University Senate                                                                     

Proposed:  April 2, 2010

Adopted: April 2, 2010

 

MEETING OF MARCH 5, 2010

President Lee Bollinger, the chairman, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 105 Jerome Greene Hall. Fifty-seven of 97 senators were present during the meeting.

Minutes and agenda.  The minutes of January 29 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.

President's report.  The president said the Columbia continued to sustain its share of the negative impact of the downturn in the economy.  He didn't know the current return on the endowment, but it had clearly rebounded since the start of the academic year. Last year's 16 percent decline may have been an enormous victory relative to other institutions, but it still had a serious impact.  The administration took immediate steps to address the downturn, making significant cuts in every part of the central administration, and working with every school and department to plan for the lower endowment return.  The president added that the university did not know at that point whether the downturn was the beginning of a depression, which has so far turned out not to be true.  He said Columbia was benefiting from the actions it took last year.

The president said the university had experienced a downturn in fundraising.  For FY 2009 Columbia raised $413 million, compared to a record total of $495 million the year before. At $413 million, Columbia stood sixth in the country in actual dollars raised.  Over the past four or five years, its average position had been in the top five. This was a very important change, which the entire university should be proud of.  Giving so far this year was going well, though it was not on pace to break records. The president hoped that there would be no more significant falls.

The budget process for next year was in full swing, the president said.  Columbia was starting from a restricted financial position, without the resources of some peer institutions.  But compared to some of those institutions, Columbia was doing reasonably well, without the drastic cuts that they are having to make.

Sen. Andreas Svedin raised the question of Columbia's most recent performance on its College Sustainability Report Card, which fell from A-minus a year before to B.

The president admitted, to laughter, that he had mentioned the A-minus in numerous speeches, but had said nothing about the lower grade.  He said he didn't have the details on the report. 

Sen. Tao Tan (Stu., Bus.) asked about major initiatives Provost Claude Steele (who was not at the meeting) was working on.

The president said Provost Steele had been absorbed in learning the institution, meeting with many people. He was also working on all of Columbia's major projects, including Manhattanville, the Northwest Corner building, global centers, and Arts and Sciences issues.  Recently the provost had been particularly focused on science and engineering and the future. The added space in the Northwest Corner building, scheduled to open in September, would mean a major change for Columbia, and so would the interdisciplinary focus of the research there. This enterprise also included planning links with existing departments, in the sciences and engineering, as well as at the uptown campus. The Northwest Corner was also in many ways a practice run for Manhattanville. The provost was also thinking about revising the tenure process, particularly the system of ad hoc tenure review committees.  Should Columbia adopt a few standing tenure committees or perhaps some hybrid arrangement? The president said tenure is the lifeblood of the institution because a large fraction of the faculty must be replaced in a 5-10-year period, and the quality of the institution must be maintained.  The president said it would be useful to have a presentation to the Senate by Provost Steele.

Sen. Rajat Roy (Stu., SEAS) said students had been noticing disturbing trends in the performance of the Center for Career Education, which served seven of Columbia's schools. A recent poll by student leaders found that only 40 percent of SEAS seniors had jobs for next year, even though 80 percent of SEAS students were using CCE. Last year only 23 percent of student jobs were found through CCE.  In another poll, on a scale of 1-5, 1 being the worst, 70 percent of respondents gave CCE a grade of 3 or less.  Sen. Roy said studies had shown that a crucial step in convincing alumni to give back to the institution was to help them get their first job. 

The president made three points in response. First, he recognized the difficulty of the present economic climate, and sympathized with students who had entered Columbia at a time when the economy just couldn’t absorb people fast enough, only to find that people are not hiring now.

Secondly, the president said career services had been a weak operation at Columbia for some time. He stressed that he was not criticizing the CCE staff, but acknowledged that placement services across the university did not have high levels of student satisfaction.  He said the problem was partly a matter of resources and of strains on Columbia's budget.

Thirdly, the president said that serious efforts were under way to raise money to improve career services.

The president invited Sen. Nicholas Dirks, Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences, to comment.

