University Senate                                                                   

Proposed: November 9, 2012




Executive Committee chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) began the meeting shortly after 1:15 pm in 104 Jerome Greene Hall. Fifty-five of 96 senators were present during the meeting.

Minutes and agenda. The minutes of September 28 and the agenda were adopted as proposed. Sen. O’Halloran explained that the secretary was now producing briefer minutes of Senate meetings, and providing access to a full transcript online for those who want a complete record of Senate meetings.

 Executive Committee chairs’ remarks.
            Nominations to committees. The Senate approved the standing committee roster that had been distributed.

            Actions taken under summer powers. Sen. O’Halloran said the Executive Committee, acting under summer powers, had approved the establishment of the Data Sciences Institute. She said the proposal came to the Executive Committee after a review by the Education Committee.  

Sen. Ron Prywes (Ten., A&S/NS) asked if a proposal to establish an institute shouldn’t go to the full Senate for a decision, even if the timing requires quick action during the summer.

Sen. O’Halloran said the Executive Committee acted on behalf of the Senate, which was not in session during the summer. She said there could be a review after the fact, if people wished.

President Bollinger added that Columbia officials didn’t know whether the city would support this project almost until the last minute.

Sen. Prywes said this action should be reported to the Senate, with some particulars, instead of being rushed through on the side, even if there was a good reason to act during the summer.

Sen. O’Halloran said she would talk to the Education Committee co-chairs about what the process should be going forward.

Sen. O’Halloran spoke briefly about global initiatives and fringe benefits.

            Online Learning Task Force (Sen. O’Halloran, chair, and Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia’s chief digital officer). Sen. O’Halloran offered a PowerPoint presentation that surveyed Columbia’s options in the rapidly developing online learning environment.

Sree Sreenivasan then offered his PowerPoint presentation, with his own overview, as well as a description of Columbia’s pilot program with Coursera, a company that presents massive open online courses (MOOCs). Columbia will three run MOOCs on engineering subjects in the spring.

President Bollinger invited discussion.

Sen. Paige West (Fac., Barnard) raised several concerns: Does online learning reflect a hostility to higher education that she believes is ascendant in the U.S.? What would become of professors’ intellectual property, particularly the customary arrangement in which they share their research with their classes before publishing it? Would she and her TAs have to grade 30,000 papers? If 30,000 people get A’s in a MOOC associated with Columbia, would Columbia’s brand be devalued?   

Prof. Sreenivasan assured her that MOOCs rely on peers (fellow students) or robots to handle grading chores.

Sen. O’Halloran said she understood that Columbia will own the intellectual property in a partnership with Coursera, but professors will still be able to produce their own books from course material. She said other IP and copyright issues remain to be worked out.

Sen. Ronald Breslow (Ten., A&S/NS) said the cover story of the latest issue of Time Magazine covers online learning and MOOCs, and is worth reading.

Prof. Sreenivasan called attention to an article he had distributed before the meeting about what campus leaders need to know about MOOCs. He also mentioned two new developments: the University of Texas and Berkeley have joined another MOOC provider, EdX, as partners with MIT and Harvard; also Stanford Medical School has teamed up with Khan Academy, in a partnership in which the main lectures in many of their courses will be on video in advance. Then the students come into class, and do the problem-solving. Stanford medical faculty are writing a paper about this new approach--“Lectures Without Lecture Halls.”

Sen. Foad Torshizi (Stu., GSAS/Hum) asked what level of a subject matter is most suitable for MOOCs. He supposed that introductory courses are more appropriate than advanced seminars.

Prof. Sreenivasan said people are experimenting at various schools with different levels. Columbia’s experiment with Coursera so far involves graduate-level, introductory engineering courses.

Sen. Tabisa Walwema (Stu., Law) said she thought the essential ingredient of the academic experience is the interaction between a teacher and student. Do MOOCs furnish opportunities for students to engage the teachers while they’re teaching? Or are they just watching their teachers on videos?

Prof. Sreenivasan said there can be opportunities for active engagement. He said there is now a lot of buzz about MOOCs, but they’re only one development in online learning, which can also be used to enhance classroom education. He prompted Sen. James Valentini, dean of Columbia College, to share a story about online learning and the core curriculum.

Sen. Valentini said the interaction of students and professors is essential in the College’s core curriculum, which is taught in small sections. But some of its operations, such as the lecture on Dante that Prof. Teo Barolini gives to prepare preceptors to teach that section of Literature Humanities, could be enhanced by making them available online also to all students in the course before they attend those classes. Another vital feature of the core, its capacity to build an intellectual community among students who are taking the same course and reading the same material at the same time, can be enhanced by enabling students to discuss the texts online at any time of day. Such an arrangement expands the classroom without replacing it, Sen. Valentini said.

            Open Enrollment options and new benefits policies (Fiona McLennan, AVP, Benefits). Ms. McLennan gave a PowerPoint presentation that was closely modeled on other Human Resources material about benefits choices for officers in 2013 (see (

Sen. Ron Prywes (Ten., A&S/NS) questioned the double-digit increases in some health insurance plans after a year of slower growth in medical costs.

Ms. McLennan said Human Resources, in setting premiums, sought to balance the cost of different plans and the income levels of officers. She said the university pays 77 percent of medical costs, with the officer population covering the rest. Paul Dworkis, associate vice president, finance and administration, said premiums are also based on projections of annual increases of medical costs over several years, which he placed at 8-10 percent.

Sen. Jeanine D’Armiento (Ten., P&S) said people are very afraid of getting the big illness that wipes out everything, so they want to pick the Point of Service 100 plans. But when they realize that there are caps on health charges in the POS 90 plans, and that they’re not going to lose their life savings on health costs, those plans become a more favorable option. She said many people—even some of her medical colleagues—don’t seem to understand this point. Many people have sought her advice this year, and many are recognizing that POS 90 plans are safe. This is better for the university as well as the officer population. She thought this point could be conveyed more clearly.

Ms. McLennan said HR makes a big effort to communicate the array of health care options that are available, but she appreciated Sen. D’Armiento’s point.

Sen. O’Halloran said officers who put $2,500 in a tax-deductible savings plan only have to add $500 to reach the spending cap if they face a catastrophic event. She said this approach should be encouraged.

Sen. O’Halloran said another issue is the strength of networks for psychological and other services. Some networks are actually shrinking instead of growing, and some specialties are opting out of accepting insurance altogether. So officers often end up seeking reimbursement for out-of-network care. She said increasing Columbia’s decision to increase the reimbursement rate for these services to 60 percent of 200 percent of the maximum Medicare reimbursement rate is helpful, but she asked if there are also attempts to strengthen in-network services, particular within Columbia’s own medical center. She said such an effort is essential for a program designed to give people incentives to move to POS 80 and POS 90 plans.

Ms. McLennan said Human Resources has managed to get the doctors in Columbia’s faculty practice organization to participate in the network. Officers can either click on the link for the doctors’ organization to see which ones will take their insurance or check the networks of their health insurance companies.

            Education. Co-chair Letty Moss-Salentijn reported that the committee had recently approved online adaptations of two programs it had previously approved: the MA in statistics (GSAS), and the MS in actuarial sciences (Continuing Education). Both will now be offered in a hybrid format, of the kind developed by Continuing Education and presented to the Senate last year. Sen. Moss-Salentijn said that unless senators felt otherwise, these adaptations did not need plenary approval.

            External Relations: Deferred.

New business.
            Resolution to Ban Smoking on the Columbia and Lamont Campuses. Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten., P&S) introduced the resolution, which was seconded by Sen. Greg Freyer (NT, Public Health). Sen. Silverstein also offered an amendment to it, adding College Walk as an area of campus that should be covered by the proposed ban.

Sen. Silverstein said he was introducing the resolution in response to the report from Sen. Francis Y. Lee (Ten., P&S) for the Task Force on Smoking Policy to the Senate at the previous plenary. The task force had found that the current policy, which forbids smoking within 20 feet of campus buildings, was not being implemented or observed.

Sen. O’Halloran said that since the resolution was being offered from the floor, and not from a committee, it would now be referred to the appropriate committee, External Relations, which will consider it and then report back to the Senate.  

            Information Technology. Co-chair Julia Hirschberg (Ten., SEAS) gave a brief PowerPoint presentation on the committee’s work last year, and also referred senators to the committee’s annual report.

President’s remarks. The president said Nicholas Lemann was stepping down as Journalism School dean, having done an outstanding job. A search committee for a successor, chaired by the president, had held its first meeting that day. Searches are also under way for new deans of the Schools of Dentistry, Engineering, and International and Public Affairs.

The president adjourned the meeting shortly before 2:30 pm.

Respectfully submitted,


Tom Mathewson, Senate secretary