Proposed: October 23, 2009
MEETING OF SEPTEMBER 25, 2009
Lee Bollinger, the president, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 501 Schermerhorn. Fifty-nine of 85 senators were present during the meeting.
Minutes and agenda. The minutes of May 1, 2009 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.
President’s report. The president said Columbia’s endowment had fallen by 16.1 percent in FY 2009. Under the difficult economic conditions of the past year, he said, this was a first-rate performance. Most peer institutions had fared worse, with declines on the order of 25 percent or more. Columbia’s results were heartening partly because it has a smaller endowment than some peers. He said it’s easier to lose $1 billion than, say, $12 billion, as Harvard did.
As for fundraising, the president recalled that Columbia had set a record in FY 2008, bringing in $495 million, the third-highest total for a U.S. university. The president said Stanford came in first that year, Harvard second, then Columbia, then Yale, and so on. In the difficult climate of FY 2009, Columbia’s total fell to $413 million. While the drop was disappointing, last year’s total was still the third-highest in Columbia’s history, and around the top five in the Ivy Plus group. The president said his goal was to keep the institution at about that ranking.
The president said Columbia’s capital campaign had reached the $3.2 billion mark toward a goal of $4 billion, about $500 million ahead of schedule with two academic years to go. He said it would take hard work to reach the goal, but he was confident. The real question was whether Columbia could sustain the momentum beyond the campaign and stay at the front in fundraising. At the start of his tenure seven years ago, Columbia was about 13th in the country in dollars raised. He said people across the university had worked hard to achieve the transformation.
Turning to other issues for the present year, the president said the Manhattanville initiative won approval from New York State on May 21 to pursue eminent domain proceedings against the three holdout property owners. He said negotiations with the holdouts were continuing, but demolition for the Mind Brain Behavior facility would begin soon.
Sen. Michael Adler (Ten., Bus.) asked when Columbia expected to complete the trench on 125th Street. The president said the construction of the infrastructural “basement” would be among the contracts for the Mind Brain Behavior building, probably next spring, after the demolition.
The president said the overall results so far have been spectacular. Manhattanville has been one of the most important developments in many decades because it enables the institution to breathe and to grow and to find new space for what it already has and for what it would need over the next few decades. Now, finally, the institution could turn from the effort to complete the approval process to actually doing the building, he said.
As for the condition of the university budget going forward, it was necessary to wait and see. The outlook would depend partly on the economy, partly on giving, and partly on how the Columbia schools are faring. In this decentralized institution, the president said, each school has a different profile in the new environment, and must adjust in its own way. It was difficult to generalize, but he was optimistic about Columbia’s overall position relative to its peers.
Turning to Columbia’s global initiatives, the president mentioned the research centers the university had begun in Beijing and Amman, Jordan; he expected the launch of another in India during the current academic year. He reminded the Senate that Columbia already had Reid Hall in Paris as a European global center. Plans were also under way for similar efforts in Africa and Latin America, under the leadership of Kenneth Prewitt of SIPA, who was now Vice President for Global Centers.
The president welcomed Provost Claude Steele to the Columbia community. He said Provost Steele was a very distinguished psychologist with a great reputation for working across disciplines and across groups. He had been at several institutions, including the University of Washington and the University of Michigan, but came to Columbia from Stanford, where he had chaired the department and then led the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. The president said he had selected Provost Steele after a very careful search with a wonderful search committee from a very distinguished group. The new provost was now undergoing an intensive education in the ways of Columbia, and it was a great gift to have him here. Provost Steele stood; there was applause.
The president also noted the arrival of SEAS Dean Feniosky Pena-Mora, as well as Columbia College Dean Michele Moody-Adams, a senator who had not yet arrived at the meeting.
Discussion. In response to a question from Sen. Ron Prywes (Ten., A&S/NS), the president said the $3.2 billion counted so far in the capital campaign included the $413 million in funds received in FY 2009 that he had mentioned.
Sen. Prywes asked if that meant that the endowment, despite last year’s 16 percent decrease, was still up $3.2 billion.
The president said it did not. He said the figure of $3.2 billion for the capital campaign includes each year’s actual gifts (including the $495 million in FY 2008 and the $413 million in FY 2009), but also all promises to give money in the future, normally within the next five years.
The president said some proportion of the money raised each year goes into the endowment, which was now valued at $5-6 billion. The 16 percent decline measures the investment performance of the existing endowment over the course of FY 2009.
The budget. Sen. Andreas Svedin (Stu., GSAS/NS) said the plan last year was to expect to cut 8 percent of the contribution of endowment income to each major budgetary unit for each of three years, starting with FY 2010. Now that the portfolio seemed to stabilizing, would this plan be revised?
The president said the budget process for FY 2011 was just beginning, and it was important to see how the endowment would do. During the previous year he had made a judgment that the university would need to get ready for a significant decline in endowment revenues, because it would be better to adjust gradually to the new environment. So each school and the central administration were told to assume an eight percent drop in endowment revenues for 2010. The present task was to figure out, in light of what actually happened and of current projections, whether to plan for another 8 percent decline in endowment revenue or to assume some degree of recovery. The president said the administration also had undergone a difficult but important process of instituting major cuts in the budget of the central administration, resulting in millions of dollars in savings. There were also consequences, not only for staff affected by the cuts, but also for the services Columbia provides. In times like these an institution becomes more intensely committed to functioning more efficiently. It was always possible to say these efficiencies should be pursued in flush times as well. But given human nature, such savings are not pursued in flush times, he said, and it is necessary to use occasions like the present downturn to become more efficient. The president said the administration had taken these steps.
Full-need financial aid. In response to a question from Sen. Robert Pollack (Ten., A&S/NS), the president said Columbia would be able to maintain its commitment to full-need financial aid for this year’s entering classes. He said the increase in financial aid, while significant, would be met.
Manhattanville. Sen. Prywes asked if the decision to pursue an alternative plan for the infrastructure in Manhattanville (despite the continuing holdouts by a few property owners), in order to get an earlier start on the Mind Brain Behavior building, would result in higher infrastructure costs.
The president said the properties that Columbia does not yet own do not affect the Mind Brain Behavior site. In addition, Columbia had the gift of over $200 million from Dawn Greene that would make it possible to begin the Mind Brain Behavior project. Would segmenting the construction of the “basement” to make it possible to begin the Mind Brain Behavior building with the resources available to Columbia now increase the overall cost of the basement? The president said this question required a complex analysis, requiring information not yet available.
But he added that he had not been told yet that costs would increase if work on the basement were segmented, starting with the portion for Mind Brain Behavior and then continuing with the School of the Arts, SIPA, Business, and eventually SEAS. In any event, the president said, Columbia did not have the funds at this point to complete the basement.
The president reminded senators that Manhattanville, like the Morningside and Rockefeller Center campuses, would sit on a plinth and everything—power plants, generators, parking—would go underneath.
Dean Moody-Adams. The president noted the arrival of Columbia College Dean Michele Moody-Adams at the meeting. He said she had come to Columbia from Cornell and was a philosopher of distinction. As the new dean of the College, she was in a position of central importance to the university and to the Arts and Sciences. He welcomed Dean Moody-Adams. There was applause.
Executive Committee chair’s report. Sen. Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA), the newly nominated chair, welcomed senators. She presented the standing committee roster, which she said was changing every day as new senators were assigned. She also mentioned the directory of all senators, asking everyone to check their own contact information for accuracy.
Sen. O’Halloran also welcomed Provost Steele and Dean Moody-Adams on behalf of the Senate. She hoped to work closely with both administrators, adding that the Senate represents all constituencies of faculty, staff, and students. She stressed the contribution of an active student caucus, which would be a good partner in discussing the direction of the university.
Sen. O’Halloran said one item on the Executive Committee agenda was a proposed merger of the Campus Planning Task Force and the Physical Development Committee; the new committee would provide ongoing academic input, particularly into the academic planning process for Manhattanville. She hoped to see the merger resolution at the October plenary.
Sen. O’Halloran said the Executive Committee had also discussed budgetary issues. At a valuable meeting in June with Trustee chair William Campbell, the committee had laid out a good ongoing relationship between the Senate and the Trustees. Executive Committee members had worked hard to achieve this cooperation, and she saw good momentum in these efforts.
Other possible agenda items for the Senate in coming months included a proposed ban on all outdoor smoking on the Morningside campus. The Medical Center had already adopted such a measure, the president said. Currently smoking is banned inside buildings.
Sen. Adler asked if the Senate would debate the proposed smoking ban. Sen. O’Halloran said it would, after committee review.
In response to a question from Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers), Sen. O’Halloran said the merger of Physical Development with the Campus Planning Task Force would be reviewed by Structure and Operations. In the interim the two groups would begin to work in unison, and then decisions would be made about the composition of the new committee. She said she was sure Research Officers would be represented.