Sen. Dirks said CCE served the College, SEAS, GSAS,  Architecture, Arts, and Continuing Education.  So it was a  broad-based operation, though it didn't cover all the schools.  Last year the term bill allocation was increased, precisely because of a recognition that more resources needed to be directed to the career center.  Administrators had been told that partly because of the economic crisis, utilization of the center was way up, along with the wait time for ordinary advice and interviews.  So there had been serious stress on the capacity of the center to serve all the different kinds of clients.  Career services was one of the few areas where new staff have been rapidly added and trained.  In addition, a very large fundraising effort associated with the deanship of Austin Quigley  has been underway.  Sen. Dirks concluded that the center was now very much on the radar of administrators like himself, Deans Moody-Adams of the College and Pena-Mora of SEAS, and some other deans.

Sen. Roy said Dean of Career Education Kavita Sharma had done an excellent job of fulfilling the mission to provide a center for career education.  But he added that while career education was helpful in good economies, career placement was vital in all economies.  Currently, Sen. Roy said, a very small fraction of CCE staff were working on career placement, while a large fraction were working on PR events and activities that don’t necessarily yield the most jobs.  He suggested that the issue was not just resources, but resource allocation.

The president urged Sen. Roy to speak directly to the deans involved. Sen. Roy said he and other students had already tried to do that.

The president repeated his acknowledgment that the career placement process was not all it should be, and the administration was trying to focus on it. .

Sen. Daniel Libby (Alum.) said that alumni also look to the institution for resources, and if the idea was to ask alumni to make a lifelong commitment to the institution, then it was important to remember that a huge number of alumni have been displaced in the present economy.  He said career services would be a crucial way to make that connection with alumni.

The president agreed.

Sen. Tan asked why CCE, which serves seven different schools--undergraduate, graduate and professional—reports only to the dean of Columbia College. And would the Austin Quigley endowment, named for the former College dean, affect this relationship in the future?

The president said the answer to the first question required a recounting of the history of the institution, a task too complex for the present meeting. Whether or not the historical arrangement was the best, it was important first to build up what the institution had. The president said once more that financial constraints had made it impossible for the institution to provide sufficient career services. He invited Sen. Dirks to comment on restructuring placement services.

Sen. Dirks said a group of deans had met to discuss this question that very morning, partly to discuss the most effective way to position the center.  They had also addressed concerns about the center's priorities in the current job market.

Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten., P&S) offered the good news that five university faculty had won Alfred Sloan Awards, putting Columbia in the very top group. Only two or three institutions had more awards. At his invitation, the Senate applauded.

No three-fifths supermajority.  Prompted by Executive Committee chair Sharyn O'Halloran (Ten., SIPA), the secretary announced that the body was three senators short of the three-fifths supermajority needed to pass two resolutions on the agenda.

Executive Committee chair's report.  Sen. O'Halloran identified three main topics from the last Executive Committee meeting, on February 19:

1.  Working group on benefits.  The committee discussed the outlines of the new group, which would soon begin work. Sen. O'Halloran had communicated with the Commission on the Status of Women and the Faculty Affairs Committee, which would both supply members to the working group, along with the Budget Review Committee. She said there would be broad-based representation.  She had talked with Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin and EVP for Student and Administrative Services Jeff Scott about the process and timing of the group’s work. Its first tasks would be to compare Columbia benefits with those of peer institutions, to evaluate Columbia's own benefits portfolio, and make some recommendations. She said the working group would likely be forming in April, working over the summer, and presenting some initial findings in the fall.

2.  Report of the Campus Planning Task Force.  The authors of the report were collecting feedback from the initial draft proposal that had been circulated in January. There was now a clear picture of the shape and structure of the new Committee on Physical Development and Campus Planning, which would be charged to think hard not only about capital allocations but academic planning and the university's educational mission. She saw the new committee as a strong step forward, providing a point within the senate for raising concerns about Manhattanville and other development projects.

3.  Senate 40th anniversary event.  Prompted by Sen. O'Halloran, the secretary described  an event the Senate office was organizing to mark (somewhat belatedly) the 40th anniversary of the Senate on April 23. The first part would be a showing of excerpts of a Paul Cronin’s documentary film in progress about the week of the student rebellion of 1968 (April 23-30), followed by an informal lunch.  In the afternoon a panel would discuss the origins of the Senate, starting in early May 1968, right after the Bust, covering the planning process that led to the establishment of the Senate a year later, and continuing through the Senate's first two years, up to the spring of 1971.  Panelists would include Michael Sovern, former president of the university, who was chair of the Faculty Executive Committee that proposed a university senate in the fall of 1968, and Wm. Theodore de Bary, former provost, who chaired the Executive Committee during the Senate's first two years. The secretary said other panelists were being invited; he urged all senators to attend. 

