University Senate                                                                                 

Proposed:  January 29, 2010

Adopted: January 29, 2010

 

MEETING OF DECEMBER 4, 2009

President Lee Bollinger, the chairman, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 107 Jerome Greene Hall.  Forty-six of 96 senators were present during the meeting.

Minutes and agenda.  The agenda was adopted as proposed.  The minutes of November 13 were adopted with one correction.

President’s report 
Eminent domain and Manhattanville.  The president mentioned the decision by an appellate court the day before rejecting the use of eminent domain to acquire the few remaining properties Columbia seeks to complete its Manhattanville development.  The 3-2 ruling overturned a determination by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) that the area was blighted, that Columbia had proposed a valid public purpose for it, and that eminent domain was therefore appropriate.

The president said this decision was the first stage in a continuing process.  The ESDC had indicated that it would appeal to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, which would be obliged to take it up.

The president said he would not comment on ongoing litigation.  He said he had looked at the decision, and was calm and optimistic about the process.  He said many had already noted that only a week earlier the Court of Appeals had upheld the ESDC’s decision to approve eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn.  He said the ESDC believes that the Atlantic Yards case controls the Manhattanville case. 

The president said he had been part of litigation before, and had seen decisions against him and others.  He said one presses on, and that’s what the university would do.

Meanwhile, the president said, Columbia would proceed with the Mind Brain Behavior project, which had been made possible by the extraordinary gift of $250 million from the Jerome Greene Foundation. This project did not require eminent domain to go forward.

In response to a question, the president expected the litigation to be resolved in 2010.  

Sen. Monica Quaintance (Stu., CC) asked the president to speculate on the impact of an adverse final decision on eminent domain.

The president said he did not want to speculate about that.  But as he had said numerous times on the record, Columbia needed these properties in order to complete its design for a new campus, in the form that had been approved by the city in the rezoning process, which had involved multiple layers, from the Community Board to the Borough President, to the City Planning Commission, to the City Council, to the Mayor.  These properties were crucial to the campus as envisaged in the rezoning process, he said.

Sen. Mark Cohen (NT, Bus.) said the recent ruling had cast Columbia in a terrible light in the court of public opinion, raising the specter of 1968.  He asked if Columbia should be taking steps, despite the impending ongoing litigation, to reframe its position.

The president said he had to disagree with Sen. Cohen’s characterization. He said many bad things had been said about Columbia during the 7 or 8 years of its quest for approval of the Manhattanville project.  But they had all come from a very small minority.  He said the range of support for Columbia’s expansion into Manhattanville had been extremely broad, even in the surrounding community.  He recalled that Community Board 9 ultimately voted in favor of the project, and Columbia worked out an extensive community benefits agreement, committing itself over the life of the development to an extraordinary array of helpful projects, ranging from education to health, to community development, to the design of the campus and so on.  Local politicians at the council, state level, and federal levels, led by Congressman Charles Rangel, had supported the project.  The city, of course, was strongly in favor, and so was Governor Paterson.  The president said that because the Senate was a public setting, he felt obliged to challenge Sen. Cohen’s characterization. 

Sen. Cohen said he agreed with the challenge.  His concern was that the media had, possibly incorrectly, cast the university in a poor light in reporting on the ruling.  He suggested that the voices of support for Columbia should be more audible.

The president agreed completely with the idea of bringing voices forward to reaffirm the extensive process Columbia had undergone, along with its commitment to rebuild relations with surrounding communities.  He said this process was already under way, with extensive outreach over the past 24 hours that would continue.

The president said that issues like this can be difficult for journalists, who need some time to grasp the full context.  The university was doing its best to clarify that context, and so were ESDC lawyers.  He was optimistic that within a week or two, there would be a more balanced understanding of this situation.  The president decided not to say more on this subject.

