University Senate                                                                                 

Proposed; December 4, 2009

Adopted: December 4, 2009

 

MEETING OF NOVEMBER 13, 2009

In President Lee Bollinger’s absence, Executive Committee chair Sharyn O’Halloran called the Senate to order at 1:20 pm in 104 Jerome Greene Hall. Fifty-two of 89 senators were present during the meeting.

Minutes and agenda. The minutes of October 23 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.

President’s report, Executive Committee chair’s report.  Sen. O’Halloran said President Bollinger had been delayed at the airport by the bad weather and traffic. She offered to give an extended report from the Executive Committee in place of the president’s report.

Budget issues. Sen. O’Halloran said the Executive Committee on November 6 had discussed losses in the endowment and endowment payout and their impact on the budget going forward.  What path will Columbia units need to follow to adjust to these losses?  Provost Steele, an active participant in the discussion, had stressed that even though Columbia was doing better than many of its peers, it had also had losses. 

Asked to comment by Sen. O’Halloran, Budget Review Committee chair Soulaymane Kachani (NT, SEAS) said his committee had met the day before with EVP for Finance Anne Sullivan and then Narv Narvekar, president of the Columbia Investment Management Corporation.  Ms. Sullivan discussed budget highlights for the current fiscal year and budget parameters for Fiscal Year 2010, including common costs, endowment spending rates, and added stresses for Columbia’s fringe pool.  Mr. Narvekar addressed endowment issues that Columbia faced during this past year, and then the strategy moving forward.

Sen. Kachani added that Budget Review had met jointly with the Housing Policy Committee to discuss institutional real estate, and would be continuing that conversation.  Budget Review would also hold a joint meeting on December 4 with Physical Development, to discuss the budgetary implications of Manhattanville with Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin.

Sen. O’Halloran added that Budget Review would be participating actively in discussions setting budget parameters for next year, trying to make sure that essential goals of the University would be kept in mind. 

            Arts and Sciences elections.  Prompted by Sen. O’Halloran, the secretary said ballots had gone out a few days earlier in Arts and Sciences faculty elections that would yield a full delegation of six tenured Natural Sciences senators,  but only partial tenured delegations in the Humanities (two of five seats) and the Social Sciences (one of five).  Single nontenured seats would be filled in the Natural Sciences and Humanities, but probably not in the Social Sciences.  There would be some improvement in A&S participation, but the Senate would need to try to fill eight remaining A&S vacancies in the spring.

Sen. O’Halloran also anticipated improvements in the consistency of election scheduling. 

Governance issues.  Sen. O’Halloran said Sen. James Applegate (Ten., A&S/NS) had been in contact with the A&S Faculty Executive Committee (ECFAS) as it worked on its own governance review.  She said it was important to maintain a good flow of information, so that A&S and other constituencies could be aware of key issues on the Senate agenda and vice versa. 

CUMC Senate caucus.  Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten., P&S) said a fledgling caucus of senators from the Medical Center, which had met again earlier that day, was still in an organizational phase.  But he said attendance was markedly up, and would continue to improve as the group defined its purpose.

Karl Kroeber.  Sen. O’Halloran noted the passing of longtime senator Karl Kroeber earlier in the week, at the age of 83.  He had battled cancer for a number of years. Sen. O’Halloran said he was a distinguished English professor, specializing in the Romantic period, and later on in Native American and children’s literature.  He also served in the Senate from 1975 to 1997, and returned for a few more terms during the present decade. Along the way he chaired the Executive, Budget Review, Faculty Affairs, Libraries, Education, Physical Development, and Structure and Operations committees.  Sen. O’Halloran said he was a tireless recruiter of younger faculty to the Senate, setting an important example for current efforts to strengthen university governance.  She commended Prof. Kroeber for his outstanding work and offered condolences to his family.

Pandemic readiness.  Sen. O’Halloran said preparations for the swine flu came up again briefly in Executive Committee discussion.   She said the sense from the last plenary was that the situation on campus was mainly under control.  A remaining question was whether Health Services was promoting vaccinations aggressively enough.  

Student Caucus chair Andreas Svedin (GSAS/NS) said students were concerned that Health Services was no longer issuing sick notes for students who had gotten the flu, and there seemed to be no new policy  to help these students in rescheduling midterms or making up classes.

Sen. Valentine Edgar (Stu., GSAS/Hum) said her understanding was that Health Services had stopped issuing notes because they were overwhelmed with sick students.