The president said, to laughter, that it would be better not to let students see the film, so they wouldn't get any ideas.

 

Committee reports

            Education on the academic calendar.  Education co-chair James Applegate (Ten., A&S/Natural Sciences)  said the committee had some experience grappling with dilemmas of the current academic calendar, but hadn't gotten it right yet. He said that job belonged to the Senate.

Sen. Applegate reminded senators of the student petition about the calendar, which had been presented to the Senate on January 29, objecting to the late ending of the fall semester in some years (including this year), because of the late occurrence of Labor Day. Education had been discussing this problem for about a year, and hoped to settle the issue at its meeting on March 12, bringing a solution to the Senate on April 2.  He did not want to describe a solution before the March 12 committee meeting. He hoped for a consensus.  He said the committee had done pretty much everything it could, and needed to offer a solution.

            Faculty Affairs on publishing its meeting agendas.  Sen. Letty Moss-Salentijn (Ten., CDM), a co-chair of Faculty Affairs, said her committee had been discussing the proposal from Structure and Operations for new confidentiality guidelines.  Faculty Affairs decided to broaden the discussion to address the balance between confidentiality and transparency.  Along with the unquestioned need for confidentiality on certain issues was a sense that the Senate and its committees must provide as much transparency in their deliberations as reasonably possible.  Faculty Affairs decided it should provide information on its current work to inform its constituencies, fellow senators, and the university community at large by publishing its own committee agendas, after they are approved, on its own web page.  She encouraged other committees to do the same thing.

Sen. O’Halloran added that the IT Committee, chaired by Sen. Julia Hirschberg (Ten., SEAS), was thinking about formats for publishing agendas as well as other documents. 

Sen. Hirschberg said the IT Committee was thinking of accomplishing this task with Sakai, which senators were familiar from its uses with courses.  Sakai would provide a secure Columbia website for publishing documents.  Her understanding was that CUIT was not quite prepared to pursue this project, but the IT Committee would spread the word once CUIT was ready.

Sen. Soulaymane Kachani (NT, SEAS), chair of Budget Review, said his committee had approved a similar plan to publish its agendas.

--Midyear report from the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing.
ACSRI member Anna Couturier (CC ’10) began by reviewing the history of the ACSRI, which was founded in 2000 to advise the trustees on ethical and social issues that arise in the management of the university’s investments.  It has four students, four faculty,and four alumni. The committee was currently creating an institutional knowledge base for future ACSRIs and trustee groups.  Each year the committee sets its agenda, (available to the entire university community), in response to shareholder resolutions on social and ethical issues and to issues brought up at the ACSRI’s annual town hall meeting in November.
One step in the establishment of institutional memory has been the creation of proxy voting guidelines, which show how the committee tends to vote on resolutions dealing with a wide range of issues, from animal welfare, to banking, charitable donations, environmental sustainability, equal employment, executive pay, health and safety, human rights, and military and political contributions.   The idea was to set standards that future committees could follow.

Ms. Couturier said each shareholder proposal was reviewed case by case, but through the lens of past voting records and of information provided by the ACSRI’s investment screening services and outside experts.  One such expert this year had been the United Nations official responsible for applying the UN’s principles on responsible investment.  The UN was now asking institutions to adopt its set of principles.  The committee was trying to work these into its current proxy guidelines. It was not ready to recommend these principles for adoption by the trustees, but hoped to reach that point eventually.

Ms. Couturier guessed that she was chosen to speak to the Senate because she was a graduating senior with three years of experience on the ACSRI, and with an awareness of some of the limitations, opportunities, and frustrations of the committee’s work.

She said proxy resolutions were not problematic for the committee, which was normally quite united on these issues, such as equal employment principles in corporations.  On the other hand, the committee believed some of the issues presented at the annual town hall meetings were beyond its purview, even though they expressed important principles of socially responsible investment.  These issues included community investment strategies, and “positive” investments—in alternative energy, companies and funds—and posed the problem of defining a Columbia community consensus. 

Another problematic issue involves divestment from arms manufacturers.  A group of students over the last three years had developed a resolution that the ACSRI was almost ready to put forward to the trustees, which would effectively divest from (and create a screen barring future investments in) companies that create cluster munitions.  This resolution arose from the realization a few years earlier that the university was invested in Raytheon, Lockheed, Martin, and General Dynamics, all of which are weapons manufacturers.

At first the ACSRI responded that that it would be impossible to achieve community consensus on such an broad issue. But over the past three years, the committee had worked closely with a group of students to develop a process through for bringing such issues to the trustees. 

Ms. Couturier said two decisions express the ACSRI’s position on divestment.  The first was the ban on investments in tobacco manufacturers, adopted in 2005.  Unfortunately, no present ACSRI member took part in the deliberations that led to that ban.  The second decision was the divestment from Sudan in 2007.  Ms. Couturier had served on the subcommittee monitoring that divestment decision over the past three years.  The committee had decided, after meeting experts and reading reports, that divestment was not an effective tactic with Sudan.  But Ms. Couturier said these were the only active deliberations on divestment in the ACSRI now. 
Ms. Couturier said the committee was looking for a way to craft the current proposals so as to present them effectively to the trustees.  With the resolution on cluster munitions, for example, the committee ended up working with the student proponents on creating a single-issue approach to divestment decisions. 

Ms. Couturier said an important goal for the present year, at least for those going off the committee, was to create a procedure enabling Columbia people to present effective resolutions to the trustees calling for divestment or non-investment of various kinds, including manufacturers of cluster munitions and land mines.

But Ms. Couturier said this effort needed more involvement from the entire university, including the Senate and its constituencies.  The Senate could help in the effort to discover a community consensus and to learn what issues should be addressed by the ACSRI.

Sen. O’Halloran said the logical link to the Senate would be the External Relations Committee, which would be interested in the kinds of resolutions Ms. Couturier had outlined. External Relations could provide a useful gauge of Columbia community support.

Sen. Roy asked what other recommendations the ACSRI had made, and what the impact of its divestment recommendations had been on endowment returns.  Some of the banned firms may offer high returns.

Ms. Couturier agreed that this was an important issue.  She said the ACSRI had only made a few divestment recommendations. The only current one involved cluster munitions.  She said the committee was only ten years old, and until about 2006 there were significant problems with institutional memory for the committee, partly because of high turnover rates.  The committee learned in recent conversations with the university’s endowment management company that it is generally not in favor of negative investment screens, mainly because they can limit returns.

Ms. Couturier said the committee had found that returns on socially responsible investments  tend to be similar to, if not better than, those on other investments.  She said there was certainly money to be in investments in arms manufacturers.  The question was whether the university believes it should be actively investing in these companies.  Concerned students had expressed considerable community sentiment that such investments are not appropriate for the university. 

Sen. Roy took issue with the implication that arms manufacturers were unethical companies. A number of his SEAS constituents were working for these companies.

Ms. Couturier agreed.  She said this problem was the reason why committee members had encouraged proponents of divestment resolutions to seek consensus by focusing on individual issues, such as cluster munitions.  A ban on all investment in arms manufacturers altogether seemed excessive. 

The president said the general policy of Columbia, and of most universities across the country, was to bar investments in only a very small number of companies.  He said there was a strong presumption against having such bans, because a process of having the community pick and choose among socially good investment outcomes would be tremendously complex.  He said the committee had a difficult task in figuring out what issues deserve action.  He listed Columbia’s bans on investment in Sudan, on cigarettes, and, in the early 1980s, on investments in South Africa.  He looked forward to hearing the committee’s views at the trustee level, and to having the Senate more involved in expressing community wishes.  He thanked Ms. Couturier. 

--Reapportionment report (Elections Commission).  The staff member explained that the reapportionment report had been discussed at some length at the previous meeting, and had since been approved by the Structure and Operations and Executive committees. But Elections Commission chair Benjamin Brickner was present to answer questions. 

The president understood that there could be discussion, but that there was no need for a Senate vote. 

To applause, Sens. Tan and O’Halloran thanked Mr. Brickner and the Elections Commission for their report. 

New business.
--Resolution to rename the Department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures as the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (Education).
Education co-chair Letty Moss-Salentijn presented the resolution. Without discussion, the Senate adopted it by voice vote without dissent.

--Resolution to rename the Department of Spanish and Portuguese as the Department of Latin American and Iberian Culture (Education).  Sen. Moss-Salentijn presented the resolution. Without discussion, the Senate adopted it by voice vote without dissent.

There being no further business, the president adjourned the meeting at about 2:15 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff