University Senate                                                                     

Proposed: April 27, 2012





Lee Bollinger, the president, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 107 Jerome Greene Hall. Sixty-one of 100 senators were present during the meeting.

Minutes and agenda: The minutes of March 2 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.

President's remarks.
            Global initiatives. The president said the university officially opened its seventh global center in Santiago, Chile, during the previous week. An eighth center, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will be formally opened during the coming academic year, but already has space and a director and activities under way. That launch will complete the establishment of Columbia global centers, which are distributed by region, with outposts in Paris, Amman (Jordan), Istanbul, Nairobi (Kenya), Mumbai (India), Beijing, Santiago, and Rio. The president said the Senate has its own review process underway to think about how to maximize the effectiveness of global centers for teaching and for research. He said the centers are Columbia's distinctive way of thinking about the role of the university in an increasingly globalized world. He offered his own definition of the term globalization, which he recognized had become a cliché. He identified two influential trends of the last two decades: the rapid development of free-market economic systems (particularly in the wake of the fall of authoritarian and Communist governments), and the impact of the internet. It's no longer possible to think about many issues only in a national context, the president said, mentioning his own field of freedom of speech and the press. It won't work to go to the library and pick up some books; the only way to really learn about the world is to go out into it. And Columbia has to enable its faculty and students to do that by enabling them to work on global implications of issues in education, water regulation, the environment, freedom of the press, women's issues, financial regulation, and art, among others. The president said many schools are setting up research programs; there is also a pilot fifth-year program for undergraduates that includes the global centers.

The president said the centers are not branch campuses. Columbia will not set up separate institutions with separate faculty, students, and degrees, above all because they are not the best way to learn about the world.

The president said it would take three years to get the global centers established. All of them have excellent, sophisticated directors. The goal is to get students and faculty to use the centers, and to think of them as a network. The premise, which the president recognized as something of an overstatement, is that one can't understand one part of the world without understanding the rest of it. The president said he sees it as Columbia's mission in the 21st century to take on this global challenge. He said it would be appropriate to have some people who are leading the global initiative come and give a presentation to the Senate.

Affirmative action and the Supreme Court. The president said the Supreme Court agreed a month ago to consider a case from the University of Texas system. In a 2003 case in which the president was heavily involved, the Court upheld affirmative action in higher education. This was a momentous decision, the president said, because it allowed universities and colleges to continue to try to build racially and ethnically diverse student bodies by considering race and ethnicity as one factor among many in admissions, along with geographical or international diversity, alumni in the family, athletic excellence, and other factors. The Supreme Court ruled that as long as sympathetic consideration of race and ethnicity was part of an evaluation of the whole applicant and the whole class and as long it was pursued for educational purposes, it was not a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The 2003 decision resolved some of the ambiguities of the Bakke case of the early 1980s, which had upheld affirmative action, but by only one vote.

The president added that the 2003 decision directly affects only public institutions. The Fourteenth Amendment, like the Bill of Rights or the Constitution, does not apply to private institutions such as Columbia. But a provision of Title VI, which derives from legislation from the 1960s, requires any institution receiving federal funds to comply with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. So a Supreme Court decision denying that the Fourteenth Amendment allows sympathetic consideration or race and ethnicity would effectively apply to private as well as public institutions.

The new case involves an unusual admissions policy that the University of Texas developed in the 1990s after a Fifth Circuit decision that affirmative action based on race or ethnicity is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and therefore unconstitutional. That decision was later overturned by the 2003 Supreme Court decision. The University of Texas decided to try to get a diverse student body by accepting the top 10 percent of students from every high school in the state. Knowing that there was de facto segregation in the state high school system, they reasoned that the ten percent rule would enable them to continue to have a diverse student body.

The 10 percent policy has remained in effect in Texas, but the state has added a supplement calling for an evaluation of the 10 percent rule, and resolving to resume consideration of race and ethnicity if the 10 percent rule was not providing sufficient diversity. That supplementary policy is what's now at issue before the Supreme Court.

The president said the Supreme Court decision in the Texas case, expected in June 2013, may be based on narrow grounds. The Court may say the ten percent solution is unconstitutional under the 2003 policy because it bases admissions decisions to increase racial and ethnic diversity not on the merits of individual applications, but on percentages. Such a decision would not be a bad result for Texas, the president said, because the state could then return to a policy based on the consideration of individual applications to achieve diversity, in accordance with the 2003 case. Nor would such a decision harm the United States, because Texas is almost the only state with a 10 percent solution.

But the president expressed skepticism that the Court would take up this case to deal with an idiosyncratic problem. He said they typically take cases because they want to actively re-engage with a big issue, or to overturn a precedent. He expressed concern that changes in the composition of the court since 2003—particularly the departure of Sandra Day O’Connor, author of the 2003 opinion, and the addition of the more conservative judges Samuel Alito and John Roberts—may lead to an attempt to reconsider the 2003 decision. He said such a reconsideration would be unusual, because it’s not often that the Supreme Court overturns its own major decisions within a decade.

On the other hand, the present court has done just that a couple of times. The Citizens United case on campaign financing, for example, overruled some very recent decisions.

The president said Columbia will file an amicus brief in the current Supreme Court case, either in a group of universities or on its own. When the litigation culminating in the 2003 decision began in 1997, it was very difficult to get other universities to weigh in. But he thought university organizations would participate vigorously in amicus briefs this time around.

Another strategy in the 2003 case was to have multiple amicus briefs, from businesses, the media, NGOs, and most importantly the military. He thought this strategy actually made the difference in the final decision. It made clear that affirmative action policy does not just involve universities. It is a policy that every sector of society since Brown vs. Board of Education has followed in order to address the tragic legacy of discrimination and slavery.

The president said he would report further on this issue at later meetings.

Executive Committee chair's remarks.
Global initiatives. Executive Committee chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) said a Senate group was conducting a review not just of Columbia's global centers, but of the full range of its global initiatives. She looked forward to working with the president’s office on this project.

Open course evaluations. Sen. O'Halloran said there was growing interest in having a broader conversation about course evaluations—in addition to the discussion planned for later in the meeting—perhaps in a town hall setting. The Senate office would make an announcement shortly.

Distance learning. Sen. O'Halloran said a new set of technologies was approaching, with a new push to make content free and available not only to Columbia constituencies but to the masses. She said it was important to understand Columbia's place within this new environment. She said the Senate Education Committee had been working on related issues, but in a different context, with the School of Continuing Education, which had also made a presentation to the Senate about its new online platform. So there was a lot for the university to think about. She said the provost was working on this issue, and she hoped the Senate could collaborate with him.

Technical amendments to the University's conflict of interest policy. At the final plenary, on April 27, Vice President for Research Compliance Naomi Schrag will present changes in the University policy on conflict of interest and research that are required by new NIH regulations. Sen. O'Halloran said the External Relations Committee, which she co-chairs, had reviewed a black-line version of the revisions to make sure that no discretionary changes are taking place. The new version had also been distributed to the Executive Committee, as well as Faculty Affairs. Sen. O'Halloran said the new version would be coming to the plenary just for discussion, not a vote. But she said VP Schrag would be happy to address any questions from individual senators.

Faculty training and emerging leaders program. Sen. O'Halloran said she had been working with the provost’s office in developing a new program to train faculty leaders. The program, planned for May, would be a valuable opportunity not only for current academic administrators (chairs, deans) to learn more about compliance rules and regulations, as well as issues related to diversity, and hiring and promotion, but also for faculty interested in moving up in administration as part of their own career profiles. Senate service will be one channel by which people can identify themselves as emerging leaders. She said this is an exciting opportunity for people who actively support the university: when faculty make an investment of effort in the work of the university, the university makes an investment back in those faculty.

Questions for the president. Sen. Jose Robledo (Stu., GS) recalled that when the Senate voted a year earlier for ROTC to come back, emotions ran high, and there were many questions about how the resolution would be implemented. There were strong feelings that there should be a committee to oversee the implementation of the new program. There was now a committee. Would it be reporting to the Senate?

The president said this issue was being handled by Provost Coatsworth, who had reported to the Trustees at their retreat a few weeks earlier that everything was in order on ROTC. He asked the provost to report, but the provost was absent.

Sen. O'Halloran said she was talking to the provost's office about who would report to the Senate and in what venue.

A senator asked a question, inaudibly. The president said he didn’t know the answer to the question, and would get back to the senator on that issue.

Sen. Samuel Silverstein addressed the president's remarks on affirmative action. He urged senators to communicate with minority affairs groups in their own societies, in the sciences, the social sciences, etc. Despite a reluctance to participate, leading organizations such as the American Association of Medical Colleges are filing amicus briefs. He said the number of minorities applying for federal research grants is minuscule. If affirmative action goes away, minority programs at the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health may follow.

The president offered to make information on this issue available to anyone sending email to him or his office. He added that he strongly supports affirmative action, which he said has also been Columbia's policy for some 40 years. But he recognized that there are different views on this issue, and it is essential to support open debate on it, especially since it is a university policy. As president at Michigan, he took steps to safeguard open debate.

Sen. Anjelica Kelly (Stu., Bus.) asked for an update on the news account of surveillance by the New York Police Department of Muslim student groups, including the Muslim Student Alliance (MSA). She said she had attended the president's latest fireside chat as well as the town hall meeting on this subject.

The president said the University had been in touch with city officials behind the scenes, largely to find out what really happened with Columbia student groups. He understood that the only thing that happened to the Columbia campus was the monitoring of the MSA website, and that there was no undercover, on-campus activity or surveillance. But this was not a final judgment; the matter was still under discussion. He had also expressed his concerns about the issue privately and publicly. There had been some effort to have a public discussion of these issues on campus, but his latest understanding was that this discussion had been put on hold, not by Columbia.

Sen. Graciela Chichilnisky (Ten., A&S/Social Sciences) asked if there was any spillover from the 2003 decision affecting groups besides students.

The president said that over the past two decades the Court has usually been reluctant to support the use of race and ethnicity in decision-making by public bodies—except in education. So the successful argument for affirmative action in higher education is based partly on the contention that higher education is pursuing affirmative action for the educational benefits, not to correct past social injustices. This restriction has made debate tricky for the past 50 years. Higher education can pursue affirmative action because it brings together people with different life experiences, including race and ethnicity, as part of an educational mission that’s not social engineering. Because it’s not correcting past injustices, higher education is different from other public institutions who may want racial diversity simply because they think it’s good for the society. So educational arguments have fared better. Part of the educational argument is that universities are protected by the First Amendment, which assures our academic freedom and autonomy.  But if the Court were to hold now, as it might have held in 2003, that state institutions cannot consider race and ethnicity in admissions without violating the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, then such consideration might have been found improper also, for example, in faculty hiring. In other words, the argument against affirmative action in higher education says states cannot consider race or ethnicity under any circumstances—for good purposes, or bad. And if the court had accepted that argument, which it did not, then it would apply under any decision- making context.

New Business.
Resolution to Prohibit Romantic or Sexual Relations Between Faculty and Students They Supervise (Commission on the Status of Women, Faculty Affairs, Student Affairs). Jenny Davidson, a tenured English professor and co-chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, addressed some concerns about the proposed policy. One, expressed mainly by undergraduate students, was that the policy would restrict their freedom of action in some way. Prof. Davidson said the purpose of the policy is not to police the behavior of students, but to articulate some responsibilities of faculty members, including a TA who is also a student, but who has some specific evaluative or supervisory powers over the other person in the romantic relationship.

Prof. Davidson said the proposed policy obviously cannot prohibit relationships between faculty and students, which will always occur in universities. But it says that the faculty member in that relationship will have an explicit responsibility to recuse him- or herself from that evaluative or supervisory capacity. So the student in a relationship with a TA would have to be moved, for example, to a different discussion section of the same class. A professor should not be romantically involved with a student he or she is grading.

One concern the policy is meant to address is not only that students may get some undue academic benefit from a relationship with a faculty member, but also that students might be vulnerable to retaliation after a relationship ends. When a relationship begins someone outside of it should know about it to help make sure that a grade doesn't hold the student hostage.

Prof. Davidson said there was also a question, particularly in a graduate student setting, of the effect of relationships between a faculty member and a student on a larger group—in a lab or a seminar, for example. Such relationships can disrupt the educational experience of the entire group. And it is these situations involving graduate students, for whom such relationships can have truly consequential, damaging effects on a career, that the proposed policy is primarily designed to address.

Finally, Prof. Davidson said, the policy is designed to place the burden of responsibility squarely on the more powerful member of the relationship so that the student can be protected.

Sen. Ronald Mann (Ten., Law) said he had circulated the proposed policy among the law faculty earlier in the week, and the strong reaction from a group of his colleagues was that it did not appear to have been written by somebody with expertise in the law of employment discrimination or sexual harassment. All the colleagues thought the policy was a good idea, but he had received back several long emails with various complaints, and people appeared not to have considered the policy from a perspective of lawyers, about issues likely to expose the university to liability. He suggested that the Senate group should talk to someone who's a lawyer.

Sen. Mann said no one in the Law School appeared to have been consulted about the actual language of the policy.

The president said one way to move forward under these circumstances would be to proceed with a vote, and if that was positive, to have the Commission work with the General Counsel and with law faculty to put the policy in language that will insulate it from attacks.

Susan Rieger, associate provost for equal opportunity and affirmative action, said the very first drafts of the policy were produced with input from law professor Carol Sanger.

Sen. Mann said he thought Carol Sanger was part of the email correspondence complaining about the policy.

Ms. Rieger said there are different standards for policy and for law. She said any risk of exposing the university to legal liability must be investigated. But she added that policies can be stricter than the law but still legally sufficient.

The president agreed.

Ms. Rieger said the General Counsel had reviewed the policy.

The president said he understood that the policy had been generally well received, but there were concerns about the way it was formulated.

Sen. Mann said that the only colleagues with serious reservations were Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, Jane Spinak, and Hal Edgar, who were all predisposed to favor the proposed policy. They teach these subjects for a living, Sen. Mann said, and they can think of many hypotheticals that aren’t apparent to non-lawyers.

Sen. Andrew Payne (Stu., Arts) asked for a policy that non-lawyers can understand.

The president said the Senate had an interest in moving the policy forward. He suggested putting it to a vote that recognizes the need for further discussions about refinement of language. If substantive changes were needed, the policy would come back for another vote. The president said his own concern was that senators would conclude that they couldn't go forward at all.

Sen. Mann and Ms. Rieger both agreed with this approach.

Prof. Davidson said the reservations had been registered, and Ms. Rieger would be in touch with the law professors as well as the general counsel’s office.

Sen. O’Halloran called for follow-up with Ms. Rieger and with the General Counsel, to learn the reservations of the law professors and make sure they are not substantive. And if there are substantive changes, the policy would have to come back to the Senate.  

Sen. Alex Frouman (Stu., CC), co-chair of Student Affairs, said his committee strongly supported the proposed policy. He asked that the policy be included in material given to students, such as bulletins. He said students often don’t know about policies. This one protects not only the people in the relationships, but also their peers who might be treated unfairly. Student Affairs thought think that the more aware students are of the policy, the more effective the policy will be.

Prof. Davidson said the Commission would accept the responsibility of doing as much outreach as possible about the policy.

Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers) asked about a possible parallel policy: If the child of a professor is in the professor's class, what’s the current policy on teaching and grading that student?
Sen. Savin said he knew of several instances of professors’ children enrolled in their classes.
The president said this issue would be for future consideration.

Sen. Payne moved the resolution, with the codicils that had been suggested. There was a second.

The Senate then voted by show of hands, without dissent, to approve the resolution enacting the policy.

Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten., P&S) said it was not clear to him, as a past chairman of a department, what officers are supposed to do in cases such as the recent Penn State. Should they report the problem to a higher administrator or to the police? Should they consult the university or the policy? What was the appropriate body to address this problem?

The president said this was an important question, which had been the subject of discussion within the administration since the Penn State episode. He said it should be put it on a list of issues to address, and said there might be some useful actions the Senate could take.

            Resolution to Approve New Academic Titles for CUMC (Faculty Affairs). As Sen. Alice Prince moved to the lectern to report on the deliberations of the Faculty Affairs Committee, Sen. Payne moved adoption of the resolution. Sen. Prince offered a second.

The president asked for discussion. He suggested there was no need to say anything if people were prepared to vote in favor. The Senate then voted without dissent by show of hands to approve the resolution.

Sen. O’Halloran thanked Anne Taylor, P&S vice dean for academic affairs, who had come to the meeting.

At this point the president left the meeting.

Committee reports.
            Draft Resolution Encouraging Columbia Schools to Implement Open Course Evaluations (Student Affairs). See the transcript of the entire discussion of open course evaluations.

            Structure and Operations on its initiative to authorize senators to communicate with their constituencies by mass email. Sen. Ron Mazor (Stu., Law), chair of Structure and Operations, called senators' attention to two documents in their packets: a previously distributed report, and a draft resolution that had been at the door. He said the theme of these documents was that senators, by virtue of their office, have a need to communicate with those who elected them. Over the past two years, the Senate had addressed two issues that merited broad-based communication, particularly ROTC and smoking policy. Both topics have been newsworthy issues, with polls and Senate hearings.
Sen. Mazor said there is no standardized system for mass email communication, but a patchwork of rights and privileges across Columbia schools, which are outlined in the committee report.  
Sen. Mazor acknowledged that any attempt to expand communication rights must account for the risk of potential abuses. In the draft resolution, Structure and Operations had attempted to enhance communication while avoiding an unregulated soapbox of opinions and ideas. He said the resolution restricts communication to University Senate business. For example, it is appropriate to transmit relevant information, such as surveys of a senator’s constituents on issues currently before the Senate or announcements of Senate meetings and hearings; photos of one’s dog or social visits are not appropriate. Senators may not use their email privileges for personal gain or electioneering. Their communication would also be subject to CUIT email policies.

Sen. Mazor said Structure and Operations had agreed, in the interest of compromise, that email communication by senators should not foment controversy or media firestorms. So for constituencies represented by more than one senator, there would have to be consensus in the delegation on the content of an email. For example, the three College students who are senators would only have one shared email address. Faculty senators from the Law School might share an email address for the entire Law School faculty.

Sen. O’Halloran said that official communications from the Senate distributed by senators to their own constituencies—including agendas, policies, and meeting announcements--are much more effective than global, university-wide emails. She said discussion was needed on ground rules for more opinionated kinds of communication. Regulation of communication of personal opinions would have to be more restrictive, she said.

Sen. Kenneth Durell (Stu., CC) said email communication privileges for senators would have been an invaluable resource for the ROTC debates a year ago, both to get students to attend events and to distribute information. There were many complaints about how information was distributed back then, which might have addressed by email privileges for senators. Sen. Durrell said the Student Affairs Committee strongly supported the Structure and Operations resolution.

Sen. Emily Ross (Stu., SIPA) said email communication of this kind would also be useful for the smoking debate, which she said had vacillated among different options. Many students have been confused about the direction of these deliberations.

Sen. O’Halloran said there would be an update on smoking policy at the next meeting. A deliberative process would be under way.

Sen. Carol Lin (NT, A&S/Natural Sciences) asked for clarification about the requirement that constituencies with multiple senators share a single email address.

Sen. Mazor said the idea was that the content of emails going out to a large number of constituents have to be agreed upon by the Senate representatives involved. If it’s not possible to make such a statement neutral or information-based, the email probably shouldn’t go out.

Sen. Lin asked if there would be a mechanism to enforce this rule.

Sen. O’Halloran said there would be a clearing mechanism. She repeated her view that the most effective use of this communication tool would be to have senators disseminate official Senate announcements to their constituencies. The process would have to be refined to assure consistency in quality and clarity, and that’s why the resolution was not ready for action.

Sen. Frouman suggested assigning responsibility for the clearing process to the Senate manager, who would confirm that email messages abide by a set of guidelines. This role would reflect the authority of the Executive Committee to remove privileges to prevent any abuse by senators. He thought simple confirmation of this kind by the Senate office would be an adequate safeguard, without diluting the process.

Sen. O’Halloran said it would be necessary to think more about the clearing process to make sure it would be appropriate in the long run. These questions still need to be hammered out.

Sen. Payne asked if it was appropriate to move to approve the general idea.

Sen. O’Halloran said it was not. The time for such a motion would be at the next meeting, when a resolution would be ready for action. The present meeting was just for discussion. She urged senators to provide feedback to Sen. Mazor, to be accounted for in the drafting of the final resolution. She said the revised resolution would be made available as early as possible to interested groups before the next plenary.

Sen. O’Halloran adjourned the meeting at around 2:45 pm.

Respectfully submitted,


Tom Mathewson, Senate staff