University Senate                                                                                 

Proposed: May 1, 2009

Adopted: May 1, 2009

 

MEETING OF APRIL 3, 2009

President Lee Bollinger called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 101 Jerome Greene Hall. Fifty-five of 91 senators were present during the meeting.

Minutes and agenda:  The minutes of February 27 were adopted as proposed. The agenda was amended to add, for discussion only, a Resolution to Complete a Comprehensive University-Wide Policy on the Reporting of Individual Income from Non-University Sources.

President’s remarks:  President Bollinger said there had been little change in the University’s financial condition since his last report to the Senate.  He said Columbia had not been as badly hurt as some peer institutions, because its endowment was smaller than theirs, and supported a smaller fraction of Columbia’s operating budget.  In addition, the president said, Columbia has had more successful investment strategies than some peers, and has therefore lost less money.  Comparatively speaking, Columbia’s endowment has performed quite impressively, the president said.  

The president said fundraising had been affected, but not as dramatically as it might have been.  There were no solid numbers yet for the increase in financial aid costs expected for next year. He said he did not want to minimize the significance of the University’s current situation.  It was a difficult time for Columbia, but the same was true for every institution across the country, and Columbia was doing better than some others.  

Sen. Rajat Roy (Stu., SEAS) asked about the status of private equity investments for which there had been no valuation after September 30, 2008.  He asked when the president could provide numbers of the losses Columbia had sustained in this investment category.

The president said the University was trying to follow its policy of releasing information about the endowment at the end of the fiscal year, and not make monthly or even quarterly statements.  The reason was that he did not want to run the University—or the endowment—on a quarterly basis.  He said there was a one-quarter lag in the evaluation of alternative assets.  He had not been told the number for the most recent period.  He said he had announced endowment results in January for the end of calendar 2008 that did not include up-to-date numbers for alternative assets—making an exception to the policy of reporting only at the end of the year—because other institutions, for complicated reasons of their own, were releasing numbers for their endowments.  President Bollinger had reported that Columbia was down 15 percent during the second half of calendar 2008.  He said that even if he did have up-to-date numbers for the alternative investments, he would not release them before June 30, after which complete numbers would be provided.

Executive Committee chairs’ remarks. Co-chair Paul Duby (Ten., SEAS) said a subcommittee of the Executive Committee had identified a group of candidates for Senate-consulted trustees.  He said the committee would be meeting on April 13 with the president and some Trustees to discuss these prospects, along with a list compiled by the Trustee group.  He said there were still a few days left for senators and others to suggest candidates. 

Co-chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) said she had met with the executive committee of the Arts and Sciences Faculty (ECFAS) and would arrange meetings for the A&S space planning committee with the Senate Campus Planning Task Force.

Reports
Provost Alan Brinkley on the work of the Task Force on Undergraduate Education. The provost said the task force, now completing its third and final year, was convened by the president to carry out an exercise that Columbia had conducted every 15 or 20 years since the 1940s, probably earlier. The reason for the latest round was a sense of major change in the university even in the short interval since the report of the last such task force (the Committee on Undergraduate Education, or CUE) in the early 1990s.  The changes involved finances, the structure of the university, globalization, and ideas about what should constitute an education.  The provost said the task force was very large, with representatives from all three undergraduate schools (the College, SEAS, and General Studies), including deans (along with the Barnard provost), students, and a very large group of faculty. 

The provost said the deliberations of the task force fell into two overlapping categories.  One involved structural questions: How large should the College be?  What should the relationship be among the three undergraduate schools?  What steps should be taken to enhance General Studies in particular?  How would Columbia deal with internationalization, particularly in attracting international students?   A second set of issues revolved around curriculum.

The provost said task force members had presented recommendations the previous fall, which received vigorous responses in the task force. The recommendations were revised somewhat and submitted again.  The report was now more or less in final form after a lot more back and forth and further revisions.  The provost listed the principal recommendations:

  1. It is important for the university to enlarge Columbia College. This had been a controversial issue over time, the provost said, but most task force members agreed that expanding the student body of the College would be a good thing if it could be done without jeopardizing the quality of the undergraduate education. The provost said Columbia has the smallest undergraduate college in the Ivy League, one of the smallest of any major university, and the task force wanted to enlarge it for many reasons, particularly given the extraordinary quality of the applicant pool that the College had been attracting for the last decade. Such a change would require a lot of investment, the provost said—a commitment Columbia could not meet at present,   but a future goal.
  1. Enhance General Studies, with the goal of equalizing the experience of students in General Studies with those of students in the College and SEAS.  The provost said GS was probably the most important and best school of its kind in the nation, but it also faced certain problems, including insufficient housing, and less financial aid than the College.  He said the goal over time—again, probably a considerable amount of time given current circumstances—would be to provide better access to the core curriculum for GS students, though the core would not be appropriate for some GS students who have spent significant time at other institutions.  Another goal was to attract a more national and international applicant pool to GS.  This also would require more housing and financial aid.  Conversations were already under way between GS and the College about merging the admissions process in various ways.  He said student affairs for GS students had already been incorporated into the College system.  

3.          Columbia should attract more international students.  It is second in the nation in the number of international students university-wide, but the number of undergraduates in this group remains relatively small, despite a steady increase in recent years.  To attract more international students, Columbia must offer them better financial aid.  Such a step would be costly, and beyond Columbia’s current means, but the task force believed it should be taken.

4.          More Columbia students should have an international experience.  Currently fewer than 10 percent of Columbia students pursue study-abroad programs, which are mostly language-learning programs. The task force believed there should be a wider range of international experience for students while they’re at Columbia, including programs shorter than a semester, during the summer or breaks in the academic schedule.

5.   Continue to expand interdisciplinary opportunities.  The provost said Columbia had made a lot of progress in this direction since his arrival at Columbia in 1991.  Back then the only interdisciplinary organization in the Arts and Sciences was IRWAG, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, which had been started only a year or two earlier.  Now there were several units, focusing on American studies, ethnicity and race, African-American studies, and other subjects.  The provost said there should be still more opportunities for interdisciplinarity, adding that it wasn’t up to the task force or the administration to decide what those activities should be.  The task force had proposed a series of steps, financial and otherwise, for making interdisciplinary curricular activities more available.

6.          Rectify imbalances in the teaching experiences of undergraduates.  A subcommittee found that students in big departments tend to have a markedly different experience in the classroom than students in smaller departments.  One cohort of students has mostly very large lecture courses, and another has small, relatively intimate seminars. Such an imbalance will never be entirely overcome, the provost said, but it should be reduced as much as possible.  The effort requires a new approach to recruiting, including treating student demand as an important factor (not the only one) in decisions about where to build the faculty.

  7.         Rectify imbalances among grading practices in different departments and schools, which could produce inappropriate incentives for people to choose majors. There should be a serious examination of grading and of appropriate policies for dealing with wide variations.

  1. A committee on curricular structure had considered the entirety of the curriculum, making many observations that the provost did not attempt to summarize. He said the main recommendation was to form an education policy and planning committee that would bring together all groups that currently plan or oversee curriculum in a centralized process that would address the curriculum as a whole, to replace the current balkanized process with many different little committees managing parts of the curriculum (sometimes very well). To laughter, the provost recognized a lack of excitement in a committee proposal to form another committee, but he thought this idea might be more useful than proposals he had seen over generations of undergraduate education reviews.

  
The provost said a task force report would be published on the web before the end of the year.  He said the process had been interesting for him and, he hoped, the rest of the task force.  He had learned a lot about undergraduate education at Columbia, even after nearly 20 years of teaching undergraduates.  He thought the recommendations, although not radical in any way, provided a basis for significant improvements in an already very strong and revered undergraduate program. 

Sen. Michael Adler (Ten. Bus.) asked if there was a plan to reduce the number of economics majors in the university. The provost said there was not. 

Sen. Monica Quaintance asked if there had been discussion about the A-plus grade.  She said Columbia was now one of the only schools awarding an A-plus grade of 4.33.  The provost said this issue had been widely discussed elsewhere, and was worth discussing, but had not been considered by the task force.

Sen. Paige West (Barn., Fac.) asked if, along with discussion about internationalizing the student body, there had been talk of expanding opportunities for recruiting minority and economically disadvantaged American students.  The provost said Columbia is at the forefront of American universities in its efforts to recruit these kinds of students.  A year earlier Columbia, along with some of its peers, had dramatically enhanced financial aid for families with annual incomes below $60,000.  Columbia was not about to retreat from this commitment, the provost said.

Sen. Roy asked if the task force had addressed the reputation of certain majors as easier sources of high grades.  The provost said there was concern that some parts of the curriculum grade much more generously than others.  He wouldn’t name names, but said the differences were dramatic in some cases.  Uniform grading policies across the university were not possible, but the task force believed that the most serious disparities deserve attention.

Sen. Robert Pollack (Ten., A&S/NS) noted that the core curriculum emerged in the College during and after World War I as an attempt by faculty to explain to students why they had to go fight and what they were fighting for, and it has remained linked to a sense of obligation to learn what one’s citizenship means.  Given the goal of internationalizing the student body, Sen. Pollack asked if the task force had addressed the possibility of chauvinism or inappropriateness in presenting this citizenship-based, civics-based core curriculum for everyone in Columbia College to somebody from another society.

The provost said this issue was being discussed more and more as Columbia was becoming a more diverse and international institution.  At the same time, the core curriculum is the signature of an undergraduate education at Columbia and a source of great pride for the institution. The provost said this reputation did not exempt the core from change, and the core had changed over time.  His view was that the core must deal more effectively with the internationalization of knowledge and of its student body.  This effort might include improvements in the major cultures requirement, now called the Global Core.  A committee chaired by Prof. Patricia Grieve was working on this issue, and he looked forward to that report.  But the provost said there was also a question of equity.  Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities are classical seminar experiences, the core of the core, while major cultures courses traditionally have been large lecture courses, sometimes not entirely designed for the core.  An important question was how to equalize attention to the Western core and the rest of the world. The task force had no specific recommendation on this question, but said it should be addressed over time by the faculty.

In response to questions from Sens. Pollack and Samuel Silverstein (Ten., P&S), the provost said the Frontiers of Science course was indeed part of the core. He said the course was now in its fourth or fifth year, and the general view was that it was worthwhile, though it needed improvements.  He did not think there was any inclination to end the course.

Another senator asked what the arguments were for increasing the size of the College.  The provost said one was the opportunity to give more people access to a Columbia education, and to make it easier to increase the international student body, without reducing the number of domestic students.  It would also be financially beneficial to the Arts and Sciences and the University by increasing tuition revenue and, over time, fundraising.  It would also help improve Columbia’s athletic performance, which would be a good thing for the university.  It was also noteworthy that a number of Columbia’s peers were pursuing a similar course.  In addition, the nation and the world were bigger, and new universities of Columbia’s quality were rare, so Columbia had an obligation to teach more students. The change in size would not be dramatic, but he thought Columbia should, to the extent possible, make its education available to the largest possible number of students.

Sen. Billy Freeland (Stu., CC) asked if the question of the policy on the A-plus grade could be taken up by the new committee on curriculum.  The provost said the committee would have to decide for itself what issues to take up, but he thought this question would be appropriate.

Sen. Frances Pritchett (Ten., A&S/Hum.) noted, on the subject of the global core, that there were separate departments for Italian, Spanish, and French, and that the languages and cultures of most of the third world (except for East Asia, but now including Africa) were all being taught in a single department—Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC).  Sen. Pritchett said, to laughter, that she was making a pitch for more resources for this department, in proportion to the number of ethnicities and square miles and cultures it covers.  The provost said he would keep this point in mind.

The president thanked the provost for leading the task force and overseeing the report.  He said institutions should take up issues of undergraduate education in a serious way every decade or so.  He appreciated the seriousness with which the task force had approached its work. Even if some of its recommendations were not enacted soon, they would remain a blueprint in years to come.  He said it was critical to expand the undergraduate student body really significantly, on the order of 20-30 percent, and it was important to have this recommendation, its rationale, and some planning laid out in the task force report.  Other key points concerned internationalizing the student body, and the nature of globalization and its implications for the rest of the curriculum, including the sciences.

New business:           
--Resolution to Establish a New Master of Science Degree in Communications Practice (School of Continuing Education). Education Committee co-chair Letty Moss-Salentijn (Ten., CDM) said that the proposed program was for full-time study for people who have not had experience in the field of communications. A successful existing program in strategic communications offers part-time study for people with experience.

Without further discussion the Senate approved the resolution without dissent.

--Resolution to Establish a Certificate in International Criminal Law Between Columbia Law School and the University of Amsterdam Law School.

--Resolution to Establish a Certificate in Global Business Law and Governance Between Columbia Law School and the University of Paris I/Sciences Po

Sen. Moss-Salentijn presented the two certificates together.  She said both were for students in the Law School’s regular J.D. program, and were two-semester cohort programs, meaning that students from both institutions will come first for the fall semester at Columbia and then for the spring semester at the partner institution. She said both programs were well-designed.

Without further discussion the Senate adopted both certificate programs without dissent.

--Resolution to Establish a New Columbia University Policy on Financial Conflicts of Interest in Research (External Relations).  Sen. O’Halloran, in her role as chair of External Relations, read the resolution aloud.  She said the policy was complicated, but absolutely necessary for the university. She said the goal was to standardize the patchwork of policies that had governed different Columbia campuses. The policy was important partly because it would provide a foundation for the growth of interdisciplinary research in coming years. 

Another important feature of the policy was its recognition of a new environment requiring the university to manage potential or perceived conflicts in a more transparent way.

Sen. O’Halloran said the deliberative process had been as complicated as the policy itself, requiring extensive collaboration, taking into account the interests of all relevant constituencies, and building compromise across the university.  More than a year earlier, an interdisciplinary faculty committee chaired by Sen. Henry Spotnitz (Ten., P&S) had begun work on institution-wide policy.  Sen. O’Halloran thanked Sen. Spotnitz, as well as Sen. Silverstein, who had chaired an ad hoc Senate committee that had reviewed the draft policy, working with Naomi Schrag, associate vice president for compliance in the office of Executive Vice President for Research David Hirsh. The Senate had also held public hearings on the policy in the fall. 

She herself had presented the policy to numerous academic units.  A final draft of the policy had gone to the Senate External Relations Committee, then to the Executive Committee, where it was unanimously approved, and now to the Senate for a vote. 

The president asked for, and received, a motion and a second to adopt the resolution.  

Sen. Soulaymane Kachani (NT, SEAS) supported Sen. O’Halloran’s summary of the deliberative process.  He said VP Schrag and the Senate leadership had made a major effort to solicit feedback.  He said he could speak for two segments of the university, the Engineering and Business faculties, which discussed the policy for several months. He said both groups were now in full support. 

Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers) noted that though the policy would apply to students, librarians, and staff members, representatives of these groups would only serve on an ad hoc basis on the committee that would review the cases of possible conflict of interest, participating in reviews of cases affecting their constituents.  He suggested changing this arrangement to standing membership for these representatives, because the experience gained from serving on a committee over time is essential.  

VP Schrag said that issues raised before the COI review committee had in her experience entirely involved faculty, so standing membership for representatives of other constituencies seemed unnecessary.  If that situation were to change, she said, standing membership would be appropriate, and could be taken up in the review of the policy that would take place in two years.

Sen. Savin asked to hear the perspective of students and librarians.  Sen. Andreas Svedin (Stu., GSAS/NS) said he thought the proposed arrangement was adequate. If it were to turn out that many cases would involve students, the representation could be changed.

Sen. O’Halloran said this issue could be monitored during the next two years.   

In response to a question from Sen. Savin, VP Schrag said that staff covered by the policy would include technicians, administrators, including study coordinators in biomedical contexts, or other individuals who may not have appointments as officers of research or officers of instruction, but who nonetheless take part in research.

Sen. Savin asked for clarification of this point in the policy.  He also asked for clarification of the statement in the section on appeals that the committee on financial conflicts of interest (FCOI) would reconsider decisions “on a timely basis.” He said that, because of the sometimes glacial pace of the university, it was important to make the time limit short enough so as not to harm the progress of research.

Sen. O’Halloran said specific issues like this belonged not in the policy but in implementation agreements, or best practices letters, stating research arrangements with the compliance office.  

VP Schrag said that cases vary in complexity and sometimes take some time to sort out.  Sen. O’Halloran said if in the first two years there turned out to be a serious lag in, say, biomedical research, efforts can be made to make the process more efficient. It may be that the FCOI committee may have to meet more often.

Sen. James Applegate (Ten., A&S/NS) said he had had been following the deliberation since it had reached the Morningside campus and the Senate.  He said the important question is whether the policy is well thought out, and whether it will make Columbia a better place.  He said a lot of good time and energy had been spent on this important issue.  It was clear that the university has a legitimate interest in overseeing faculty participation in commercial activities, but also clear that the university should not be an ivory tower isolated from the rest of the world.  The question was one of balance. 

Sen. Applegate said he had some serious doubts as to whether the policy would meet his standard of making Columbia a better place.  His basic objection was that the policy arrived on the Morningside campus as a largely complete document, and though it had since been improved, it lacked a strategic vision, failing to address the broad question of what is and what is not appropriate in a university environment, and focusing instead on defining the exceptions to basic principles.  Sen. Applegate said he was not at all sure the policy should be adopted.  He said the priority was to get the policy right, not to get it that day.  He thought it would be much harder to enact a flawed policy, and then try to change it in two years, than to take the time to get the strategy first and let the tactics follow.  

Sen. Pollack disagreed with the idea that the incompleteness of the document was grounds to vote against it.  He called for adopting the policy, with the understanding that it did not entirely solve the problem posed by conflict of interest on income. 

Sen. Silverstein disagreed with the view that there was no central theme in the policy.  He said the theme was in Governing Principle #3—that in questions of financial conflict of interest in research “transparency is paramount.”  So long as there is full disclosure of who is paying and what the sources of revenue are, researchers are meeting their obligation to one another and to the public.  He said he was very comfortable being governed by that theme, and hoped this feeling was universal.  He told of an early-morning encounter between Churchill and Roosevelt in the White House, in which Churchill was coming out of the shower nude. Churchill said the British prime minister had nothing to hide from the American president. 

Sen. Paul Thompson (Alumni) suggested that someone from industry might bring a valuable perspective to the FCOI committee. 

Sen. Carol Lin (NT, A&S/NS) said she would like to see a policy not only for conflicts of interest in research, but also in other activities, particularly teaching. 

Sen. O’Halloran understood that an outside organization that provides a gift for teaching might be covered by the FCOI policy.  She said there are other policies—misconduct, for example—that might govern different parts of the teaching enterprise, as well as the inclusion of students in the research enterprise. 

Sen. Savin noticed that a number was missing from section B, paragraph 4. VP Schrag supplied the missing reference: subsection F, point 5. 

Sen. David Rosner (Ten., PH) disagreed with Sen. Thompson’s suggestion to include representatives of industry on the FCOI committee. 

Sen. O’Halloran said some experience with the policy might reveal whether the perspective of industry would be valuable. A policy review in two years could include discussion with outside consultants as to best practices along those lines.

The president called for a vote. The Senate then adopted the policy with none opposed, and one abstention.

--Resolution to Complete a Comprehensive University-Wide Policy on the Reporting of Individual Income from Non-University Sources (Proponents:  Sens. Pollack and Silverstein).

Sen. Pollack introduced the resolution, which was for discussion only. He read the resolution aloud.

Sen. Silverstein said his reason for joining Sen. Pollack in the resolution, despite some language he considered draconian, was that example 10 at the end of the FCOI policy seemed to offer a major loophole, inconsistent with the spirit of transparency.  He said the point is not that people disclose publicly if they choose to disclose publicly, but that transparency is a requirement. 

Sen. Pollack said his motivation was not a draconian wish to make people unhappy, but his knowledge of the severe negative consequences to a vulnerable institution when it acts as if it was seeking deniability for potential inadvertent error.  If the institution doesn’t know in advance about somebody’s income and it turns out to be problematic at a time when the federal government is in great deficit, the state can’t make a budget, the city is closing down institutions, and the university is building in the city, then it places itself at avoidable risk of terminal embarrassment.  He said his resolution was written to protect a vulnerable university, not to catch anybody out. 

The president said the issue was important.  He asked what the proper procedure was for a resolution that comes from the Senate floor.

Howard Jacobson, the parliamentarian, said that unless there were a unanimous vote to suspend the rules, such a resolution would normally be referred to a committee.

In response to a question from the president, Sen. Pollack said he would be comfortable referring the measure to committee after a little more discussion.

A senator imagined writing a hit song on guitar and making a million dollars. Would she have to report that income to the university?

Sen. Pollack said his personal opinion was that if an officer of the university is doing what they’re doing because the person they’re doing it with, for, or to knows them to be a faculty member or officer of this university, then the officer is placing the university at risk. If not, there is no such risk. 

Sen. Kachani reiterated that faculty from the Engineering and Business schools had worked very hard, with VP Schrag and her staff, to put the new COI policy in place.  His own view was that the resolution Sen. Pollack had just presented would render all that work useless.  He said both of these faculty groups were extremely concerned by the new resolution.  He then read a statement from the senior vice dean of the Business School, Christopher Mayer: 

The Business School has worked hard with the Senate leadership, Naomi Schrag, and many others to develop a policy that addresses legitimate concerns about conflicts of interest in research.  Our faculty has met in groups to discuss the policy and spent dozens of hours in meetings and consultations. We strongly support the current policy on the table.  This new policy would require pre-approval when the university research is paid for by firms where faculty also have a consulting relationship.  The policy also requires disclosure in publications so readers can understand any consulting relationships that might impact the research.  The proposed policy meets the requirements of governments granting institutions and provides strong additional protections for research with human subjects.  In short, this policy responds to all legitimate concerns about possible conflicts of interest in research.  It also recognizes that important research would not otherwise take place without faculty working cooperatively with industry, and that this research serves a public interest and the advancement of knowledge.

The proposal being put forward by Professors Pollack and Silverstein appears to completely ignore the legitimate reasons behind disclosure and the new conflict of interest policy.  The proposal recommends that the university require faculty to report in advance all income from all sources.  Without a standard for denying the outside work, there appears to be no reason to require that faculty report their work in advance.  The proposal does not give any guidance about why faculty should pre-report their income. It does not give any examples of the inadvertent risks of current policies.  That the reporting depends on the faculty member’s salary suggests that it would also be applied unequally across the university, and the proposal gives no guidance about what the university would do with this information. Such an onerous and invasive reporting structure should only be established where there is appreciable risk of harm and only with detailed discussions with the parties involved. 

I know of no policies of nearly this scope of reporting at any of our peer institutions.  Should this proposal be put into place, it would likely cause Columbia to lose some of our most productive and valuable faculty. . . .

Sen. Kachani said the statement went on to ask for postponement of any vote at the present meeting on the Pollack/Silverstein resolution, and for further consultation with faculty.

President Bollinger said the Senate should take up this important subject in its committee work. He noted that every member of the administration abides by a requirement of full disclosure of all outside activities, from for-profit or non-profit organizations, with the amount of income. So this approach was not something completely unknown to the university community.  The question was: How deep into the university’s system should these policies apply?

Sen. Pollack noted that these onerous obligations seemed not to have driven away any productive administrators from the university. 

President Bollinger said, to laughter, that the university might have a much better president without such restrictions. 

Sen. Silverstein said Sen. O’Halloran had made clear that individual schools could indeed decide to have a policy no less stringent than the one in his resolution. But it was also possible that individual schools might opt for a more stringent policy.  He said each member of the Senate ought to think about that in the context of his or her own experience.

President Bollinger said the meeting had been very productive, and he thanked senators for the work that gone into it. He adjourned the meeting at about 2:40 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff