the city that is ready to go after all these years.  He said Columbia was also very fortunate to have broken through the barrier of its space constraints.

As the president had said before, the first stage of the project would depend upon fundraising, and major fundraising efforts were under way both at the university level and in every school with an immediate role in Manhattanville.  This campaign was led by the largest donation ever for a single building in the history of the United States, the $200-300 million Dawn Greene gift that would support the Jerome Greene mind/brain/behavior building. 

The president said Columbia had developed a fund over a number of years for acquiring and developing property, which it was now drawing on.  But progress on the key projects would depend on fundraising.  There would be no pause in building the interdisciplinary science building (ISB) on the northwest corner of the Morningside Heights campus, because it was not possible to tell a construction firm to wait a month or two; such an approach would increase the cost enormously.

The president concluded that Columbia would complete projects now under way.  For those that are part of its long-term future, the university would continue to use resources that had already been set aside for those purposes, and use fundraising to complete them, or continue them.  And with the projects that were still just dreams, the university would have to wait for the economy to change before doing more.

Sen. Adler said he was thinking particularly of the initial stage of digging the big trench along 125th Street to install the garage space and the infrastructure.  Would that be postponed?

The president said it would not, since it was a basic element of the long-term development.

Sen. Samuel Silverstein said an enormous influx of funds for infrastructure would soon be voted by the federal government.  There could be no doubt that the Manhattanville “bathtub” is part of the infrastructure of that part of northern Manhattan.  Sen. Silverstein asked if the university had a “shovel-ready” plan to give to the federal government, which might transform this project from a net deficit to a major bonus.

The president replied that Columbia would be presenting a shovel-ready plan, and was already making a case that part of the federal stimulus package would be well spent on Manhattanville. 

Sen. Silverstein said the university had other infrastructure projects, such as upgrading its information technology, that were also shovel-ready and might qualify for federal support.  Did Columbia have a policy allowing any part of the university to apply for such funds?

The president said Columbia had presented an array of ideas to the Congress, as part of a process that is somewhat chaotic now, since Columbia was is not the only institution with such ideas.  But he understood Sen. Silverstein to be asking whether there was a way for Columbia units with such ideas to alert university leaders to pursue them. His response was people were actively working on these opportunities, including consultants, but he welcomed any new ideas. 

Sen. Silverstein said he was reliably informed that the NYC Dept. of Education would not pursue plans for the Columbia Secondary School before knowing the source of the money to build it.  He saw this as still another opportunity for “infrastructure” directly related to education.  His understanding was that no one had been assigned to pursue this project.

Provost Alan Brinkley said he understood that the DOE was committed to the project.  Sen. Silverstein said he had heard a week earlier that the DOE had set the project aside. He said he would discuss this with the provost later. 

Report of the Executive Committee co-chairs:
Senate-consulted trustees:  Sen. Paul Duby (Ten., SEAS) reminded senators that the trustees and the Senate Executive Committee are supposed to meet and consult about the selection of six of the 24 trustees.  He and Executive Committee co-chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) had held several meetings with trustee chair Bill Campbell and Esta Stecher, who chairs the trustees’ nominating committee.  He said there would be one more phone conversation on February 9, and then he would schedule a meeting of members of the Executive Committee to start gathering names.  He would send a memo or a letter to senators as a reminder.  He said he welcomed all suggestions for nominations of possible trustees.  He added that after the names were submitted, the rest of the process would be confidential.  Sometime in March there would be a meeting between the Senate and trustee groups, which would both present names, discuss them, and develop a pool of candidates acceptable to both groups. Every year or second year a couple of names would be added to that pool. 

In answer to a question from Sen. Paul Thompson (Alum.), Sen. Duby affirmed that the standing pool, with some additions and deletions, would be the basis of discussion for the two groups.

            Update of draft policy statement on financial conflicts of interest in research.  Sen. O’Halloran said there had been diligent efforts to solicit feedback from the Business and Engineering schools.  She said Naomi Schrag, associate vice president for compliance issues, had been revising the draft, taking into account the concerns of the Business School and others.

In response to a question from Sen. Adler, Sen. O’Halloran said she expected the new draft to be finished in two weeks.  She said the important point—and the reason the process had been so interactive—was the need to lay a foundation for an assessment of the new policy, particularly on issues at the boundary between applied and theoretical research that the Business and Engineering schools were raising.  She said the deliberation was open and transparent, and she looked forward to everyone’s comments. 

 

Reports
            Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing. Committee chair Jack McGourty, a vice dean of the Engineering School, briefly reviewed the history of the ACSRI, which was established in March 2000 to screen corporations in the endowment on social issues, and to provide advice to the trustees on shareholder resolutions and on concerns of the Columbia community. 

Last year the committee screened 78 shareholder resolutions, covering topics ranging from animal welfare to environmental concerns, banking issues, human rights, and labor policies. 
Last fall, with some help from outside experts, the committee prepared for issues likely to emerge in the spring proxy season, such as the environment, executive pay, and banking policies.  The other key fall activity was a town hall meeting on November 18 for the entire community, attended by about 30 people. Topics included employment policies for the LGBT population and alternative energy and community investment strategies for the endowment.  

Dean McGourty said the committee also managed a Web site with all important information, including annual reports and votes on recommendations.  He said the university had gotten high marks for transparency on this issue, and was considered a leader among its peers. 

Dean McGourty said the committee had also created an undergraduate course this year on socially responsible investment, which was oversubscribed. 

Sen. Adler asked for a listing of the ACSRI membership in future communications with the Senate.  Dean McGourty agreed.

Sen. Rajat asked about the status of the committee’s deliberations on the proposal to divest from arms manufacturers, as well as two large chemical manufacturers.  He asked about the possible impact of such a decision on the endowment and on other investments.

Dean McGourty said that the ACSRI typically doesn’t recommend divestiture, and sets a very high bar for that decision.  He said such recommendations have only been sent to the Trustees in two cases—involving companies with direct operations in Sudan, and companies involved in the direct manufacture of tobacco products, all of which you’ve heard in years past.  There was also a student proposal in 2007-08 to divest any companies involved directly in the manufacture of arms.  The ACSRI was considering this proposal seriously, in an informal subcommittee doing research with several student organizations and preparing a report for the trustees’ subcommittee.

Dean McGourty said that in the last couple of years the committee had tried to engage with both Chevron and Dow Chemical based on earlier proposals from student groups.  There was an exchange of letters with both companies, but a year ago management stopped responding to letters from the committee.  The committee is considering a new approach of collaborating with peer institutions to address these issues more effectively.

Sen. Thompson noted that the announcement for the annual ACSRI town hall meeting did not notify Columbia’s largest constituency, the alumni.  Dean McGourty said the committee was trying to broaden notice for its town hall meetings to include all Columbia groups.
Sen. Thompson said he understood that the committee’s recommendations affect only a small portion of the endowment. Was there consideration of trying to expand coverage to other parts of the portfolio, such as hedge funds?

Dean McGourty said the University pays a company called RiskMetrics to screen corporations on social issues, and then focuses on those companies.  This process has sometimes turned up corporations that the committee did not know were in the portfolio. He thought the committee did achieve pretty coverage, but he also took Sen. Thompson’s point.   

The president thanked Dean McGourty for his presentation, and the ACSRI for its work.

New business.
            Resolutions to establish dual degree programs between SIPA and the Hertie School of Governance, Berlin:
                        --SIPA’s Master of International Affairs with Hertie’s Master of Public Policy
                        --SIPA’s Master of Public Affairs with Hertie’s Master of Public Policy

Sen. Moss-Salentijn, co-chair of Education, noted that there had only been a resolution for one of these programs in the Senate packet, possibly because the resolutions looked so similar.  She said both programs were a continuation of a series of successful SIPA programs.  She said students get a core curriculum in the first year in their home institution, then go to the other institution in the second year for specialized courses.

Sen. Adler asked about the net flow of resources to Columbia from these joint programs.  Sen. O’Halloran, a SIPA professor, said the programs were basically budget-neutral, with each program receiving roughly half of the revenues.

The Senate then approved both resolutions by voice vote, without dissent.

            Resolution to Establish Research Professorships at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.  Speaking now in her role as co-chair of Faculty Affairs, Sen. Moss-Salentijn introduced the resolution, which had been reviewed at two meetings of the Faculty Affairs Committee, and unanimously approved.  She noted that between that committee vote and the present meeting, the word Lamont, which had preceded the term research professor in the presentation to the committee, had fallen out of that title. She said she might seek to restore the previous wording before a vote on the resolution.  But first she invited Lamont director G. Michael Purdy to speak. 

Dr. Purdy explained that the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) is an earth-and-ocean- science, soft-money, basic-research institution in Palisades, New York.  It is a $55 million a year operation primarily funded by the National Science Foundation. The core of its staff are some 65 officers of research that are partially supported by Lamont’s own endowment; there are also 25 faculty members of the Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES).  It’s a world- leading institution, Dr. Purdy said, but it is now facing substantial competition from other institutions around the world with the recent expansion of the practice of the earth sciences, particularly in usbjects related to climate change. He was facing increasing difficulty in retaining his best research officers, who were being wooed away by institutions in the U.S. and overseas. 

Dr. Purdy said he needed more tools in his toolbox to be able to keep these world-class scientists.  After two or three years of discussion, he had developed a plan to establish Lamont research professors—assistant, associate and full research professors—who will be devoted primarily to research, although many of the graduate students within DEES were already being mentored by these research officers.  Dr. Purdy anticipated that research professors would continue in a substantial role in graduate supervision.

He asked for the Senate’s approval of this proposal as a measure fundamental to maintaining Lamont’s long-term success. 

Sen. Adler noted there there was no tenured rank for the proposed category of research professors.  But tenure is the last step in enabling a faculty member to belong to the university in the fullest possible way.  Would it really be possible to retain the best scientists without offering at least one rank of tenure? 

Dr. Purdy said he would not try to convince senators that the new positions would enable him to retain everybody he wanted to retain.  But he hoped that the proposed five-year appointments, with guarantees of partial salary support from the Lamont endowment, would be sufficiently attractive and competitive for folks who want to focus on research as opposed to undergraduate teaching.  For Lamont the new title would represent a major step forward.

Sen. Suzanne Bakken (Ten., Nursing) said similar issues had arisen elsewhere in the university, and she hoped to learn from the Lamont proposal how they might be addressed more broadly.  She said research officers at the Medical Center sometimes feel they’re discriminated against in NIH grant reviews.  She hoped the Lamont proposal could serve as a kind of pilot program, providing lessons for future planning.

Dr. Purdy said the proposal now before the Senate was specifically restricted to LDEO, but he said it would certain provide experience that would be useful to the university at large.

Sen. Prywes said the proposal represents a major precedent for the university and seemed to be an end run around the tenure system.  He said the system described in the proposal almost exactly resembles the tenure promotion system, right down to third- and fifth-and seventh-year reviews.  In addition, the proposal promised the holders of the new title hard money out of the endowment.  While this was a source separate from the Columbia endowment, the commitment seemed to include the university as well.  But under these conditions, why not just increase the number of faculty at LDEO, with the same rewards of the tenure system?

Dr. Purdy said this question had been discussed at length over the past few years.  Another way of addressing it is to ask whether the new category of scientists would be officers of instruction of officers of research—for whom there is no tenure.  After substantial discussions with the provost’s office, the decision was made to proceed with the officer of research track, to make clear that the role of these scientists was different from that of officers of instruction, who have clear responsibilities to undergraduate education.  This seemed to Dr. Purdy the meaningful and significant distinction:  Lamont research professors will be primarily concerned with research.

Sen. Moss-Salentijn said again that Faculty Affairs had supported the establishment of the title Lamont research professors, not research professors, as the resolution now stated.  There were now two options: a friendly amendment putting the word Lamont at the front of the title, as Faculty Affairs had intended, or a decision to table the resolution and hash out the language later. 

Provost Alan Brinkley explained that no title now in the Statutes has a name in front of it.  The reason for removing the word Lamont from the title in the resolution going to the trustees was simply to maintain consistency with this practice.  He said the language in the proposed Statutory definitions made it clear that research professorships were restricted to Lamont Doherty. 

The president understood the provost to be saying that adding the word Lamont to the title would require amending the Statutes. 

The provost said the resolution now before the Senate would amend the Statutes.  He added that the world would not end if the word Lamont were inserted at the front ot the title, but he didn’t see the need to attach it formally in that way, because the very next phrase in the Statutory definition makes clear that the title applies only to people at LDEO.

The president said this point sounded sensible to him. He asked if the Senate was prepared to go along with it.

Sen. Adler asked if the proposal could be moved as written.

Sen. Duby said there was still time for discussion.  He said he and some other senators wanted the word Lamont at the front of the title because it was the title that the faculty and the researchers at Lamont had voted to ask for, that had been discussed through the university for about a year, including in the Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering, and that the Faculty Affairs Committee had approved.  Then, a couple of days before the present meeting, the word Lamont was removed. Under these conditions, he said, the vote of Faculty Affairs would no longer be valid, and the measure would have to go back to the committee.

The president didn’t see the substantive difference between leaving the word Lamont in the title, and leaving it out, when it was clear in either case that the title was confined to Lamont. 

Asked his opinion on this question by the president, Dr. Purdy pronounced himself an agnostic.

The president inferred that there was no conflict between what people understood the issues to be, and what the provost had indicated was the correct way to go. 

Sen. Duby said that in the Faculty Handbook all professors, all officers of instruction, are called research faculty.  So now, in another section of the Handbook, there would be people called research professors, who are not faculty. 

The president added that these people would be clearly understood to be at LDEO.

Sen. Duby repeated that the title with the word Lamont in front was what all supporters of the proposal had voted for.  One possibility now was to have further discussion, and to consider the proposal at the next meeting.  Another was a friendly amendment to restore the word Lamont. 

Provost Brinkley pronounced himself also an agnostic on this question.  He said he had simply been relaying the reasoning.  He offered no objection to restoring the name.

Sen. O’Halloran said that since the title was new, its application should perhaps be circumscribed, and some redundancy might be helpful.  As a friendly amendment, she proposed restoring the word Lamont at the front of the title, despite the redundancy.  At a later time, if the title were to be expanded, the name could be removed. 

The president allowed, to laughter, that he did not care about this issue at all.  He said that if the provost and Dr. Purdy had no objection, he would regard the amendment as friendly.

Sen. Duby understood the amendment to be friendly. 

By voice vote, without dissent but with one abstention, the Senate approved the resolution.

The president adjourned the meeting at around 2:40 pm. 

Respectfully submitted,

 

Tom Mathewson
Senate staff