Sen. O’Halloran said there must be a simple way to certify a student’s illness and inform the instructor.  Sen. Edgar said the provost’s office had sent a letter about this to the faculty and to A&S graduate students.  But it wasn’t clear that faculty had acted on this message.

Sen. O’Halloran said it might make sense for her to ask the provost to reissue the letter, or to distribute it to chairs for restatement at the department level.  Sen. Svedin said he had alerted the provost (who was not at the meeting) that this issue would be coming up.  So Sen. Svedin might hear from the provost before Sen. O’Halloran contacted him.
Sen. Jerald Boak (Admin Staff) asked for an update on the availability of H1N1 vaccine.

Sen. Svedin said the latest news was that no one knew when the vaccine would arrive. His interpretation was that it was less a quantity issue than a delivery issue. 

Sen. Lisa Hogarty (Admin.), chief operating officer at the Medical Center, said the CUMC student health service had received 500 doses of the vaccine because many students qualify in two high-risk categories, as health care workers and as people under age 24.  About 80 percent of those doses had been distributed.  Sen. Hogarty said clinical and other staff at CUMC get their vaccines through the hospital.  She said distribution in both cases had been unbelievably slow.  But the plan was to provide vaccine for high-risk groups first, and distribute more as it arrived.

Sen. O’Halloran asked about the availability of vaccine at the Morningside Heights public health facility. Sen. Hogarty understood that that facility had vaccinated all health care workers and was now focused on pregnant students.

Update on smoking policy from Michael McNeil.  Sen. O’Halloran said a proposed new smoking policy for Morningside had spurred considerable discussion around the University. She wanted to bring the discussion into the Senate to assure a common dialogue involving many people and a good understanding of the policies and procedures involved. 

Sen. Applegate said he had met, on behalf of the Executive Committee, with Michael McNeil, an assistant director of Health Services at Columbia who was chairing a working group that had produced a new proposal.  He had invited Mr. McNeil to speak to the Senate.  He said the new proposal could later be discussed in the External Relations Committee, and possibly come to the Senate floor in the spring.

Sen. O’Halloran said Mr. McNeil was not presenting a formal proposal at this point, but only a progress report, to start a discussion.

Mr. McNeil began by returning to the question of H1N1 vaccine availability that had just been discussed.  He said Health Services would be sending an email to students, maybe later that day, listing access points throughout the city for the H1N1 vaccine as a way around the limited availability on campus.  He said New York City had modified its eligibility requirements for the publicly run clinics to include those up to age 24.  He himself would monitor e-mailed questions about the new announcement.

Turning to the deliberations of the Tobacco Policy Work Group, Mr. McNeil referred to an outline he had prepared for the present meeting on the recent history of this issue.  Over the past year, the group had been taking stock of current policies on smoking at Morningside, and developing a set of recommendations for VP Scott Wright in Student Services.

Mr. McNeil said the group viewed a number of national guideline documents, looked at peer institutions, and considered some of the discrepancies among the five university documents addressing tobacco use.  What was clear on the administrative side was significant inconsistency in the handling of tobacco issues.  From this study, a consensus idea took shape in the work group—to limit smoking to designated areas outside the main gates of campus.  For the time being, this was just an idea the work group was trying out on various Morningside constituencies.  An attempt to solicit feedback last spring did not receive much of a response.  Those who did respond generally favored the restriction.  But the work group recognized the need for more discussion, Mr. McNeil said. 

He said the work group was supporting an initiative of Morningside student governments to conduct a more scientific poll of students.  He said the Senate—both the plenary and the External Relations Committee—would provide another venue for discussion to gather the information that would ultimately inform the recommendations. 

Mr. McNeil said he would not regurgitate all the information the work group had gathered, but would emphasize the group’s overriding preference for consistency in tobacco policy.  For example, different buildings have different distance rules.  He said a number of smokers are willing to comply, but don’t know which set of rules to comply with.  He said the policy the work group envisioned was more a place restriction than a ban.  The group recognized that members of the Columbia community choose to smoke, and designated spaces would need to be identified for them if the policy were to be changed.

He noted, in the outline document that he had distributed, a list of participants in the work group’s deliberations to date, and the various tobacco policy documents around campus. 

Sen. Gerald Sherwin (Alum.) asked about the different tobacco policies at Barnard, Teachers College, and the Jerome Greene building. 

Mr. McNeil said Barnard has its own policy—basically that smoking is prohibited indoors or out.   There is one designated area for outdoor smoking, although Barnard students have expressed concern about current enforcement efforts.  Teachers College forbids smoking within 50 feet of all buildings, so it is also de facto smoke-free.  Jerome Greene is subject to New York State law, which bans smoking in many buildings.  Since August of 2008 the law also has applied to undergraduate housing.  That addition prompted the current review of Morningside policies.

Elsewhere on campus, Mr. McNeil said, the rules depend on one’s location at a given moment.  Undergraduate residence halls have a 20-foot rule; Lewisohn Hall has a fifty-foot rule.  Of Butler Library, he said only that it is a point of contention.  He said the lack of a single answer to Sen. Sherwin’s question was an important reason for recommending a clarification.

Sen. O’Halloran said this situation was an important reason to involve the Senate, one of whose main roles is to develop University-wide policies.  A tobacco policy should be fair, consistent, transparent, and easily enforceable. 

Sen. James Neal (Admin.), the University Librarian, asked what was known about compliance and enforcement for such policies, at Columbia as well as other universities.

Mr. McNeil said this was the biggest concern the group was hearing.  What would be the level of enforcement of a new policy?  He said the work group had studied enforcement efforts at other institutions that have changed their tobacco policies. Overwhelmingly, he said, there had been voluntary compliance.  He said smoking rates continue to decline in the United States, with daily smokers now in single-digit percentages.  He said some institutions have restricted smoking to parking lots—not an option for Morningside, but one that’s easy to enforce.  The work group was studying how other urban institutions address the problem that some of the property involved belongs to the city, not the university. This was a main reason why the group had made no recommendations yet.  There was more work to be done, in a process Mr. McNeil expected to take another year.

Sen. Jose Robledo (Stu., GS) asked how a new policy would be enforced for people who don’t comply.  Would Columbia fine them?

Mr. McNeil said that if the work group were to recommend changes in policy, it would have to address that issue. He said procedures are in place now to deal with anyone who violates a University policy.  The University’s policy on smoking is very specific about indoor smoking. Mr. McNeil said, with some confidence, that the work group would not replace current sanctions.

Sen. John Brust (Ten., CUMC) said compliance would likely depend on how reasonable people think a new policy is.  He said smoking outdoors doesn’t carry the same risk of second-hand smoke as smoking in a bar.  He asked how Mr. McNeil would respond to someone who asked why he wanted to restrict outdoor smoking.

Mr. McNeil said that according to research in New York City since the implementation of the smoking ban in bars and restaurants, New Yorkers have higher-than-average levels of blood cotinine (related to nicotine) even though they smoke less than the national average.  So they are exposed in their environments, with long-term implications for their health.  Mr. McNeil conceded that short-term health effects are not obvious, although people with respiratory problems are definitely affected.  He said designating certain spaces for smoking would change the place, but not address the underlying question of the effect of second-hand outdoor smoke, and the work group would have to think more about this before making recommendations.

Sen. Vijay Yadav (Research Officers)  said the signs restricting smoking at the Medical Center are confusing.  He asked if research officers would be polled along with students in considering a new policy.

Mr. McNeil said the range of participants in surveys varies. In a student survey in the spring of 2009, Health Services had 7,448 usable responses—a significant number.  But another attempt to solicit feedback had only six faculty responses.  With discrepancies among responses like these, he said, it is clear that there needs to be more discussion, involving more groups. 

He also agreed that there are inconsistencies with signage. In some buildings signs restricting smoking have appeared on doors, but people in the buildings can’t explain how they got there.  He said the work group has spoken with Facilities about standardizing signage.

Sen. Michael Adler (Ten., Bus.) expressed the outrage of a professing, unabashed and continuing smoker.  He cited Emerson’s characterization of a foolish consistency as the hobgoblin of small minds.  He said smokers had indeed become a minority, but should not be persecuted and discriminated against.  He said that smoking helps him think, and he said doctors who had urged him to reduce his smoking had told him not to cut it out altogether since it helps his nerves.  He said the idea of appointing a committee to review a situation that does not need remedying, with a sense of obligation to produce an original recommendation, such as a total ban on outdoor smoking on campus, was to him stupid beyond belief.

Sen. O’Halloran said Sen. Adler was always a good representative of minority views, and he had raised a representative issue, which had figured in the change from the complete ban originally proposed to the setting of some designated areas for smokers.

Sen. Andrew Springer (Stu., Journalism) asked who would make the  final decision on the work group’s recommendation to Vice President Scott Wright. He also asked how the contemplated policy was not a ban, if the only place allowed was outside the campus gates.

Mr. McNeil conceded that there could be a semantic argument about Sen. Springer’s second point.  The issue is one of terminology because the work group acknowledges that members of the campus community do smoke.  He added that there were smokers in the work group, and he was happy that they continued to participate.  He said the policy must recognize that while smokers can only smoke outside the gates, they would still be identified and recognized.  Receptacles would be placed in the designated areas, and maintained by the University.  He recognized that the policy would feel very much like a ban for those outside the gates.  But in the work group’s rationale, the first item is respect for smokers as a constituent group at Columbia.

As for the decision on a new policy, Mr. McNeil said he would deliver the recommendation of the work group to Vice President Wright, and await further orders.

Sen. O’Halloran said the Senate, which had dealt with previous smoking policies, would ask for a new policy to come to the External Relations Committee for further deliberations, possibly hearings and town hall meetings. The final stage would be a Senate resolution for debate and action.  She added that the president, if he were to disagree with the Senate action, could ask the Trustees to veto a Senate resolution.  A dialogue would follow.  She did not anticipate this kind of outcome, but hoped that the Senate could provide the setting for the broadest input.  She thanked Mr. McNeil for introducing the issue to the Senate.

Sen. Mary Byrne (NT, Nursing) said smoking cessation programs are often offered in conjunction with restrictive policies.  She asked if such cessation programs were planned.

Mr. McNeil said that in 2008 Health Services revamped its smoking cessation program for students to meet clinical practice guidelines and recommendations for best practices.  He said that as a certified cessation counselor, trained by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, he was delighted to participate in this effort.  The Columbia program combines individual support with pharmacotherapy, either nicotine replacement or access to prescription medications.  Currently the satisfaction with these programs among students who take the satisfaction survey is about 95 percent.  Employees also receive support for cessation services. 

Sen. Adler asked how many times a person is allowed to quit.  As many times as they want, Mr. McNeil said. 

Sen. Robert Pollack (Ten., A&S/NS) said that if the intention was to create a wall of smokelessness coterminous with the property lines of the university, wasn’t it likely that New York City, with its current mayor, would say, Not in my backyard?  Why would it be all right to place local regions of high tobacco smoke outside campus gates in the City of New York, Columbia’s home?

Mr. McNeil said conversations with people who live and work in the neighborhood must take place before any new policy is recommended.

Sen. Pollack said he was one of those people, along with everyone else in the room, and the conversation was going on now.  He asked where the representative of Community Board 9 was, or the representative of the housing projects north of Columbia.  He thought, based on his too-long experience, that the contemplated policy would be either a waste of time or, much worse, a reason for the local community to see Columbia correctly as dumping its problem on them.

Sen. O’Halloran said a town hall meeting, broadly publicized for both the Columbia and local communities, would be a helpful way to conduct this discussion.  Any policy should be adopted transparently, to assure people that Columbia is addressing the problem in a responsible way, without dumping it on the surrounding community.

Mr. McNeil offered the example of a possible designated smoking location outside Jerome Greene Hall, where the present meeting was taking place, on 116th Street near the gates to the Wien courtyard.  This location might be suitable, provided there are no nearby air intakes or windows, because it would impinge only minimally on the neighborhood. 

Sen. Svedin asked how the policy would be developed.  Would VP Scott Wright, if he approves a policy recommendation, send it on to the Senate?  Sen. O’Halloran said that was correct.

Sen. Karen Green (Libraries) said she was startled by the apparent argument that because only a very small fraction of students smoke, an outright ban was acceptable.  She said that she had never smoked, but that smoking is legal and a matter of free choice. 

Mr. McNeil said it was informative that so few students now smoke, but recognized that this fact did not justify a ban.

Sen. Boak said Columbia has many international students, from countries that do not see smoking as Americans do.  Referring to the idea that respect for smokers was a priority of the work group, he doubted smokers required to go off campus to smoke would get this message. 

Sen. Boak also wondered if the basic issue was air quality more generally than tobacco specifically.  He said his lungs were harmed much more by idling trucks than by people smoking outside a building.  He said idling truck engines are against the law in New York City, but he did not think Columbia Security enforces this ban.  He suggested that restricting smoking should be understood as part of a broader effort to improve air quality.

Mr. McNeil said two environmental issues had come up in committee deliberations:  air quality, and the fact that cigarette waste is not readily biodegradable.  These issues had not figured prominently, but that was another reason why he thought there was more to discuss.

Sen. Pollack said the issue for him was not legality, or consistency.  He added, to laughter, that he hated to be in agreement with Professor Adler, but thought the Columbia community of some 50,000 people had to share the consequences of forcing people to smoke off campus.  He saw no grounds for Columbia, having justifiably moved smokers out of buildings, to then say it wanted to reduce the exposure of its own community to tobacco by moving smokers into the non-Columbia public space.  He said this was not a civilized act to the larger community. The air is the same air, and to act as if Columbia air can be cleaner than the city air was intrinsically an elitist, non-fact-based, risky, tendentious position.  He asked the work group to rethink its purpose in light of the politics of its recommendations, as against the false science. 

Sen. O’Halloran thanked all participants for a good first discussion.  She looked forward to learning the recommendation of the work group, and to putting the Senate to work on it. 

Mr. McNeil thanked the Senate, and looked forward to reporting again later.  He invited senators to share further thoughts. He said he would now take copious notes of the discussion just ended so he wouldn’t forget anything.

Sen. Adler asked if Mr. McNeil would simply quit this enterprise.

Sen. O’Halloran said the work group represented a significant percentage of the population, whose voice also deserved to be heard.  She said the dialogue on these issues was beneficial. 

Committee reports.
--Libraries on the proposed Google settlement. Libraries co-chair Samuel Silverstein introduced Kenneth Crews, director of the Copyright Advisory Office in the Libraries.  He thanked Sen. James Neal, University Librarian, for his prescience on copyright issues and for recruiting Dr. Crews to Columbia.  He said Dr. Crews’ remarks were of special interest to the present audience of book authors and potential book authors. 

Dr. Crews recalled his last presentation to the Senate, in December 2008, on the subject of open access to scholarship, which had focused largely on journal articles. His present subject was the proposed settlement of litigation involving the Google Books Project, the Google initiative to scan full books, load them into a database, and make them accessible, at least in a limited fashion, to the world.  He said many in the room had probably used it for research purposes. Without permission from the rights holder (the author, the publisher, or someone else), the best justification for Google in pursuing this project was to call it fair use.   Google maintained that though it was scanning full books, it was delivering only what it called “snippets.”  So someone typing key words in the Google book search page might see three lines from a book, and then would go elsewhere for the full book. 
But this version of fair use didn’t satisfy rights holders. A lawsuit followed, accusing Google of copyright infringement.  Before the litigation got very far, the parties began negotiations that lasted nearly two years, and publicly unveiled a settlement in November 2008.  This amounted to a business plan allowing Google to continue its project but now, with the approval of the rights holders, to deliver entire books.  The rights holders would also get some money from proceeds of the books, which Google would begin selling, in two different ways.

One mechanism would involve individual books.  Someone learns that a book of interest is in the database, pays a price, logs on, and reads the book online. The second method would be an institutional subscription database for big buyers, such as Columbia University.  This would provide access for all members of the Columbia community to all the books in the database that are available under this arrangement with the rights holders.  At this point the database is estimated to contain 10 million books, and it may contain 20 million or 30 million books by the time Google finishes the scanning project.

Dr. Crews said the good news about the proposed settlement is the access to a vast trove of research materials.  The bad news is all the strings attached.  The settlement outlines a tightly negotiated, tightly regulated way of delivering information. The access is almost entirely online.  Downloading and printing are tightly restricted.  Pictures of all kinds—photos, images, artwork—are not included in the settlement, and will be blocked out of materials. There are also serious privacy issues: because it’s a log-on arrangement, a company will know what you’re reading—how much and for how long—and what you’re buying.  Finally, what will be the ultimate cost of the new arrangement?  The costs of individual books are  somewhat predictable, but it is impossible to begin to guess the eventual cost of the database of 30 million books. 

Where does the settlement stand right now?  The U.S. Justice Department weighed in and found serious antitrust and other problems with the agreement, and sent the parties back to the table.  They promised to deliver a renegotiated settlement on November 9, but asked for a postponement till November 13—the day of the present meeting.  Dr. Crews looked forward to a miserable weekend reading the next round of paperwork.

He expected the court to hold a hearing about the settlement.  Then it may approve or not, or approve with more conditions attached or more issues raised.  If there is final approval, Google can move forward with the business plan.

What would the settlement mean to Columbia?  One issue, which he would not address here, was that Columbia was the provider of many of the “public domain” books, the ones no longer covered by copyright.  But what would the settlement mean to people in the room?  Authors, or their relatives or heirs, should consider filing claims on the Google settlement website.  There might be money in the claims. He urged people to claim that money before someone else did.

What would the settlement mean for researchers?  It means potential access to millions of books, but with the limits and conditions he had mentioned earlier.  This might or might not be beneficial overall.  What would the settlement mean to librarians?  It would mean reconsidering once again how to provide access to the research materials people need. 

In conclusion, Dr. Crews told his audience to do three things:  check your publication agreements, make your claims, and plan your future as authors, with better agreements. 

Sen. Neal elaborated on Dr. Crews’ comments about “public domain” books.  He said the Columbia Libraries had been contributing books to the Google database.  All of these are pre-1923 imprints, and therefore not in copyright or part of the present settlement.

He said the Libraries have added a feature to CLIO, Columbia’s online catalog, that displays an icon on the bibliographic record of any book that is available in the public domain through the Google database, and shows whether it is a Columbia book or one scanned from another library.  These millions of full texts are fully accessible to Columbia faculty and students through CLIO.

Sen. O’Halloran said this was very important for Columbia, especially for faculty.

Dr. Crews repeated his emphasis on the need for rights holders to be careful what they sign, but above all to keep a copy of their agreements. He reminded the audience that copyright lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years. 

Sen. Faisal Cheema (Research Officers), from the Medical Center, noted that many textbooks, especially in the medical world, are incomplete without photographs. How will the exclusion of photographs and other art from the current proposed settlement be addressed?

Dr. Crews said this question raised a serious problem with the whole settlement.  Photographers had asked to be brought in to the negotiations, but the court kept them out.  Dr Crews guessed that if the settlement is accepted and the initiative proceeds, Google will then turn back to the photographers and artists, and negotiate a deal with them.  The price to consumers will go up, and some revenue will go to the artists.  But he anticipated that the art and photography would start to come in slowly and in a limited way.

Dr. Crews said his website (http://copyright.columbia.edu/copyright/), the source of two handouts distributed for the meeting, offered many posts on the settlement and its implications for those who were interested.

Sen. Silverstein thanked Dr. Crews.  He urged all senators to contact the Libraries Committee with issues raised by the Google settlement.

New business.  Sen. O’Halloran decided to go directly to the action items while a quorum was still present.
--M.S. in Sustainability Management (Continuing Education). Education Committee chair Letty Moss-Salentijn said the proposed program offered a 36-point curriculum, and hoped to attract 12 students a year.  She said Paul McNeil, vice dean of the School of Continuing Education, was available to answer questions. Without discussion the Senate adopted the proposal by voice vote, without dissent.

--Dual degrees linking SIPA’s MIA with two master’s degrees from the Fundacao Getulio Vargas, Sao Paulo, Brazil
--Dual degrees linking SIPA’s MPA with two master’s degrees from the Fundacao Getulio Vargas, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Sen. Moss-Salentijn presented both of these very similar resolutions together. She said they were also very similar to other programs recently proposed by the School of International and Public Affairs and approved by the Senate.  This model is a highly successful combination of a first year at Columbia taking course work for the Columbia master’s degree and a second year at the other campus—in this case Sao Paulo—for the other master’s degree.  Without further discussion, the Senate approved both proposals by voice vote, without dissent.

More Committee reports.
Structure and Operations on new confidentiality guidelines for the Senate. Sen. O’Halloran introduced Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers), a member of Structure and Operations.  She said maintaining a consistent standard of confidentiality as the Senate became more deeply engaged in the policymaking process at earlier stages was essential to assure the Senate’s credibility and accountability. 

Sen. Savin reported on new draft guidelines on confidentiality and the release of information by Senate committees.  He said the Senate already had a set of guidelines, adopted in the 1970s, which needed revision.  First, the current policy offered no access for scholars to Senate committee archives, as the Structure and Operations realized when a request came in a few years ago.  The new policy addresses that issue.

Second, the current policy did not set a terminal date for the confidentiality of Senate documents.  Implicitly, Sen. Savin said, they are confidential for eternity, which seemed excessive.  For the new proposed policy, the committee adopted a trustee guideline, which calls for 50 years of confidentiality for internal documents.  Sen. Savin anticipated numerous comments from senators on this provision. 

Sen. Savin said the current policy also omitted mention of several committees with important confidentiality obligations, specifically Budget Review and Faculty Affairs, particularly in its mandate to investigate grievances.  The new policy also addressed the question of how to determine when confidential information shared with a committee could be released. 

Finally, the old policy calls for two sets of minutes for committee deliberations—one public and one private—a requirement that does not reflect Senate practice or capabilities.  The sense of his committee was that annual committee reports were an adequate replacement for public minutes.

Sen. Savin offered two further thoughts about the new proposed guidelines.  One was that they did not recommend holding Senate plenaries in secrecy, but called for keeping these meetings public.  He added that past records of a committee would always be available to current members of that committee. 

Sen. Savin reminded senators that the draft guidelines were on the floor for discussion only, not a vote.  He said Structure and Operations was eager to hear comments on the draft, and he invited recommendations for amendments, preferably in writing, so the committee could consider them.  He added that there had been a miscommunication at the previous plenary about the S&O meeting scheduled immediately after the present meeting. Some had thought this would be an open meeting, but it would not be. He urged senators to offer comments on the draft policy at the present plenary and later in writing.  He also invited any nonsenators present who wanted to speak to request permission. 

Sen. Svedin raised the subject of the sharing of information between committees.  He mentioned the example of a report on the activities of Budget Review by one of its student members to the student caucus.  He had noticed that the work of Senate committees is sometimes highly compartmentalized, and that allowing more interaction would benefit the whole Senate.

Sen. Savin said this was a good point, which had not been considered in the current draft of the new guidelines, but would be addressed in a later draft.

Sen. Springer, a journalism student, said he had been asked to submit some comments by Sen. Svedin and the staff member from the perspective of a future journalist, which he had sent around.  Under New York State law, which wasn’t necessarily applicable to Columbia but offered a useful demonstration point, government meetings are open, from beginning to end, and they can enter executive session only for narrowly defined reasons, including personnel issues or real estate and securities transactions. These requirements for openness govern every kind of government body, from legislatures to city councils to town school boards. It is these laws, Sen. Springer said, that keep government open and transparent and honest at the local level.  He said the trend in American society is not toward more secrecy.  Why did the University Senate want to move in that direction? 

Sen. Springer said he was expressing his personal views.  But he and a few other senators might propose a compromise to Structure and Operations, recognizing that.some committees do deal with information that needs to remain confidential. To the committees Sen. Savin had already mentioned, Sen. Springer added the Honors and Prizes Committee. But he said a number of other committees might not need such restrictions. He mentioned Libraries, Housing Policy, Alumni Relations, and Information Technology.

Sen. Springer said he and some other senators might propose a default arrangement in which most Senate committees would be open, with their records available to the public, except when they went into executive session under a circumscribed set of rules, including trustees’ confidentiality requirements.  The meetings of committees handling sensitive information would remain closed.

Sen. Springer urged Structure and Operations to consider this compromise.  He said senators are elected to serve their constituencies, and accountability was not meant to be pleasant, as Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton could attest.  He said senators are obligated to the people they represent, and they owe it to themselves to remain fair and transparent. 

Sen. Savin repeated that Structure and Operations welcomed all proposed amendments to the policy in writing, and would address them all.  But the revised version would come before the Senate, which would make the final decision about the guidelines.  In that sense, he said, the governance was extremely open, because plenary sessions are open to the public.  He said another misconception concerned the difference between public and corporate governance. He said the Senate is part of the corporation of Columbia University in the City of New York.  He agreed that openness was an important goal, and said Structure and Operations would welcome any recommendations about which committees should remain open or closed.

Sen. Savin offered the opinion that University administrators would be very reluctant to meet and share information with Senate committees without knowing at the start that the meeting would be confidential.  He said that confidentiality might also be extremely important to the IT or Libraries committees.  A senior administrator meeting with IT to describe the university budget for computers would not want that discussion to be public.  Sen. Savin said there has to be a balance between openness and confidentiality.

Sen. Savin said the confidentiality guidelines might need to be presented not just to the Senate but to the entire university community, perhaps in a town hall meeting.

Sen. Springer replied that Columbia was not a business, but a place of learning.  He said he paid $60,000 a year to attend Columbia, and he expected transparency in the way the money was handled.  He added that Columbia has billions of dollars and is administered under a cloak of secrecy by a board of trustees that answers only to itself. 

Sen. O’Halloran thought the Senate played an effective role in mitigating that lack of transparency, working effectively to make sure it had a voice in the deliberative process.  The Senate now had early access to a great deal of important information.  One way to accomplish that end was to develop a set of trusts and understandings and recognize a set of information that can be shared and another that must remain confidential.  She added that Columbia is a not-for-profit corporation.  This was an important balance that the Senate must maintain.  It was imperative that the Senate respect the need for confidentiality, at the same time allowing for channels for communication with constituents.  This was the Senate’s accountability and obligation.  She said it was important to think of multiple points of entry where the information could flow.  And respect for confidentiality was a way to keep the information flowing.

Sen. Savin said one of Sen. Springer’s criticisms was that there was no mechanism for appealing a decision not to release information. He welcomed suggestions for such a mechanism.  

Sen. O’Halloran said one avenue of appeal could be to the Trustees.

Sen. Rajat Roy (Stu., SEAS) said one danger he had mentioned at the previous plenary was that in seeking transparency from the Trustees, the Senate is sacrificing a similar transparency with its own constituencies.  More important, he said, most senators would be prepared to go to extreme lengths to honor confidentiality when necessary—in budget issues, or in personal relations involving grievances or honors and prizes.  This makes possible a simple compromise.  He said a black Sharpie pen can do an adequate job of concealing sensitive information on documents released by the federal government, and could function similarly for the Senate. 

Sen. Roy said he was particularly worried about the committee proposed in the new draft guidelines to hear appeals on requests for information.  He said appeals in such a bureaucratic environment could take weeks if not months, and an appeals committee would become a kind of transparency death panel.  He said the need for confidentiality must be tempered with the mission of the university. He understood the argument that Columbia is a corporate structure. But in 1969 the Senate was created to represent a constituency—a very legislative idea. 

Sen. Roy said that even the U.S. government does not keep records classified for more than 25 years.  Exceptions involve information that would assist in the development or use of weapons of mass destruction, or expose state-of-the-art technology involving a U.S. weapons system, or violate a statute or treaty.  He didn’t think any information the Senate was discussing remotely approached those levels of sensitivity.

Sen. O’Halloran said that by respecting confidentiality, the Senate has access to information that it would not have otherwise, and that other bodies in the university do not have.  The Senate could put greater emphasis on transparency, but then there would be less to communicate.  So again, what is needed is an effective balance between these aims.  By respecting the fact that the Senate is gaining access to information earlier and at a deeper level and becoming more integrated into the policy process, senators have an opportunity to take that information in aggregate, non-confidential form, and express it—a kind of communication with constituents that senators could not otherwise achieve.

Sen. Roy acknowledged the need for balance, but he did not think the current draft guidelines had the balance right.

Sen. Savin elaborated on Sen. O’Halloran’s remarks, saying that the Senate’s ability to hear and comment on proposed university policy before it becomes public gives it far more power to effect change than it would have if the Senate had to wait until the administration decided on new policies and released them publicly.

Sen. Alex Frouman (Stu., CC) said he agreed that revisions were needed for the old guidelines, and he recognized the need for confidentiality in some committee deliberations.  But he expressed discomfort with what he took to be the key difference between the two versions: whereas under the old policy everything was by default public, it was by default private in the new version.  

Sen. Savin said he thought Sen. Frouman misunderstood the old policy, which made everything confidential for eternity.  The new version offered a mechanism for making committee deliberations public or accessible to scholars.  But under either policy, he said, committee work is born confidential.

Sen. Applegate said that conversations with trustees or senior administrators that are not guaranteed a high level of confidentiality simply do not take place.  His 25 years as a faculty member were a qualification to represent his constituency (natural scientists in the Arts and Sciences) and included experience that trustees do not have in classrooms and laboratories and libraries and other university settings.  He could convey that experience in a conversation. But if he could not assure confidentiality in matters that the university needs to keep confidential, the conversation would never take place.

Sen. Jose Robledo (Stu., GS) said he understood the point of finding a balance between what senators can say and what they can’t say.  The question for him was why it was so important to keep these issues behind closed doors. He said all secrets come out eventually.  As soon as someone puts up a curtain, people want to know what’s on the other side.

Sen. Savin said the reason was that a great deal of Senate committee business with the administration would not occur without confidentiality rules: Budget Review would be unable to perform its function; the Research Officers Committee, which he chaired, meets with various administrators about budgetary issues; Faculty Affairs deals with grievances; in awarding honors and prizes, the worst thing to do would be to embarrass the runner-up for a Columbia honor; searches for trustees or senior administrators by the Executive Committee must be confidential.

Sen. Savin repeated his invitation to senators to propose changes in writing. He hoped the next revision would address most of the issues people had raised, but if it didn’t people could submit more amendments.  The goal was a document that reflects the current practice and needs of the Senate and that achieves a consensus among senators. 

Sen. O’Halloran thanked Structure and Operations for its work, and adjourned the meeting at at about 2:45 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff