Proposed: February 1, 2013
MEETING OF DECEMBER 13, 2012
President Lee C. Bollinger called the Senate to order shortly after 2 pm in 501 Schermerhorn. Forty-five senators were present during the meeting.
Minutes and agenda. The minutes of November 9 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.
President’s remarks. The president said there would be some major gifts in the next few weeks. He said he would cut short his remarks to make sure the Senate could get through a long agenda for the present meeting.
Executive Committee chair’s remarks. Sen. Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) said the Online Learning Task Force, which she chairs, has continued to do its work. She said the Arts and Sciences faculty had just finished a meeting about online learning, where she and Sen. James Applegate (Ten., A&S/NS) had participated in a good discussion.
Global initiatives. A draft report of the Senate Task Force on Global Initiatives was now circulating, both within the group and to several other committees with jurisdiction and interest. Comments and feedback were welcome. At the present meeting the Senate would hear from VP for Global Centers Safwan Masri; on February 1 Sen. O’Halloran would present the report of the task force, which she chairs.
--Student Affairs Committee report. SAC co-chair Eduardo Santana (CC) reported briefly on the group’s current activities, including follow-up on last spring’s Senate’s resolution to encourage open course evaluations and a study of student space needs.
-- Update on implications of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations in Washington for Columbia’s research enterprise. EVP for Research Michael Purdy and Loftin Flowers, Assistant VP for Government and Community Affairs, gave a brief report, referring to PowerPoint slides.
Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten., P&S) asked if possible cuts would mean Columbia might have to reduce personnel before the end of the current fiscal year.
Dr. Purdy said internal planning efforts were focusing on this question. The answer depends on where the funding of particular research groups comes from. Some have long-term grants of three, four, or five years. Those with shorter grants will be much more vulnerable.
Dr. Purdy added that an idea Sen. Silverstein had offered previously—contacting high-profile alumni to ask them to press for support in Washington for preserving federal funding for universities—was making some headway with the trustees.
Sen. Silverstein asked about the job security of research officers as well as graduate student assistants under the sequestration scenario.
Dr. Purdy said the university will honor commitments to term appointments. But it remains possible that some research groups might lose too much funding to be able to support all the people on their grants through June. Administrators were working hard to find out the answer to that question.
Dr. Purdy said the university does not have a large suitcase full of cash to solve this problem. He predicted that the impact of sequestration would be felt over a one-to-two-year period. A likely effect might be to force a PI to bring on one new graduate student next year, instead of two. He thought the university would have time to adapt to a reduced regime. He saw the possible result as less like a cliff than a ramp.
Sen. Ronald Breslow (Ten., A&S/NS) said every federal grant is conditional in some way, a commitment to continue funding provided the money is made available. Dr. Purdy agreed.
Sen. Akshay Shah (Stu., SEAS) asked how sequestration would affect financial aid.
Mr. Flowers said the impact of sequestration on federal financial aid would be less severe, partly because Pell grants are explicitly exempted. Other programs, such as SEOG (student opportunity grants) and Federal Work Study, would face an 8.2 percent cut.
Sen. Robert Pollack (Ten., A&S/NS) asked if there is a university constituency that is immune to the effects of sequestration.
President Bollinger said this was a clever question, which he was clever enough not to answer in this context. He said we make many commitments in a world we think will stay pretty much as it is. If the unfathomable were to happen, it would be necessary to think about the institution in a broad, careful way. But he was not prepared to begin to answer the question.
The president praised Dr. Purdy, Mr. Flowers and EVP for Government and Community Affairs Maxine Griffith for their work in preparing for a possible fiscal disaster.
Sen. Richard Smiley (Ten., P&S) asked if there was anything people in the university would have to do in the first days of January if sequestration takes effect. Dr. Purdy said at that point the university wouldn’t even know yet what federal agencies were going to do. The process would take a little while.
Resolution to Establish a New Department of Systems Biology (Education). Education Committee co-chair James Applegate (Ten., A&S/NS) said systems biology is an emerging discipline, combining experimental and computational methods in biology. The driving force is the development of numerical methods in biology, for use with big data coming from projects like genome sequencing and proteomics. These computational methods that are actually predictive, along the line of what goes on in the physical and life sciences. The rationale for a department is that a number of centers at the medical school have been pursuing these projects for a decade or so, and there is a strong need for graduate programs to train people in the field. The hope is to be able to attract and train the best researchers in the field, so they’ve got both a quantitative and a life sciences background. The program was strongly endorsed by the Education Committee.
Sen. Breslow asked about how the teaching would be done in the program. Sen. Applegate said people in the related centers will continue to do that.
The Senate then voted without dissent, by show of hands, to approve the new department.
Resolution to establish the Ph.D. in Education Policy (Education). Committee co-chair Letty Moss-Salentijn (Ten., CDM) said the program would train graduates who can become policy advisors, and researchers for school systems, government agencies, foundations and private agencies. It is an interdisciplinary program that is offered under the umbrella of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, but is taught at Teachers College. The review by a subcommittee of Education was strongly positive.
Sen. Silverstein, a member of that subcommittee, said the proposal was very strong.
The Senate then voted without dissent, by show of hands, to approve the Ph.D. program.
An Overview of the Columbia Global Centers--Safwan Masri, VP for Global Centers. The president said by way of introduction that he led Columbia some years ago in an effort to understand what globalization means for higher education. Globalization includes, among other things, a much more integrated world economy, such that everybody, including the United States, is interdependent. The condition resulted from world trade and opening to markets, and other extraordinary changes like the internet, the transformative possibilities of global communication, the ease of travel, and so on.
The president said this new world has had profound effects on the environment, climate change, our awareness of poverty and disease, and the possibilities of doing things to help people. People like himself, who are interested in freedom of speech and press and information, suddenly find their fields expanded to a global setting, and have to take account of this. The new world touches upon many academic disciplines, and sometimes completely recasts them. There are entirely new issues to be faced, and new problems, and new fields to be invented.
The president said a number of universities have followed the standard course, making connections with universities around the world through study-abroad programs for students and exchange programs with faculty. Columbia has many programs of this kind-- in fact, it doesn't even know how many.
Another set of universities has established branch campuses, such as NYU’s satellites in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. These institutions have separate faculties and separate student bodies from the home institution. They have to be in places with lots of money to support these programs, because they’re very expensive.
After a lot of thought, Columbia decided three years ago to follow a different route. It was clear to the president that the university had to engage with the world more, not only to share its expertise, but to learn. So he decided to set up centers around the world. They include offices and building facilities, but on a limited scale, paid for by people in the region. The arrangement is flexible enough so that Columbia can extricate itself if things don't work out.
The president listed Columbia's eight global centers, and some of their leaders. He said the centers offer a chance to understand not just those cities, but globalization itself. The thesis is, “You can’t understand China without understanding Africa, and vice versa. And you can’t understand Latin America without understanding Europe.”
The president said Kenneth Prewitt, the first vice president for global centers, did a great job of getting Columbia to the present point. Last summer, Safwan Masri agreed to move into this role, and has already accomplished a great deal, setting up faculty advisory committees for each center. The president anticipated that over the next five to ten years, the global centers will have a transformative effect on Columbia students and faculty, as well as their research.
VP Masri then gave a presentation based on two handouts he had distributed, one providing an overview of the global centers, the other providing short bios of the CGC leaders.
He said that when he started his new job last July, there was a decision to cap the number of centers for the time being. There are have been many offers to expand the network, which the university might pursue in the medium to long term, but for now the priority is to stabilize the network, ensure its financial sustainability, engage more faculty, and develop new programs. VP Masri has established faculty committees for each center. He described the programming in various centers in some detail.
Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers) noted that some of the Global Centers are in countries that are not known for being open and transparent. How can Columbia ensure that its resources and opportunities are being allocated in a fair manner under these conditions?
VP Masri said this was an important question, which figured prominently in the planning for the global centers. First, he said, the centers are fully independent, legally and otherwise, exercising all the intellectual freedom they need to exercise. But there are limitations. For example, one can’t really talk openly about press freedom in China. One must be clever about how to do certain things, to make it possible to accomplish one’s mission.
The president said that once a university decides to engage with the world as Columbia did some years ago, it must debate, listen, and keep an open mind. But the beauty of the global centers approach is that if Columbia feels it is being asked to compromise fundamental values, it can leave immediately. There are no heavy Columbia investments in any of the centers, and there is no commitment to a group of students with three years to go for a degree, as there is with branch campuses.
The president said Columbia had not yet encountered a situation in which they faced any pressure to compromise the university’s values. But he had to disagree with VP Masri’s comment about press freedom in China. The president said he had spoken in China on this subject, and on other sensitive subjects in other countries. He said it was important to keep thinking about this subject all the time.
VP Masri did not disagree. But he said there are ways to be clever about how to high to carry a banner on a certain subject, at a certain time, depending on what you want to accomplish.
Sen. Breslow asked if there is consideration of other sites for global centers, such as Shanghai in China instead of Beijing. VP Masri and the president said they are hearing suggestions on this subject all the time. The president said Columbia might have 20 centers in ten years.
Sen. Wafaa El-Sadr (Ten., PH) said she had held a series of successful conferences at the Amman center. She also asked about possibilities for online education through the global centers.
The president said several Columbia schools have their own online programs, but Columbia is thinking about this in a bigger way. A combination of the centers and online education may be a wonderful way to continue the process of learning about the world and contributing to it.
That’s Columbia’s privilege. It doesn’t have to think about profits, or about political power, or about being nice. If just has to work on making the world a better place, and insofar as online learning projects fit into that, Columbia will want to explore it.
Sen. O’Halloran added that the Arts and Sciences faculty are working on global centers and how they’re being used for study-abroad programs, including various online learning models. She greeted A&S faculty leaders Kathy Popkin and Jack Snyder in the audience.
The president said the new Educational Policy and Planning Committee of the A&SA faculty, led by Prof. Susan Pedersen, is a great development for reviewing curriculum. He added that VP Masri’s presentation showed fertile this field is.
VP Masri said he had already met with Profs. Popkin and Snyder, and was looking forward to coming up with programs together. He noted that the professional schools have jumped on the bandwagon and taken on the global centers. The focus now is to engage the Arts and Sciences faculty. He said Reid Hall in Paris, where Columbia has been for years, represents a kind of comfort zone. How can Columbia go beyond it, and makde use of the other centers.
The president thanked VP Masri for his presentation and his work.
--Anne Sullivan, EVP for Finance, on Accounting and Reporting at Columbia, the ARC system. See the list of Change Requests, or complaints, being addressed by her office.) The president introduced EVP Sullivan, praising her as one of the best financial officers in the country.
EVP Sullivan gave a slide presentation on the ARC system. She had also made available online a list of the “Change Requests” that her team was addressing. She introduced team members Paul Reedy, who helped to implement the system as a project manager, and now is running the team supporting the application, as well as the help desk; Kate Sheeran, who manages the changeover in all the communication with users; and Joe Harney, who runs procurement.
Sen. Breslow, from Chemistry, said he had not seen a report on the four grants he is responsible for in months. In the past he received a report every month that indicated the original amount of money, what had been spent, and what had been committed. He now had no idea where any of his money is. The department staff doesn’t know either.
EVP Sullivan said her team has developed reports called Sponsored Project Financial Report that are analogous to the reports in the old system. If someone has system inquiry access, he should be able to call up a summary of the activity on a particular grant. Some faculty have system inquiry access; otherwise an administrator should be able to do it.
Sen. Breslow expressed wariness about the process of getting clearance for system access.
EVP Sullivan said Sen. Breslow had described a problem requiring investigation. She said her team would work on a solution with Sen. Breslow’s staff.
Sen. Savin of Astrophysics said he was responsible for a half-dozen grants. He displayed a slim paper report with a blue cover that he said he used to receive monthly with all the financial information he needed on his grants. He said he tried to reproduce this after he had been trained to use ARC. He spent over an hour, and produced only a portion of what he had in his hands. He doesn’t have the time to spend doing that. The administrators don’t have the time to spend doing that. He said neither PIs nor their administrators have the time to work with ARC in its current state to try to generate this report.
EVP Sullivan said she would follow up with Sen. Savin to find out which of the old reports he was talking about.
Sen. Julia Hirschberg (Ten., SEAS) of Computer Science said she was still unable to complete monthly reports on her grants because she can’t separate out the various subcontract awards. She said deadlines approach, and she’s told repeatedly that the problems will be fixed, but people are wondering if they’ll ever be able to do accurate effort reporting. She says she’s doing her reporting on a wing and a prayer and hoping it’s right.
EVP Sullivan said Sen. Hirschberg was already on a task force working on these problems.
Sen. Hirschberg said she wants EVP Sullivan’s team to meet with her and her staff, who are very smart, though they have been told otherwise. She wanted to discuss why a reporting process that used to take an hour now seems to take two days.
Sullivan thought such a meeting would be the right approach..
EVP Sullivan looked forward to working closely with departments. She noted that the current reports were designed with administrative staff in science departments, to replicate what they had in DARTS, the old system. She hoped to find out why these reports aren’t helpful after all.
There were more questions, which were not audible on the sound recording. Someone asked if it would be possible to run a new system in parallel with the old one.
EVP Sullivan said Columbia decided not to do that. Most peer institutions did not retain the old system when they moved over to a new one. Certainly the legacy data are still available, but it is not possible to run two systems in parallel.
Responding to a question about lawsuits over past PeopleSoft financial products, EVP Sullivan said Columbia had the benefit of coming about ten years after the first wave of institutional implementations of the software. After Oracle purchased PeopleSoft, it made a significant transition, particularly in terms of functionality, on the grant side. Columbia talked to some of the later implementers--Michigan, Northwestern, and others--and learned quite a bit. But she had no regrets about the decision not to run two systems in parallel. Having to retrofit a DARTS report would have been no less complex than replicating its characteristics in a new environment, because the entire architecture of the account structure had changed. She said now is the time to find out why the new reporting arrangements are not working and straighten it out.
Sen. O’Halloran thanked EVP Sullivan for her report.
Adjournment. Sen. O’Halloran adjourned the meeting shortly after 3:30 pm.
Tom Mathewson, Senate staff