Sen. Savin said his sole concern was that Structure and Operations would review the proposal.
Loans for international students. Sen. Rajat Roy (Stu., SEAS) asked about current financial aid for international students.
Sen. O’Halloran understood that Columbia now had a relationship with Deutsche Bank, assuring loans only for students who already had loans. She said she was unsure whether loans would be extended to new students.
The president said he had had to get involved in this issue because it involved the university’s debt capacity. He said Columbia can only take on so much debt consistent with its AAA rating. Leaving aside the reasonable debate about whether a AAA rating is worth it, he said, for the moment Columbia wants to maintain it. The main funders of loans for international students suddenly pulled out last fall. Other banks said they would loan to international students only if the university would guarantee the loan, making it part of the university’s total debt capacity. The president had decided to allow the use of university debt capacity for this purpose.
He noted that a large percentage of these loans end up in default, a fraction likely to rise under conditions of economic distress. He approved the use of university debt capacity for students who were returning or who had been admitted and were counting on loans in order to come here. He said the details in his answer should be checked.
The president said this policy had a direct impact on the Business School, SIPA, Journalism, the College, and GS, as well as the Medical School and other units. He said Columbia highly values international students, who comprise as much as 50 percent of the student body of some schools. Schools at some other universities, particularly business schools, had a much more liberal policy, guaranteeing all loans of international students. This approach seemed reckless to him, since the amount of such loans would mount up quickly, from, say, $10 million after one year, to $20 million the next, etc. Before long $100 million of university debt could be tied up in such loans. So caution is required, he said. His assumption was that such lending was a kind of gamble that the schools would later find banks that would allow loans not connected to university debt capacity. Columbia had not been prepared to take that risk.
Sen. Adler asked if Columbia had thought of linking foreign students to the representative banks from their countries with branches downtown.
The president did not know the answer, but he said administrators had been thorough in thinking of solutions. He acknowledged the particular importance of this issue to Sen. Adler’s school—Business. He did not know whether lenders might have relaxed their insistence on university guarantees for student loans in the last few months.
Sen. O’Halloran asked Sen. Soulaymane Kachani (NT, SEAS) to describe an innovative program in use at the Engineering School. Sen. Kachani said some alumni and friends in France and other European countries are personally guaranteeing student loans.
The president thought this way of broadening financial responsibility for student loans might be helpful.
Smoking policy and the power of the Senate. Sen. Alex Frouman (Stu., CC) asked whether responsibility for a policy on smoking rested with the Senate or with some other office.
Sen. O’Halloran said a proposed ban on smoking on the Morningside campus would affect several schools, and therefore should be taken up by the Senate.
The president doubted that the Senate has the power to create a policy. He understood that the Senate could offer advice to the university about a proper policy, but does not have the power to impose a policy.
Sen. O’Halloran said the Senate does make those kinds of recommendations. How they get implemented and finally expressed is normally worked out with the administration, she said.
The president said this issue requires caution. He called for an inquiry into what he and Sen. O’Halloran had just said about the authority of the Senate—can it actually implement, or force a policy? He thought recommending was the role of the Senate on a proposed smoking ban.
Sen. O’Halloran said this issue deserved further attention. She said the Senate is definitely an appropriate place to consider a smoking policy, whether the Senate expresses a sense of the body or an actual recommendation.
The president emphasized that the Senate’s voice on this kind of issue was very important.
The Senate should address such questions, he said, and its recommendations should be given great weight by the university.
Sen. Savin understood that the Senate recommends policy, but the Trustees have the ultimate say. He suggested, to laughter, that the Senate should vote and then see how many Trustees smoke. There followed a series of jokes and puns from several senators about smoking.
Sen. O’Halloran called for following the president’s lead and understanding that a smoking ban would be a policy issue that the Senate should consider, at least for advice, and that Senate concerns should be weighed in any decision.
H1N1 preparations. Sen. Pollack, referring to a recent letter to faculty from Provost Steele, asked if there was a committee in place to address questions about swine flu (H1N1) readiness. He understood that there had to be a two-week lag between the administration of the vaccine for the regular, seasonal flu and the vaccine for H1N1. He expressed concern that Health Services had not yet begun to vaccinate students against the seasonal flu, meaning further, possibly costly delays in vaccinations for H1N1. He asked if a plan was in place for adults as well as students.
Sen. Pollack said Provost Steele’s note had focused on consequences of H1N1, but not on preventive measures. He asked how the Senate might figure in deliberations on prevention.
Sen. O’Halloran said the student caucus had raised this issue at the Executive Committee a week earlier. She said a Senate group might want to inquire about how decisions to conduct vaccinations and to develop emergency procedures are made.
Sen. Pollack volunteered to participate in such an inquiry.
Sen. O’Halloran invited Provost Steele to comment. He said he didn’t know what else to say at this point. He was unsure even whether the regular flu vaccine was available yet.
Sen. O’Halloran knew the normal flu vaccine was available, having been inoculated herself.
She understood the H1N1 vaccine was not available yet, but would be in mid-October. She said questions remain about priorities in administering the vaccine.
Sen. Pollack said the Health Services website had announced a vaccination fair for students on October 6. He repeated that a two-week delay between that date and the administration of the H1N1 vaccine could be costly.
Sen. Svedin also said a group of student senators was working on issues related to swine flu. He invited senators from other constituencies to join in this effort.
Sen. O’Halloran asked Sen. Svedin to inform the Senate staff about these deliberations, so that all senators, particularly the provost, could know about them.
More on smoking. Sen. Svedin asked about the origins of independent task force in Health Services evaluating the smoking policy. Was it appointed by the president? Sen. Svedin understood that invitations to join the task force on smoking had been issued by Health Services. The task force was currently meeting. But he did not know the group’s mandate.
President Bollinger said he also did not know, but the answer would be easy to find. Sen. O’Halloran said she would follow up with Susan Glancy in the president’s office.
Sen. O’Halloran said the Senate could monitor current work on swine flu and smoking, as well as preparations for emergencies being overseen by Jeff Scott, EVP for Student and Administrative Services, before deciding how it might contribute to these efforts.
Standing Committee Roster. Sen. O’Halloran then presented the standing committee roster that had been distributed at the start of the meeting.
At the request of the student caucus, the staff member read aloud the names of a half-dozen student senators who had been appointed to committees at a meeting just before the plenary:
Emily Kenison (Barnard) to Alumni Relations, Dionisios Vasilatos (Bus.) to External Relations,
Alex Frouman (CC) and Simon Beylin (CDM) to Information Technology, Andrew Springer (Journ.) to Libraries, Andreas Svedin (GSAS/NS) to Physical Development, and Valentine Edgar (GSAS/Hum) to Commission on the Status of Women.
Sen. Daniel Savin added that newly elected senator Vijay Yadav, a postdoc, would be replacing former senator Christopher Small in the Research Officer’s seat on Housing Policy.
The Senate then voted without dissent to approve the standing committee roster with the additions offered.
--Update on the Ethnicity Coding Project now under way for the federal Integrated
Postsecondary Educational Data System (IPEDS) (Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg).
Dr. Rittenberg said the federal government adopted new rules in the mid-1990s for the ethnic and racial categories that its agencies were expected to use. The implementation of those rules was deferred for over a decade because of uncertainty about how to apply them. But last year the Department of Education announced that by the fall of 2010 all educational institutions must be using the new categories in the reports that they submit annually to the Federal government.
Dr. Rittenberg said the old system of categories consists of five mutually exclusive possibilities: African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Asian or Non-Minority. Under the new categories, there are two questions: Do you identify yourself as Hispanic or not? and secondly, Which of five other categories do you identify yourself with: African-American, Native American, Pacific Islander, Asian or Non-Minority? In response to question #2, one can list one category or five, or any number in between. One can also decline to answer either question.
To meet the new requirements, Columbia had had to change all the major systems that collect information about students, faculty and staff. For students, these are mainly the admissions systems of the different schools. Applicants for admission in the fall of 2010 were using the new categories. The Student Information System had been modified to accept the data, and personnel systems were now being updated. The effort had been delayed while vendors of the systems devised codes to give to the university, but this process was expected to be finished by the end of the calendar year, and the changes should be made in the spring of 2010.
Dr. Rittenberg pointed out that the old and new categories do not correspond to each other. Although the Department of Education had provided translations from old to new codes, Columbia decided to resurvey all students, faculty, and staff. This work would be carried out in three separate phases: current students would be asked to use Student Services On-Line (SSOL) to self-identify starting in October; students admitted for the spring of 2010 used the old categories when they applied, so they would be resurveyed next spring; finally, starting in March 2010, faculty and staff would be asked to self-identify as well.
All of this work was to be done electronically. No one was required to enter anything. For people who opt out altogether, the administration would use the translation algorithms provided by the Department of Education. Otherwise, people could always say they do not wish to be ethnically identified at all in the university systems.
Dr. Rittenberg said the deadline for this monumental task would be July 1, 2010. He said Information Technology (CUIT) had done a marvelous job in identifying all the places where identity information is stored in university systems. He appealed for everyone’s cooperation with the resurvey. He invited questions.
Sen. Frances Pritchett (Ten., A&S/Hum) asked for the logic of the recategorization. Dr. Rittenberg said he would never hazard a guess about the logic of the Federal government. His understanding was that the government believed the old codes were no longer meaningful, and wanted to collect information in new ways. He said there were all sorts of speculation on the web about this decision, ranging from the reasonable to the conspiratorial.
Sen. O’Halloran said the issue is self-identification, and the recognition that people have multiple identities.
Sen. Julia Hirschberg (Ten., SEAS) understood the term Hispanic to refer to Latin America. If so, how should Iberians (from Spain or Portugal) answer when asked if they are Hispanic?
Dr. Rittenberg said he wasn’t authorized to comment on that point. But he also understood the definition of Hispanic to exclude people from the Iberian peninsula.
Another senator said this point should be clarified, particularly if people are self-identifying. Dr. Rittenberg said there would be clear instructions about how the government interprets the codes. But the university cannot offer interpretations beyond the government’s.
Sen. Mark Cohen (NT, Bus.) asked what the recategorization effort would cost Columbia.
Dr. Rittenberg said there would be no incremental costs. The whole operation would be accomplished by people taking on additional burdens. But it had absorbed an enormous amount of time, both centrally and within the schools.
Sen. Pollack asked if there were estimates of the response rate to the request for ethnic self-identification. Was there an anticipated rate of Gandhian withholding? Dr. Rittenberg was unaware of any such rates.
Sen. Mona Diab (Research Officers) asked about the non-resident alien category. Will the university have a way of checking these responses, which are self-identifications?
Dr. Rittenberg said there are fields within university systems that identify individuals as non-resident aliens or permanent residents. He said the data comes from students and their departments. He said that in the Integrated Post-secondary Educational Data System (IPEDS) reports, the first question is to identify non-resident aliens, who are then excluded from any further counts. So the people who identify themselves as, for example, African-Americans are people who are either permanent residents or citizens of the United States.
Dr. Rittenberg said there would be a communications campaign to inform the community about the recategorization effort and to encourage as high a level of participation as possible.
Elections Commission. Benjamin Brickner (Stu., Nonsen., Law), a member of the Commission, read the names of the 44 newly elected, reelected, or appointed senators (in addition to Provost Claude Steele and Michele Moody-Adams, who had already been introduced), and asked those who were present to stand briefly. At the end of the list, the Senate applauded the whole group.
Mr. Brickner said there were still vacant seats to be filled for Arts and Sciences faculty, and for students in SEAS, Architecture, Business, Social Work and Teachers College.
Research officers. Committee chair Daniel Savin focused on one topic in his group’s annual report for 2008-09: the provost’s gender equity salary study, which had been going on for three and half years. In 2006 the Research Officers Committee, together with the Commission on the Status of Women, asked the administration in 2006 to conduct a study of research officers. Jean Howard, who was then the vice provost for diversity initiatives, undertook this task, along with Lucy Drotning, assistant provost for planning and institutional research. At the end of the summer of 2006, Dr. Drotning presented preliminary results, which showed significant discrepancies in salaries among certain Columbia research officer titles.
Since then, Sen. Savin said, from the point of view of the research officer community this report had gone into a black hole. It was in the Office of Diversity Initiatives for a couple of years, before moving into the provost’s office. In early 2009, according to Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg, the report seemed to have been rejuvenated. However, the committee still had seen no results. He said three and a half years seemed to his committee an excessive length of time to carry out a salary equity study. Given that the condition of research officer salaries affects people’s livelihoods, his committee considered this a major issue. The committee understood that the new provost would have to familiarize himself with the issues, delaying the process still further. He said his committee, which represents 2000 research officers throughout Columbia University, very strongly urged the new provost to make sure the report is completed soon, and the results reported to the University Senate and the university as a whole. .
Sen. O’Halloran said this was a good action item for follow-up from the provost.
She adjourned the meeting at about 2:30 pm.
Tom Mathewson, Senate staff