Sen. Rajat Roy (Stu., SEAS) asked if there were backup plans in case the university were to lose its appeal.  Would Columbia have to go through the whole zoning and planning process again, just because it had been unable to acquire the whole property?

The president said his position was simply to press forward, and to confront issues like the one Sen. Roy had raised only when the time comes. From the beginning, Columbia had pursued an ambitious plan that was vital to Columbia.  He thought everyone in the room understood that if Columbia did not have the space to grow over the next few decades, there would be serious risk to the institution’s ability to attract grants for research, to have classrooms for teaching, to increase space for offices and departments as knowledge grows.  He said many departments and schools at Columbia were smaller than they should be only because the university had lacked space for them commensurate with its intellectual ambitions and responsibilities.  The president said he was making this case—that Columbia could not cut back on its vital commitment, which would benefit the community and New York City. 

The cost of health benefits. Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers) said the period of open enrollments for 2010 benefits had ended, and many people were shocked by their medical costs. He cited examples, including one case in which a person’s premiums had risen by 70 percent, another case in which the deductible per person for out-of-network coverage jumped by 67 percent, and a third in which the out-of-pocket maximum for out-of-network coverage increased by 150 percent.  Sen. Savin understood that the president couldn’t comment on these examples.  But he concluded that in a year in which almost everyone’s salary was frozen, it was amazing that an institution with over 10,000 employees was unable to negotiate a better deal with health care organizations. 

The president responded in general terms, noting that health care costs had risen significantly across the country, and Columbia was not immune to these pressures.  He added that Columbia had managed to contain this trend better than many institutions.  He said administrators responsible for benefits costs could make this case better than he could.  He said that if senators wanted to discuss this issue, he would ask some of these administrators to address it. 

Sen. Savin thought his constituency, the research officers, would very much like to have that discussion.  He asked Executive Committee chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) to comment. 

Sen. O’Halloran said the Budget Review and Faculty Affairs committees were setting up a subcommittee to address this issue.  She said research officers would certainly be heard.  She said the university would need a managed plan going forward to give it a better chance to avoid large bumps at times when there are price pressures on the fringe pool.

Student caucus chair Andreas Svedin (Stu., GSAS/NS) said students had also faced steep increases in premiums and fees in recent years, and wanted to understand the causes. 

Sen. Ronald Bayer (Ten., Public Health) said his concern was that people found out about these increases when they received their benefits packages.  When there are increases like these that effectively represent a cut in salary, he said, the university has an obligation to communicate with its faculty and staff ahead of time, to engage in a process of open discussion and negotiation.  This time, he said, people found out after the fact, with only 10-20 days to fill out their forms. 

The president said he was getting the message. He called for a process to air complaints and provide an opportunity to respond. 

The president said the present time of the year was a wonderful time and a not-so-wonderful time.  It was wonderful as the semester came to a close, perhaps more so for faculty than for students.  But it was also the time when budget parameters are set for the next year, and people look ahead.  He said, on behalf of himself and Provost Claude Steele, that this was an important time for people to work together, to get through these difficult times.  Columbia’s position was better than those of peer institutions in that it was suffering less, but it also had far less to suffer with, and peers have had to cut more.  He said Columbia’s budget was very lean to begin with. Otherwise, he said, things were very good at Columbia.  He said it was necessary to wait and see how fundraising would go over the course of the year. Columbia was still well ahead of schedule in its capital campaign.  How much cash would actually come in was not known.  The previous year, in the middle of a recession, saw a dropoff, but Columbia still raised $413 million, keeping it among the top five or six in the country. The ambition was to maintain that level consistently. 

The president said there were exciting developments in the schools.   A new global center was opening up, which he hoped would enable faculty and students to experience research and teaching and activities abroad in new ways.  He also mentioned a recent conference on AIDS in which President Clinton spoke with Prof. (and university senator) Wafaa El-Sadr.  He concluded that wonderful things were happening at the institution.

Executive Committee chair’s report
Smoking policy.  Sen. O’Halloran said an administration committee was now addressing this issue. Its chair had presented some of the committee’s work to the Senate in November.  It would come to the Senate External Relations committee for consideration during the spring, and then move to the floor

New labor agreement.  Sen. O’Halloran asked Honey Sue Fishman, executive director of Business Services and Student Center Operations, to report on a new labor agreement between Russell Athletic, a manufacturer of logo apparel for many American universities, and its labor unions in Honduras.

Ms. Fishman said that a code of conduct setting standards for labor conditions in the manufacture of emblematic apparel, adopted by Columbia in 2000, had helped the university hold many companies accountable over the years.  The Russell settlement was unique because it was the first such agreement between a private employer and unions throughout a single country.  She said it would affect not only Honduras, but other Central American countries as well.

Ms. Fishman said a critical contribution to the agreement came from the Worker Rights Consortium, an anti-sweatshop organization that Columbia joined in 2000. Also contributing were the Fair Labor Association (another monitoring organization Columbia belongs to) and the concerted efforts of a group of American universities to pressure the manufacturer to understand that it would have to adhere to the code if it wanted to retain its licenses to manufacture logo apparel.  She said the agreement was historic, and hoped it would serve as a precedent for other manufacturers in other developing countries.

Sen. Roy said that a simple request from a student group to add the word Columbia to a tee shirt, which once took only a few weeks, was now taking months to get through the university.  He asked if Ms. Fishman could help to streamline this process and make student life a little simpler. 

Ms. Fishman replied that the current process was streamlined.  The university has pre-approved a list of promotional vendors to manufacture goods for student organizations.  If students use a vendor licensed by the university, their request can move forward within a couple of days.  But non-licensed vendors have to go through the Columbia program, under conditions enabling the university to monitor their manufacturing and make sure they adhere to the Columbia code.

New senators.   Sen. O’Halloran asked Elections Commission chair Benjamin Brickner (Stu., Nonsen., Law) to read aloud the names and constituencies of 19 senators elected or reelected since his last reading in September.  At the end of the list, there was applause.

Update from Structure and Operations.  Prompted by Sen. O’Halloran, Structure and Operations chair Monica Quaintance (Stu., CC) said her committee was still soliciting feedback on its draft guidelines for a new policy on confidentiality in Senate committee deliberations.  She hoped to receive reports from committees with their comments.  Structure and Operations would use this feedback to put together the best possible final version, which she hoped would be ready for Senate action in January.

New business
Resolution to Establish a Program Leading to the Master of Science in Bioethics in the School of Continuing Education (Education).   Education chair Letty Moss-Salentijn (Ten., CDM) said her committee had reviewed the proposal carefully, taking care to make sure the candidates for the degree would have sufficient foundation in the sciences, particularly biology.  Having satisfied itself on this point, the committee had endorsed the program for Senate action.

The Senate approved the program by voice vote, without dissent.

Resolution to Change the Name of the Center for the Study of Human Rights to the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (Education).  Sen. Moss-Salentijn said the Center for the Study of Human Rights, after three decades, had begun to assume the additional functions of an institute, so it was time to make the change.

Sen. Svedin asked what the difference was between a center and an institute, and what the significance was of changing a center into an institute.

Sen. Moss-Salentijn said she had tried to build into the whereas clauses of the resolution some of the criteria of an institute.  The key conditions are interdisciplinarity—of scholarly work involving several units of the university, interdisciplinary publications, and most importantly interdisciplinary degree programs.  By becoming an institute, the center would be also in position to negotiate with the individual departments and participate in the selection of faculty to teach their course offerings.    

Sen. Philip Genty (NT, Law) noted that the Law School had an existing human rights institute, which had asked him to state publicly that it supports the new proposed institute, that it had been consulted, and most importantly that it remains in business.

The Senate then approved the name change by voice vote, without dissent.

The president adjourned the meeting at about 2 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff