University Senate                                                                   

Proposed: November 15, 2013

Adopted: November 15, 2013



In the absence of the president, Executive Committee chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 106 Jerome Greene Hall.

Minutes and agenda. The agenda was adopted as proposed. The minutes of October 4 were adopted with some small corrections still to be made to the record of the statement read by Maxine Griffith on the effects of the government shutdown.

Questions for the provost. In the president’s absence, Sen. O’Halloran invited questions for the provost.

Sen. Jared Odessky (Stu., CC) asked for an update on plans to create a Center for Teaching Excellence. Provost John Coatsworth said the initiative was still under discussion, but a proposal would be coming to the Senate.

Sen. William Zvara (Stu., Bus.) asked the provost to comment on recent press reports about Xia Yeliang, an economist at Peking University in Beijing, who has been summarily dismissed and harassed by the government, essentially for advocating greater political freedom in China. Columbia, Stanford, and other peer institutions have programs linked to Peking University. Wellesley has had an open letter signed by 40 percent of its faculty condemning the dismissal and calling for more academic freedom. Sen. Zvara asked if the Columbia administration planned a response to the situation.

Provost Coatsworth said the administration was gathering information about Prof. Xia’s situation. Peking University issued a statement the day before about his dismissal. Columbia has also consulted with partner universities—for example, SIPA runs a summer training program for senior Chinese officials collaboratively with the London School of Economics and the Ecole des Sciences Politiques in Paris. He noted that Columbia has a modest global center in Beijing, but unlike peer institutions, does not offer courses, employ faculty, or give degrees there. The global center is principally a platform for Columbia’s own students and faculty. Secondly, he said, it’s important for Columbia to continue to make clear its commitment to the core values of academic freedom. It has done that through the American Association of Universities, which only recently signed a Declaration of Academic Principles with the University of Peking. Columbia has asked the AAU if it wishes to issue a statement that the University of Peking is in violation of the principles it just agreed to. In summary, Columbia may make a statement later, but for the time being it is collecting information and consulting with others.

Sen. O’Halloran said she had heard of no faculty initiative to produce an open letter or petition.

Executive Committee chair’s remarks.
Online Learning Task Force. The task force, which has been working in concert with a provostial committee, will circulate a draft report for comments. The Senate group will meet twice by mid-November to firm up its recommendations, and will likely make a presentation to the Senate in December. The draft report will also circulate among Senate committees, including Education, Faculty Affairs, and Student Affairs.

A task force to implement the Senate’s May 3 Resolution to Adopt a Tobacco Products Reduction and Control Policy. Sen. O’Halloran said the task force has been assembled, and will meet shortly. She thanked the following for their service: Wilfred Small, Manager of Operations and Facilities; Vievette Henry of Human Resources; Mirian Stincone, Assistant Director of Employee Relations; Samuel Seward, M.D., who directs Columbia Health; Michael McNeil, Director of Alice Health Promotion; Scott Wright, VP for Campus Services; Carol Hoffman, director of the Work/Life office (or a designee); Victoria Benitez, from Community & Public Affairs; faculty senators Philip Genty (NT, Law) and Brendan O’Flaherty (Ten., A&S/Social Sciences), and students Amna Pervez (GS), Sen. Bruce Youm (Public Health), and Megan Murdock (Artchitecture). Sen. O’Halloran said the group’s primary responsibility will be to find a few designated smoking areas, and to oversee a well-organized roll-out of the policy, making sure that there’s appropriate signage, that all managers of campus buildings are aware of the policy, and that there are common standards for implementing and enforcing it.

Sen. O’Halloran looked forward to an update from the task force at the December plenary.

More committee annual reports for 2012-13.
            External Relations. Sen. Howard Worman (Ten., P&S) said he was co-chairing the committee, along with Sen. Frances Lee (Ten., P&S). Sen. O’Halloran had started last year as chair, along with Prof. Elaine Larson of Nursing. Sen. Lee had taken over during the year, with help from Sen. Matt Chou (Stu., CC).

Sen. Worman briefly listed issues the committee had addressed in 2012-13:
--Smoking policy (just discussed).
--Conflict of interest in research. The committee heard an update from VP Naomi Schrag, who manages research compliance for Columbia.
--The sequester. Two government affairs administrators, Ross Frommer from CUMC and Loftin Flowers, based on Morningside, reported on current trends in federal research funding, including the effects of the across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester. There was a lot of concern about this, especially among committee members who depend on government grants. Sen. Worman said Sen. Jeanine D’Armiento (Ten., P&S) raised questions about university-wide mechanisms that could be put in place if federal research funding continues to decline, which Sen. Worman said is a strong possibility.
--Community benefits agreement. The committee also met with the Kofi Boateng , head of the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, about the implementation of the community benefits agreement under which Columbia will provide financial and other resources to communities near the Manhattanville campus.

During the current year, Sen. Worman said the committee might revisit the university’s relationships with licensed suppliers of Columbia logo apparel. As for conflict of interest, this year could be the right time to start assessing compliance with the new guidelines, which have been in effect for two years now. A project of particular interest to Sen. Worman as co-chair, he said, is a much more detailed look at long-term trends in federal research funding and their implications for the university. He doubted that anyone in the room believed that NIH and NSF funding would dramatically increase over the next few years. The impact on Columbia schools varies widely; the medical school is much more affected than other units. But across the university, there are major implications for faculty careers, for graduate school programs, for officers of research, for administrators whose jobs are paid for by the indirect costs on grants, and for Columbia’s position as one of the world’s foremost research institutions.

Sen. Ian Lipkin (Ten. Public Health) agreed about the urgency of this issue, which he thought Sen. Worman had portrayed rather gently. He said this situation has major implications for the financial viability of the university as a whole, particularly its ability to sustain a wide range of projects. A continuation of present decreases in funding has been projected. He suggested that this should be the committee’s top priority. People are already being laid off. The university, and the nation, are losing faculty, fellows—a whole generation of scientists.

Sen. O’Halloran said several committees should be taking up this issue, and the Senate should perhaps come together in a more organized way in order to address the implications of the funding trends themselves and their impact on faculty, and on the budget of the central administration. If the university is to absorb these changes and reposition itself, it will need a highly organized effort.

Sen. Ronald Breslow (Ten. A&S/NS) said the American Chemical Society has been asking how more funding can be secured to support students. He thought the most reasonable answer is to press the Department of Education to support students, rather than putting it all on the granting agencies alone. The Department of Education has a huge amount of money. The money to support all of the graduate students in all fields at Columbia would comprise an extremely small portion of the budget of the Department of Education. In many regions of the world, education departments educate scientists, not the science agencies. Without the burden of funding graduate students, much more of the budget of the granting agencies can go to actual research.

Any effort to accomplish such a major shift requires substantial support, Sen. Breslow said. The Education Department already supports students through a program called Grants in Aid of Areas of National Need (GAANN), but it’s not big enough. If the research community were to urge the department in a unified way to expand that program enough to meet the real need, it could have a tremendous effect on getting money back for actual research.

Sen. Paige West (Fac., Barnard) agreed with her colleagues from the natural sciences and from the Medical School about the urgency of the issue of research funding, and asked for it to be clear in the record that funding cuts and government dysfunction are also affecting the humanities and the arts. She said any effort to review funding trends should include representation from the humanities and the arts.

Sen. O’Halloran invited Provost Coatsworth to comment. He said the organizations to which the university belongs in Washington have been lobbying, to the extent that they’re able, but the dysfunction is such that it’s not clear who’s listening. He said Executive Vice President for Research Michael Purdy is monitoring the situation closely. Dr. Purdy has provided some good news about the resumption of activities at NIH and the NSF in recent days. He said their cycles are not expected to be delayed. Award committees are meeting, and grant applications are being accepted, so there was some reason for optimism in the short term. But this is a long-term, structural problem: Will the federal budget continue to provide adequate support for science, and for the humanities and social sciences? That’s something the university has to keep watching.

Sen. O’Halloran said it makes sense for the Senate to start working on these issues.

Sen. Arthur Langer (NT, SCE) asked whether a quorum was present.

Sen. O’Halloran, after checking with the secretary, said there was a quorum. She decided to take up the two action items on the agenda next while there was a quorum.

New business
             Resolution to Approve a Name Change for the Institute for Research on Women and Gender (Education). Education Committee co-chair Letty Moss-Salentijn (Ten., CDM) said the proposed new name was Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality. She said the committee was convinced that the new name more closely reflects the current activities of the institute, and therefore supported the name change. She invited Prof. Alondra Nelson, director of the Institute, to speak briefly.  

Prof. Nelson spoke briefly for the proposal. Her remarks were not recorded.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve the name change.

            Resolution to Approve a Master of Science in Carbon Management (Education). Sen. Moss-Salentijn said this proposal, from the Engineering School, addresses a need for individuals with two kinds of expertise: one in technological innovation, and one in decision making.

Without further discussion, the Senate approved the resolution without no votes, but with one abstention.

More reports
            Student Affairs on its quality-of-life survey last spring. Sen. O’Halloran introduced Sen. Akshay Shah, co-chair of the Student Affairs Committee, who last spring co-managed a quality-of-life survey of more than 35,000 Columbia students, probably the first of its kind. She expected that Sen. Shah’s update at the present meeting this would be the first of many.

Sen. Shah then gave his report, which was closely based on a PowerPoint presentation that he projected on the screen.

Sen. O’Halloran said the students will break the report down and give brief summaries of each category of services, and thereby start concrete policy conversations. This work will take a couple of months, she said.

Sen. Breslow said he runs surveys for incoming freshmen students about halfway through the semester. He includes two questions that were not in the SAC survey: Does Columbia meet your expectations? And, How do you feel about the food?

Sen. O’Halloran said SAC went to some lengths not to overlap with existing surveys.

