Proposed: November 17, 2011
MEETING OF OCTOBER 14, 2011
President Lee Bollinger, the chairman, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 106 Jerome Greene. Sixty of 98 senators were present during the meeting.
Minutes and agenda. The minutes of September 23 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.
--New York City's recent request for engineering proposals; Columbia's response.
The president recalled that last December Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Robert Steele announced an open global competition, inviting institutions to submit proposals to set up an academic base in New York City. The city would make land available to accommodate the development, on Roosevelt or Governors Island or a third location. The goal was an environment like Silicon Valley, with links to start-ups that would broaden New York City's economy. The city also offered $100 million, with possible additional contributions, to help the winning university develop its initiative.
The president said a number of institutions had responded to the challenge, including Stanford (which had submitted a major proposal), NYU, and Cornell. Columbia's Engineering School, working with Interim Provost John Coatsworth and other departments, was also assembling a substantial proposal, which would represent a significant expansion of SEAS programs consistent with the school's overall intellectual agenda. President Bollinger had also personally told Deputy Mayor Steele that Columbia was not interested in developing the Roosevelt Island or Governors Island sites, but would use its existing Manhattanville campus.
The president said Columbia had also explained that it does not have the funds to create a program on the scale the city is requesting, and that a contribution of $100 million from the city would be very welcome but insufficient for the purpose. Columbia was proud of its record in fundraising, tech transfer, and academic achievement, but it would need more help to realize a program on this scale.
The president said he had wanted to outline this situation in the Senate as a public forum, and he invited discussion.
Sen. Ronald Breslow (Ten., A&S/NS) asked why Engineering would play the lead role in a Columbia proposal when biology and biotech might have the best potential for the kind of development the city wanted. He said the city has extraordinary resources in biology, not only at Columbia but also at the Rockefeller University. He said there was an old Union Carbide facility in Westchester, conveniently accessible from Columbia, that was set up to accommodate start-ups. He himself had started a company there. Other start-up efforts were going on at the Medical Center. He suggested that if New York City focused too much on trying to be Silicon Valley, it would throw away some of its big advantages.
The president said the university had argued for an initiative focusing more on biotech, but the city had made clear that it did not want to pursue this course. Columbia also stressed that the city and the university had devoted six years of effort and resources to making Manhattanville a reality. Now that it was ready to be developed in various ways, why start all over again on an island in the East River? The president added that Columbia had already made a commitment to biotech with the Mind Brain Behavior building in Manhattanville.
Provost Coatsworth said the Columbia proposal envisaged an institute for data sciences on the Manhattanville campus, to be built slightly to the north of the buildings now in preparation in phase 1 of the development. The new initiative would be highly interdisciplinary, with five professional schools and the Arts and Sciences contributing faculty to the project. The data sciences institute would have five interdisciplinary “labs,” in media, health analytics, cyber security, finance, and smart cities. Each one would focus on how masses of data that are now generated can be translated into usable form for policymakers, physicians making diagnoses, or information specialists seeking data for journalism and related fields. Provost Coatsworth said the undertaking would result within about 30 years in two new buildings in Manhattanville, plus a complete renovation of the Nash Building, an old automobile plant, that would involve 1.1 million new square feet. The development would turn that part of the city into a major center for data sciences, with related spinoffs and job-creating activities.
The provost offered the caution that the city's request for proposals was structured in such a way as to favor newcomers to the city. That’s why they were offering Governors and Roosevelt islands and the Brooklyn Navy Yard as their major contribution. The provost suspected that some other institutions, in addition to Columbia, would not want to take the city up on the offer of those lots. He also understood that the Stanford proposal, which had just been released with some fanfare, would make a smaller incremental contribution than Columbia’s in the fields the city considers most important. But given the condition of a request for proposals structured to favor outsiders, the provost was uncertain about Columbia's chances in the competition. But he said the process of generating the proposal had resulted in a lot of creative thinking, with discoveries of previously unnoticed synergies, and serious reflection about the future of SEAS.
The president said the competition ground rules ensured that Columbia would be an underdog.
A senator asked how many faculty and students a million square feet would accommodate.
The provost said the new proposal envisioned between 1,000 and 2,000 additional students, and perhaps 200 additional faculty over a 20-30-year span.
Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten., P&S) said he had asked some Stanford colleagues the day before what made Stanford so entrepreneurial. He suggested that Columbia should focus less on the content and structure of its own proposal than on developing the mindset, the ideas on human capital, and the supports that nurture entrepreneurial activity. There’s a different gestalt at Stanford, he said, and a different amount of start-up monies, which catalyze very large expansions in grants and in core structures. Whether or not Columbia wins the competition, it would learn a lot by studying Stanford's operations.
Update on Columbia's global centers. The president said he wanted to bring the idea of global centers up for discussion in the Senate again, as he had the year before. He said the world had been subject to vast changes because of the opening of markets and economic and financial activity. The interconnectedness of the world economy was now evident, along with the interconnectedness of the fates of societies and regions. The president said any academic institution worth its salt must figure out how to relate academically to these powerful phenomena. Because of the rapidity of these developments, and because the academy changes its intellectual focus slowly by design, it’s natural for a university to lag behind.
He said Columbia was highly international and global in many ways, but he thought it could do more. One of its main efforts so far had been been to support the efforts of SIPA, under Provost Coatsworth's leadership as SIPA dean, to grow as a professional school. Columbia had great regional institutes and many international students and faculty, but it still needed more.
One additional step is to establish presences around the world through relationships with other institutions, as Columbia had done through joint programs with the London School of Economics and the Sorbonne in Paris. These initiatives were good but also not sufficient for full institutional engagement with the world.
Some universities were taking the additional step of setting up branch campuses. Some were going to Qatar and Education City or Abu Dhabi and setting up a journalism school or a medical school or an undergraduate college. Yale was going to Singapore to set up a liberal arts college in collaboration with the government.
The president said Columbia had decided, as he had explained before, not to build branch campuses now. There was an institutional consensus on this point, though it was always subject to reconsideration. Instead of campuses, Columbia would set up centers around the world, staffed with highly sophisticated people, well connected to governments, NGOs, and businesses, who were ready to help. The centers would be funded primarily through grants and gifts, so that if a center did not thrive, it would be less difficult to shut it down. A center’s purpose was to help faculty and students pursue research and work with local institutions as part of an effort to grasp current global conditions.
The president said Columbia now had centers in Amman, Paris, Beijing, Nairobi, and Mumbai, and was about to open one in Istanbul, with another one in Santiago scheduled to open in March. This effort had taken a little over two years; VP for Global Centers Kenneth Prewitt had done a magnificent job.
The president said the centers were for everybody’s use, to help Columbia people experience, understand, and connect with the world. Their success would depend upon how well people exploit this opportunity.
Sen. Ron Mazor (Stu., Law) asked what Columbia's message was in setting up global centers.
The president said the primary message was that Columbia is a global institution, interested in the problems of the world. It wants to make a good-faith effort to understand those problems. The centers would also help Columbia connect with alumni. Over the past decade the president had made a major push to connect Development and Alumni Relations with international alumni. The schools had made similar efforts with their alumni. These connections were vital for fundraising and for other purposes.
The centers would also help recruit international students, the president said. Columbia's graduate schools have many international students, while the fraction in Columbia College is 10-11 percent. His own view was that this share would and should increase over time, but this was a policy decision requiring discussion.
The president said centers would also help the institution as they are connected electronically to classrooms on campus. The primary point was to improve the institution's teaching and research here on Morningside. If the centers don’t have that effect on the main campus, as the president had said numerous times, they will be a failure. This is an important difference between Columbia's approach and that of establishing campuses, the president said. He doubted branch campuses would at the end of the day help to change base campuses.
The president listed some early uses of global centers: the School of Social Work was using the Amman center, working there and throughout the Middle East to build up a cadre of social work professionals; Teachers College and the School of Public Health were doing analogous work; People in the Law School were thinking about global financial institutions, among other issues.
When the centers are linked technologically, he said, people can sit in a classroom on Morningside and communicate with people at the Beijing facility. Students there could take the class, and Columbia could have faculty there. In these ways the centers would have a presence, and give Columbia people more of a sense of the world.
Sen. Breslow suggested adding a center in Shanghai. He said Shanghai is somewhat like New York to Beijing's Washington, and the two cities don’t get along very well. But Shanghai is at least as much of a center as Beijing, and Columbia should have a presence there.
The president said a lot of thought had gone into decisions about where to set up centers. He said there was some serendipity at the end of the day about these choices. He was confident that once the first seven centers were up and running, the connections would naturally expand to include other important sites.
Sen. Silverstein said that in medicine, there was huge interest among young physicians in international health. NIH, Howard Hughes, and other funders had excellent programs for helping young people get started. The problem is, What will these people do once they’ve finished the training? They need clear career paths.
The president took this point, and linked it to a bigger one—the need to rethink standards for tenure and promotional policies, and the boundaries of disciplines. For many faculty, it's impossible to think of one's own field as one did five or ten years ago. It's also not as easy to master the new dimensions of it as it was when one could read academic papers about a new discovery. Now the academic papers may not have the answers, and scholars may have to go out and talk to people to build the knowledge base to be able to ask questions.
Sen. Silverstein stressed that people have to see a career path. The president agreed.
Sen. Mona Diab (Research Officers) asked if there were institutional funds to foster the types of collaboration the president was describing.
The president said fundraising was under way for that purpose. The global centers had been funded primarily through donations. He didn't want to divert funding from academic resources that were already constrained. He said funds were needed to help schools and faculties take advantage of these opportunities.
The provost described some ways in which global centers could be used for existing programs. One was a research fund at SIPA with a conference and workshop program that faculty apply to for small grants. Recently the school had changed the terms of the application so that seminars and conferences can be held at any of Columbia's global centers. In addition, the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy (ISERP) was creating a grant program that could make similar use of global centers. The Institute for Latin American Studies would use the center in Santiago in this way, as well as still another center—in Rio de Janeiro, which the provost hoped would open in a year. The European institutes could make similar use of the global center in Paris. He concluded that Columbia might be able to pursue a number of programs as well or better at global centers than on Morningside.
The president said the university should start pulling together the various kinds of funding that may be available for these purposes.
Sen. Arthur Langer (NT, SCE) asked what the process was for using the global centers.
The president said the procedure remained to be formalized. The operation was just getting started. He said there should be a response for anyone who asks for help with, for example, setting up meetings in Germany, or arranging a speech in China. There was staff for these kinds of logistical support. It remained to be seen how much they would be able to help. But the centers were led by well-connected, sophisticated people. He invited senators to send him email, which he would forward on to people in the centers.
Provost Coatsworth said people could also email the directors of the centers, whose information was on the Global Centers webpage, and tell them they were coming.
Sen. Alex Frouman (Stu., CC), co-chair of the Student Affairs Committee, said discussion of global programs should include consideration of the need to fund the international students the president had spoken about attracting to Columbia. Since the onset of the recession in 2008, Columbia had stopped co-signing loans to international students, making it difficult for them to find financing for their education here. As Columbia raised funds for global centers, would there also be new efforts to help these students?
The president said Sen. Frouman had raised two issues: the loan problem, and the question of scholarship aid for international students. Columbia does not have need-blind financial aid for international students. Instead, it has need-aware aid. Columbia prides itself on having one of the best undergraduate financial aid programs in the United States and perhaps the world. But Columbia could not match its most elite peers in providing aid to international students. A very aggressive fundraising program was under way to change this situation.
As for loans, banks stopped offering these to international students at the start of the recession. Columbia decided at the time that it could not co-sign these loans, which would leave the university too exposed. He asked the provost for an update.
The provost said the biggest impact was on the Business School and SIPA, where international students had been able to take out loans (at a slightly higher rate) even when they did not have a U.S. Social Security number or a U.S. co-signer. When the financial crisis hit, Citigroup, like many other banks, got out of the student loan business altogether. More recently, Columbia administrators had been meeting periodically with banks, one of which had committed to providing loans to international students. But it was a European bank, and European banks were now in precarious shape. Columbia was still looking for a replacement for these programs.
Sen. Mazor asked an inaudible question. The president responded that the university was very sympathetic about this predicament of international students. It was proud of its large international student population, and wanted to keep it. In this case the amount of money involved was too large.
The president said anyone with further questions on topics discussed so far should send him an email.
Statement on tobacco investment policy. The president read the following statement responding to a question at the previous meeting from Sen. Robert Pollack (Ten., A&S/NS):
It is the policy of the university that Columbia Investment Management Company refrain from investing in companies, domestic or foreign, whose business is the direct manufacture of tobacco products. In part due to the challenge of insuring compliance with a broader mandate, the university’s policy does not pertain to companies that supply peripheral materials and supplies to the tobacco industry or distribute these products.
The president said any concerns about the policy could be directed to the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing.
Faculty petition on Occupy Wall Street. Sen. Paige West (Fac., Barn.) asked if she could read a faculty statement.
Executive Committee chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) asked how Sen. West wanted to identify the statement on the agenda.
Sen. West said the statement, drafted a week earlier, posted on the web and signed by 408 faculty, was in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. She thought it should be part of the record of the Senate.
Sen. O’Halloran agreed, and said the issue could also be brought up again later.
Sen. West read the statement:
"We, as Columbia and Barnard faculty, write in solidarity with and support of the Occupy Wall Street movement now underway in our city and elsewhere. Many observers claim that the movement has no specific goals. This is not our understanding. The movement aims to bring attention to the various forms of inequality – economic, political and social – that characterize our times, that block opportunities for the young and strangle the hopes for better futures for the majority while generating vast profits for the few. The demonstrators are demanding substantive change that redresses the many inequitable features of our society which have been exacerbated by the financial crisis of 2008 and the subsequent recession. Among these are the lack of accountability on the part of bankers and Wall Street firms that drove the economy to disaster, rising economic inequality in the United States, the intimate relationship between corporate power and government at all levels, which has made genuine change impossible, the need for dramatic action to provide employment for the jobless, and to protect programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, in part by requiring the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, and the disastrous effects of the costly war that the United States has been conducting overseas since 2001. Only by identifying the complex interconnections between repressive economic, social and political regimes can social and economic justice prevail in this country and around the globe. It is this identification that we applaud, and we call on all members of the Columbia community to lend their support to this peaceful and potentially transformative movement."
The president indicated satisfaction that the statement had been read, and invited comments. There were none.
Executive Committee chair’s remarks. Sen. O'Halloran thanked Sen. West for her statement. She said many senators might have a position on it, and the Senate could consider it for possible future action.
Nominations to committees; welcome to new senators. The secretary said he would welcome several newly elected senators at the next meeting. He said the list of nominations to committees was too long to read.
Faculty governance in academic planning efforts for Manhattanville and other major initiatives. Sen. O'Halloran said a key theme of the 2010 report of the Task Force on Campus Planning on Manhattanville—faculty involvement in academic planning—recurs regularly in the Senate, as in the just concluded conversation about global centers and a multidisciplinary data sciences institute. She had asked Sen. Breslow, chair of the Campus Planning and Physical Development Committee, to incorporate this theme in upcoming meetings. Other committees, such as Faculty Affairs and External Relations, might also take up this theme, and consider how the recommendations of the 2010 report could be implemented, working with the president's office.
--Update on the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on Conflict of Interest Policy. Sen. O'Halloran said a report was now being circulated. The committee had worked in close consultation with the Business School, the Law School, and the Arts and Sciences. SIPA was also currently reviewing its own conflict of interest policy. Each school's task had been to implement the university-wide policy on conflict of interest approved by the Senate in April 2009 in the light of the needs of its own discipline. The ad hoc committee, in consultation with the schools, had developed a framework and guidelines for the implementation of the 2009 policy. These include broader interpretation of the transparency clause to include white papers, policy briefs, and any statements or quasi-publications that could come to public notice; disclosure of paid consultation in publications; a single centralized source such as RASCAL (Columbia's grants administration program) as a means of disclosure, and so on.
Sen. O'Halloran said the committee had also reviewed new NIH regulations. The 2009 policy had anticipated many of these requirements, but some technical amendments would be needed now, such as the change from the threshold of $10,000 for reporting income down to $5,000. She thought these adjustments could be made without changing the policy. But she anticipated that as the schools implement the 2009 policy, and it becomes clear which provisions work and which don't, the Senate would conduct a more comprehensive review of the policy in the next few years. She said this process would enable the university to make sure that the policy was sufficiently robust to meet the challenges and opportunities that faculty face both in outside activities and in carrying out research through the university.
Sen. O'Halloran anticipated a more thorough discussion of the ad hoc committee's report at the next plenary.
--Fringe benefits. Sen. O'Halloran said the recommendations of last year's task force on health and tuition benefits had been implemented. The remaining task was the retirement policy. She asked the provost for an update.
Provost Coatsworth recalled that the task force met during the previous year under the shadow of a debt overhang that threatened, with the addition of expected increases in health care premiums for 2012, to overwhelm the fringe pool. But for reasons that remained unclear, the deficit in the fringe benefit pool due to health care costs by the end of the fiscal year was much smaller than feared, and some additional savings were found elsewhere in the budget. So the 2012 benefits packages that Human Resources would soon distribute for Open Enrollment offered numbers that were pretty consistent with increases in recent years.
The provost said the main difference in the new offerings would be two new health benefit plans: The Point of Service 80 Plan, and the High Deductible Health Plan. The hope was that these plans would replace all of Columbia's other current plans, some of which—particularly the Point of Service 100 and eventually the 90—would become subject to the “Cadillac plan” tax that was part of the health care reform bill passed by Congress in 2010. Columbia would have to stop offering the current plans in any case. The new plans would have lower premium costs, but higher deductibles in the case of the Point of Service 80 plan and considerable tax advantages in the High Deductible Health Plan. The hope was to effect the transition to the new plans over the next three to five years. So officers not ready to make the change now would have a few years to prepare for it.
The provost said a few recommendations from the previous year's task force on fringe benefits had not yet been implemented. One involved tuition benefits for staff. The task force had recommended substantial reductions, which were now being reexamined in search of ways to offer staff more opportunities to take courses, perhaps in some cases subsidized by their departments or schools.
Retirement benefits were also getting a second look. This process had been difficult. A series of ideas for offering less costly retirement benefits to new faculty had been rejected by Columbia's consultants, as incapable of meeting IRS requirements to assure that tax-exempt benefits are provided fairly and consistently across the employee population. A relevant feature of the retirement policy adopted by last year's task force was that every current officer would be grandfathered into the old plan.
Sen. O’Halloran, who had co-chaired the health care subcommittee of the fringe benefits task force, thought people would be pleased with the new health plans because they largely maintained the quality of current offerings. She hoped that when the new tax provisions take effect in 2018, Columbia would be positioned to respond effectively. At the same time the university was considering additional health management programs. Another goal was to make the reimbursement process through HR more effective. She hoped that the whole health benefits package would be more efficient and would serve a healthier community. She also acknowledged the good fortune of increases in health costs of only 6 percent for 2012.
The provost noted that increases were this modest only in some cases.
Sen. Silverstein said flex spending was closely linked to deductibles. And so any measure to increase the transferability, the flexibility, of flexible spending would allow people to shelter more for deductible costs.
The provost said that officers younger than 65 who sign up for the High Deductible Health Plan can use a flexible spending arrangement with a much higher limit on contributions than the present one. Officers may also roll over funds from one year to the next, therefore not having to use the reimbursement or lose it. And as officers accumulate a minimum amount in that flexible account that they can maintain from one year to the next, they can actually invest that money and earn a return. The tax break, the return on account balances, and the ability to roll over any surplus all amount to a substantial benefit, the provost said. He urged senators to consider the High Deductible Health Plan. Officers would have to pay a substantial portion of the initial health care costs, but after that they would be paying in pre-tax dollars into a fund that they can keep contributing to for a long time.
Sen. O’Halloran said the health care savings account—different from a flexible spending account—can be rolled over, and used by officers for any purpose they want once they reach the age of 65. Human Resources had developed a strong campaign to help explain the new benefits. Even if they are not advantageous at a particular stage of an officer’s career, they might be more attractive at another stage.
