University Senate                                                       

Proposed: September 28, 2012

Adopted: September 28, 2012



Sen. Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA), filling in for University President Lee Bollinger as chair, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 104 Jerome Greene Hall. Sixty-five of 100 senators were present during the meeting.

Adoption of the agenda: The agenda was adopted as proposed.

Resolution Concerning Summer Powers. Sen. O’Halloran proposed moving this resolution to the top of the agenda. There was no objection. The resolution was moved, seconded, and adopted without discussion.

Executive Committee chair’s remarks.
Comprehensive review of global initiatives. Sen. O’Halloran said a review would continue through the summer. The Alumni Relations Committee had made its contribution, and Education, Budget Review, and Student Affairs would be weighing in. The report would be completed over the summer, for discussion in the fall.

            Morningside Student Space Initiative. Sen. Alex Frouman (Stu., CC) said a student group had reached out to Engineering, Columbia College, General Studies and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to learn about space needs for students. The group would be meeting with President Bollinger in early May, and had written a report. Sen. Frouman hoped the effort would continue in the coming year.

Online and distance learning initiatives. Sen. O’Halloran said a provostial committee, including herself, had been meeting. The Senate Education and Information Technology committees were also considering distance learning. Sen. O’Halloran expected a robust discussion in the fall.

            Update on ROTC. Sen. O’Halloran said there would be a formal presentation by Sen. Jeffrey Kysar (Ten., SEAS), the chair of the provost’s advisory committee on ROTC, in the fall. She asked the provost to speak briefly about ROTC.

Provost John Coatsworth said he had been working closely with the advisory committee and with representatives of Naval ROTC, who recently visited the campus in full uniform. He was expecting a number of initial participants in the ROTC program in the fall, and hoped to have all the logistical and academic problems solved over the next few weeks. The main logistical problem is transportation from the Morningside campus to SUNY Maritime, in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. The university will be engaging a transportation service. It would also be looking for space for an ROTC office on campus—perhaps the most difficult challenge at Columbia. Another current task is to arrange appointments for Naval instructors to teach their subjects at Columbia and to offer courses that meet Columbia’s standards. The project was on track.

Sen. O’Halloran said the Education Committee would address ROTC issues that might arise in the future, and there would be occasional reports to the plenary.

Smoking policy. Sen. O’Halloran thanked Sens. Elaine Larson (Ten., Nursing) and Francis Y. Lee (Ten., P&S) for agreeing to co-chair a task force to review the smoking policy that the Senate approved in December 2010. That policy requires smokers to stay at least 20 feet from Morningside academic buildings. The task force includes students, faculty and administrative staff, as well as Michael McNeil from Health Services in a staff role. The committee will meet during the summer, and offer recommendations in September. Sen. O’Halloran assured senators that there was good progress on the smoking issue, and she invited them to provide input to the task force.

Committee reports.
Alumni Relations. Co-chair Dan Libby (Alum.) said Columbia’s global centers had been the focus of this year’s report, which had been distributed. He said he and co-chair Sen. Jerry Sherwin (Alum.) welcomed comments.

Commission on the Status of Women. Co-chair Maya Tolstoy (Ten., Nonsen., Earth and Environmental Sciences) listed the group’s four main activities in 2011-12:

           1. Presentation of the policy restricting consensual relationships between faculty and students, which passed the Senate on March 30, after five years of preparation.

           2. A review of recent reinterpretations of the policy on student sexual misconduct, particularly the new mandatory reporting requirements.

           3. Early work on an update of the academic pipeline report, which the Commission had first presented to the Senate in 2001. Working with Vice Provost Andrew Davidson, the group was now collecting data for the 2001-2010 period, focusing on the proportion of women at various stages of the pipeline. In 2012-13 the focus will be on the natural sciences, where the growth of female participation has been the slowest.

            4. A report on child care for graduate students, recently completed by two graduate student members of the Commission, which will discuss the report next year.

Education. Report received without further comment.

Elections Commission. Co-chair Arturo Cavazos (Stu., Nonsen., Law) said the commission had revised the Senate Elections Code, which had been distributed. The main changes since the last edition (approved in 1995) involve bringing the code into the digital age, and applying it to electronic communications and balloting. The revised code would be on the agenda for action in September.

Housing Policy. Received without comment.

Minutes of March 30, 2012. A senator moved adoption of the minutes of the last plenary, which had been bypassed on the agenda. They were adopted as proposed.

New business.
Resolution to Encourage Columbia Schools to Implement Open Course Evaluations (Student Affairs). Sen. O’Halloran said the resolution before the Senate marked the culmination of an important deliberation, including discussion at the March 30 plenary, at a town hall meeting on April 11, and in numerous committees. She said debate would now begin with a series of statements, followed by general discussion.

Student Affairs Committee statement. The three principal authors of the report on open course evaluations introduced the resolution. Sen. Ryan Turner (Stu., SEAS--Grad) stressed that the Senate would be voting not to mandate open evaluations across the university but to encourage Columbia schools to implement them.

Sen. Paige West (Fac., Barnard.) raised a point of clarification. Was the resolution under discussion an item for action or not? Sen. O’Halloran said it was a recommendation to move toward a certain goal, a recommendation for sets of actions. She said the Senate has done this before, leaving the implementation to schools or departments or administrators.

Sen. Sara Snedeker (Stu., Barnard) listed three changes in the latest version of the resolution, in response to feedback at the town hall and elsewhere.

         1. Addition of the idea of departmental open houses as another way to inform students about courses. This was an acknowledgement that course evaluations are just one tool that students can use.

         2. Addition of the words “appropriately moderated” to describe the evaluations students would be making in a password-protected online space. The point was to acknowledge the discretion of the schools in implementing open evaluations.

         3. Clarification of the categories of faculty members exempt from open evaluations. Student instructors and teaching assistants would be exempt; full-time junior faculty would have a two-semester grace period before their evaluations go online. Junior faculty during the grace period and student instructors may opt in to the open evaluation system; there is no opt-in provision for TAs.

Sen. Alex Frouman (Stu., CC), a SAC co-chair, asked the Senate to vote to open course evaluations at Columbia in the manner that suits Columbia. He said the SAC report had revealed that many schools consider open course evaluations an important component of their educational program, including Columbia’s Business, Law, and Engineering schools, as well as Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. Sen. Frouman said he would be surprised to learn that so many outstanding institutions, including his own, were on the wrong track. Sen. Frouman regretted that the president could not attend the present meeting after offering clear support for open course evaluations at the last plenary.

Statement from the Faculty Affairs Committee. Sen. Ron Prywes (Ten., A&S/NS) said the committee, which consists of 13 tenured and 4 nontenured faculty members, had voted 7-2 to oppose the resolution. He listed six reasons:

           1. Open evaluations will negatively affect the courses, pressuring faculty to pander to students rather than do their best teaching.

           2. Open evaluations will worsen the problem of grade inflation.

           3. Open evaluations will denigrate faculty. This has already occurred in past anonymous evaluations, and there is no sure mechanism to prevent it now.

           4. Open evaluations are subject to bias, often inadvertent or subconscious but nevertheless systematic. The student report offered no remedy for this problem.

           5. Open evaluations hinder academic freedom and can be used for political effects. Complaints that a faculty member is radical or dogmatic on a charged topic can be publicized through the evaluations, thereby inhibiting open discussion.

          6. The deliberative process for the present Senate resolution was not in keeping with regular academic decision-making. The report was produced solely by students, without the participation of faculty, deans, or outside experts. The students had a preordained agenda.

Statement from the Faculty Caucuses. Tenured Caucus chair James Applegate (Ten., A&S/NS) said the tenured and nontenured caucuses, whose membership consists of all faculty senators (currently about 50), had opposed the resolution at a meeting on April 24 by a vote of 9-2, with one abstention. The caucus supported a joint effort by Senate committees such as Student Affairs, Faculty Affairs, Education, and the Commission on the Status of Women to determine ways to help students choose courses.

Statement from Sen. O’Flaherty. The chair called on Sen. Brendan O’Flaherty (Ten., A&S/SS), who had attended the caucus, but had to leave before the vote.

Sen. O’Flaherty said his department—Economics—had already been using open evaluations for several years, and would continue to use them regardless of a Senate vote. He said that fears of pandering to students were unfounded, and that open evaluations have had the opposite effect. The incentives in the department are not to get the most students, but the best students, and the ones best matched to the course and the professor.
Sen. O’Flaherty said his evaluations reveal that he is not a star, that there are a number of better teachers in the department. But they also show students what the teacher and the course are like, and enable better matching. Sen. O’Flaherty said he teaches controversial subjects, and makes controversial statements. He has felt no restrictions on his academic freedom as a result of open evaluations.

Sen. Flaherty’s one reservation was a sense that students sometimes forget that faculty are human, that their teaching fluctuates year to year with their lives outside the classroom. One partial solution might be to publish many years of evaluations so that one or two bad years don’t stand out.

Sen. O’Flaherty praised the students’ opening statement in the present debate as statesmanlike. He urged colleagues without experience of open course evaluations to speak to him and others who are familiar with it. He hoped faculty could join with students to enact the resolution.

Statement from Sen. Ivy. The chair called on Sen. Marilyn Ivy (Ten., A&S/Social Sciences), who, with Sen. Bette Gordon (NT, Arts), had offered a critique of open course evaluations as a panelist at the April 11 town hall meeting. Sen. Ivy said she and Sen. Gordon had received feedback from a number of Arts and Sciences faculty colleagues in the humanities and social sciences that was overwhelmingly (though not unanimously) opposed to the internet publication of course evaluations. The Art History Department, for example, had voted unanimously against the resolution.

Sen. Ivy added that despite the professed reluctance of the proponents to mandate open course evaluations, the resolution was very specific on many details of its implementation, including questions of who would be evaluated when.

Sen. Ivy identified and explained four main problems with open course evaluations as presented in the student resolution:

            1. the anonymous, unverified and unaccountable nature of student evaluations, which Sen. Prywes had already mentioned;

            2. the documented effects of bias on both qualitative and quantitative evaluations;

            3. the conflation of teacher evaluations aimed at professional development with consumer advice, which has a different purpose;

            4. the problem of academic freedom and free speech.

            Statement from Provost Coatsworth. Sen. John Coatsworth (Admin.) summarized his experience of open course evaluations at Harvard before coming to Columbia. When Harvard faced the same questions some years ago, it decided to institute open evaluations on a voluntary basis over a period of a few years, and then to study the results. None of the dire consequences feared by the faculty came to pass, and almost 90 percent of the faculty chose to use open evaluations. Then a mandatory policy was instituted, without protests. He suggested a similar voluntary trial period at Columbia, followed by an assessment after, say, three years. If the results resemble those of peer institutions, Columbia could also require open evaluations, which would make it more competitive.

Further discussion. Sen. O’Halloran asked for open debate.

Sen. Helene de Aguilar (NT, Hum.) spoke against the resolution.

Sen. Philip Genty (NT, Law) spoke against the resolution.

Sen. Gordon’s motion to table. Sen. Gordon moved to table the resolution, saying that faculty had been insufficiently involved in the drafting. She called for bringing the measure back, with more faculty participation, in December 2012.

Sen. O’Halloran asked for and received a second for the motion, and invited debate.

Speaking against the motion: Sens. Frouman, Ron Mazor (Stu., Law), Aly Jiwani (Stu., SIPA), and Alice Prince (Ten., P&S).

Speaking in favor of the motion: Sens. Paige West (Fac., Barnard), Art Langer (NT, SCE), Prywes, and Ivy.

Vote on the motion to table: A senator called the question, with a second, and the Senate voted by show of hands. The chair determined that 15 senators supported the motion to table, and a much larger number opposed it. She said the motion had failed, and called for more discussion on the original resolution.

Further debate on the SAC resolution:
Speaking against: Sens. Stathis Gourgouris (Ten., A&S/Hum.) and Cristina Perez (Stu., GSAS/Hum.).

Speaking in favor: Sens. Frances Pritchett (Ten., A&S/Hum.), Turner, Molly Finkel (Stu., Nursing), Anjelica Kelly (Stu., Bus.), Boris Gasparov (Ten., A&S/Hum.), Kenneth Durrell (Stu., CC), Jose Robledo (Stu., GS), and Wafaa El-Sadr (Ten., Public Health).

Proposed amendments to and interpretations of the SAC resolution. Sen. James Neal (Admin.) asked for the addition of the phrase “in close collaboration with faculty” to the outline of an implementation process in the first Resolved clause. The student proponents treated this amendment as friendly.
Sen. Neal also requested the use of the full phrase “open course evaluations” in the Resolved clauses of the resolution, replacing “open evaluations.” Proponents also accepted this amendment.

Sen. Frouman said he thought suggestions by the provost and others to proceed with a trial of an open course evaluations policy, with opt-in provisions, were entirely compatible with the resolution as written. The chair said that such an interpretation would not require an additional amendment.

Sen. Philip Stephenson (Stu., Journalism) asked for language less binding than Resolved clauses. He thought calling the proposal a “working paper” or a “starting point” might convey the more tentative approach to this complex and controversial initiative that was called for.

Sen. Frouman said Sen. Stephenson’s interpretation was compatible with the current resolution and was not substantively different. He said he would go so far as to call the SAC report on open course evaluations a “working paper” that faculty are invited to contribute to. After discussion, the chair understood that Sen. Stephenson’s suggestions had not been submitted as an amendment.

The chair understood there to be a consensus that the Senate was ready to vote. There was no objection.

Vote on the SAC resolution. By show of hands, the Senate then approved the resolution by a vote of 44-12, with no abstentions.

            Resolution to Allow Senators to Communicate with their Constituencies by Mass Email (Structure and Operations). Sen. Mazor, the committee chair, said the Senate was seeing the same resolution that it had discussed at the March plenary, except for one change involving the approval procedure for sending mass emails. In the new version, caucus chairs approve emails that senators in their caucus proposed to send to constituents. If there’s a disagreement, the case is referred to the chair of the Executive Committee for resolution. If the chair is unable to settle the case, it goes to the full Executive Committee for a final decision.

Sen. Mazor asked for a vote. He said the proposal reflected the Senate’s role as a transparent and open body, accountable to its various constituencies.

By show of hands, the Senate voted without dissent to approve the resolution.

            --Report from Naomi Schrag, VP for Research Compliance, on revisions to the current University policy on conflict of interest in research to incorporate technical amendments based on new NIH regulations. Ms. Schrag explained that NIH has updated its conflict-of-interest regulations, to take effect August 24, 2012. Columbia must be in compliance with the regulations by that date. Compliance would require some technical amendments to the Columbia policy, which were reflected in the blackline version of the policy that had been distributed. In addition, there will be some broader disclosure and training requirements for investigators seeking funding from the public health service.

Sen. O’Halloran explained that the technical amendments had been reviewed by External Relations, which made sure that the changes were non-discretionary. She thanked Ms. Schrag for her work on this revision. She said the Senate would not need to vote on these amendments. But she added that the Senate would revisit principle #3 of the conflict of interest policy, on transparency, following one of the recommendations of the COI report that she had presented to the Senate in December 2011.

She adjourned the meeting shortly before 3 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Tom Mathewson, Senate secretary