Sen. Silverstein said another important issue was staff benefits. He said many outstanding staff at the Medical Center would not be there if not for the tuition benefit. He suggested that their productivity in grants and other facets of university life outweighed any instant savings in the tuition itself. He said these considerations were particularly important in high-tech work, in which staff want to do two things: get the course work or learn more about their discipline. Sen. Silverstein said he was not saying that these staff would be long-term stayers at Columbia, but while they were here they would be some of Columbia's most talented people, aside from postdocs.
The provost agreed. He had used similar reasons in insisting on taking a second look at the tuition benefit.
Another senator asked if senators could see the 2009 policy on conflict of interest before the next Senate discussion of the topic.
Sen. O’Halloran said the secretary would make the 2009 policy available along with the final version of the ad hoc committee report on conflict of interest.
--Update on deliberations on smoking policy, including the October 10 hearing. Sen. Mark Cohen (NT, Bus.) said that at the November plenary the Senate would likely be asked to vote on a resolution that would come either from the Executive Committee or from a small group of proponents, without committee sponsorship. He outlined a group of principal points that such a resolution would make.
The resolution would state that smoking is a deadly practice; that smokers' incremental health care costs, borne by all, are extraordinary; that secondhand smoke is dangerous and has no safe threshold; that Columbia would become a smoke-free institution in and around all campuses and facilities; that where Columbia does not have the legal authority to prohibit smoking, faculty, students, staff and visitors will be asked to voluntarily refrain from smoking within a distance of 50 feet of any building or campus entrance (here Sen. Cohen added the parenthetical point, which had been debated at the September plenary, that 116th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam is not a city street, and that Columbia has legal authority over any activity that goes on in that space); that the university would be asked to adopt this resolution and put it into practice on a date certain, but no later than July 1, 2012; and that the university would prepare and review with the Senate a suitable communication and signage program to ensure that this resolution is correctly adopted, and the university would review and consider expanding its existing smoking cessation programs. Finally, the resolution would say that the university recognized the imposition that it would represent for a minority of its constituents who smoke, but it would be acting on behalf of the health and well-being of the majority.
Sen. O’Halloran said this measure would be considered at the next plenary.
Sen. Frouman said that at the October 10 Senate hearing on smoking policy, it had become increasingly evident that it was too soon to consider enacting a complete smoking ban. The resolution adopted by the Senate on December 3, 2010, outlined a review process within two years in which the Senate External Relations Committee would study the current policy forbidding smoking within 20 feet of any campus building, and report to the Senate on any further action. Changing the policy now, only a month after effective implementation of the current policy had begun, would be irresponsible and would break the Senate’s word with the community, Sen. Frouman said. The Senate adopted the current policy with a promise, which Sen. Cohen's resolution would change before the Senate could complete its review.
Sen. Frouman said that at a meeting of the Student Affairs Committee earlier that day, a large majority supported a motion to postpone any resolution to institute a complete smoking ban before External Relations has conducted its review of the current policy. If a resolution for a complete ban were to reach the floor at the November plenary, Student Affairs would bring its own motion and hope for Senate passage.
Sen. Philip Genty (NT, Law) supported Sen. Frouman's position. He said he would propose that since the December 2010 Senate resolution had identified External Relations as the committee responsible for future deliberations on smoking policy, the Senate should refer any future issues relating to smoking restrictions to External Relations to address as it saw fit. He said that the Senate had spent a lot of time on smoking policy, and that it would keep coming up again and again unless the Senate put the issue where it belonged—in External Relations.
Sen. Mazor spoke, inaudibly.
Sen. Mi Wang (Stu., GSAS/NS) said she thought a vote on a full ban would not be about what the Senate wanted to do in the past, but about what it wants now and for the future of Columbia University. She called for a vote, which she did not see as undermining the Senate's authority in any way. She said she had voted for the 20-foot restriction in December 2010, and would not feel disrespected if the Senate were to proceed with a vote on a full ban.
President Bollinger said the Senate would take up issues as they arise at the next plenary. He adjourned the meeting shortly before 2:30 pm.
Tom Mathewson, Senate secretary