Sen. Lipkin was struck by the apathy of the student population, because only 17 percent completed the survey. As someone who administers many questionnaires, he recognized the difficulty of getting a good response rate. But he said there has to be some better approach to getting a representative student sample.

Sen. Shah said the SAC survey had a better-than-average response rate for Columbia surveys. But he recognized there was room for improvement.

Sen. Lipkin said some incentives might help. Sen. Shah said the survey had Amazon gift cards and other prizes.

Sen. O’Halloran said the survey planners had business models for how to incentivize people to participate. She added that graduate students tend to respond less than undergraduates.

Sen. Shah said the range in response rates among schools was 7 percent to 35 percent. But the overall sample was large: 6,250 responses. Even 17 percent of a subset of these groups would have been statistically significant. General Studies had the highest response rate.

In response to a question from Sen. West, Sen. Shah said the survey was distributed by email to a list of all students, which the provost’s office helped to provide.

Sen. O’Halloran suggested that the next survey might use Facebook, which might boost participation among 18-25-year-olds.

Sen. Justin Carter (Stu., GS) said students in General Studies had a deliberate strategy to boost participation through a Facebook promotion, an approach that clearly succeeded.

Sen. Nicole Wallack (NT, A&S/Hum), director of the undergraduate writing program,
said the data the students are collecting is important. She said she didn’t think it was necessary to get high-quality permanent data the first time they run the survey. The point is to get people to want to respond the second time the survey goes out.

Sen. Shah agreed. He said the tagline was “Crowdsource a Better Columbia," to help students understand that their responses will be used to make policy.

In response to a question from Sen. Jeanine D’Armiento (Ten., P&S), Sen. Shah said the category “career preparation” covered issues related to employment opportunities for students, in particular the work of the Center for Career Education.

Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten. P&S) asked what the satisfaction values in the survey could be compared to. How could these results be compared to results at other schools?
Sen. Shah thought the values in the SAC survey could be used to compare subsets of the Columbia student population, showing how undergraduates’ reactions compare to those of, say, Ph.D. students. But he agreed that the survey should try to compare satisfaction rates between Columbia and peer institutions. He anticipated inevitable differences between surveys across universities, making it difficult to achieve apples-to-apples comparisons.

Sen. O’Halloran said that over time the survey will reach its goal—a benchmark on how Columbia students are doing.

Sen. Silverstein said there are solid comparative data, such as the amount spent by school on undergraduate education, or graduation rates. Such data can show Columbia’s exact position.

Sen. Shah said the SAC survey results can also be compared to those of Columbia schools (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences) or other groups (the various student councils).

Sen. Silverstein said it would be useful to work with the student councils, not only to compare surveys but also to share data that’s relevant to their schools.

Sen. O’Halloran said aggregate data would be shared with the appropriate administrative units.

Sen. Shreevardhan Sinha (Stu., SIPA) asked if it would be possible to improve participation by tacking surveys together, so people don’t have to fill out many surveys over time.

Provost Coatsworth said there is no central administration policy on collecting data, so he would have to consider this question.

Sen. O’Halloran said students will be working with the provost’s office on ways to boost response rates, to reduce the workload of filling surveys out, and to refine questions on specific policy issues before the next survey goes out in 2015.

Sen. Art Langer (NT, SCE) asked how survey data would be shared among schools.

Sen. Shah said IRB restrictions forbid the sharing of raw data But he would be happy to share school-level aggregate data.

--Fiona McLennan, AVP for benefits, on benefits prices and plans for 2014. Ms. McLennan, based her report on a PowerPoint presentation that she projected onto the screen.

Sen. Silverstein asked if a Columbia officer might do better by signing up for health coverage on the New York State Health Exchange under the Affordable Care Act than by enrolling in a Columbia health plan.

Ms. McLennan said only a very few people would be in that situation. Someone whose income is between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty limit will receive a federal subsidy to purchase health care in the New York State Marketplace on favorable terms. But Ms. McLennan thought only a very few Columbia officers would get a better deal on the exchange. Ms. McLennan said Columbia plans satisfy the individual mandate of Obamacare—for everyone to have insurance for 2014.

Ms. McLennan said there might be a university discussion about providing some subsidy for postdocs to buy health insurance on the exchanges. The provost said that postdoc fellows whose funders don’t provide health insurance may want to look at the health exchanges.

In response to a question from Sen. Silverstein, the provost said Columbia still has no rule requiring every postdoc fellow to have health insurance.

Sen. Jeanine D’Armiento (Ten., P&S) said she wanted to say on the record that Columbia, and any institution that includes a medical center, should have a policy that everyone at the postdoc level is insured.

Sen. D’Armiento, a doctor, suggested that the display of Columbia plans should indicate the rate of participation by Columbia doctors in each. She said doctors mainly choose these programs based on whether they’re actually getting reimbursed by the insurance company. So a possible explanation for one doctor not participating in a certain plan is inadequate reimbursement.

Ms. McLennan said her impression was that most Columbia doctors prefer United HealthCare.

Sen. D’Armiento thought CIGNA and United HealthCare have similar participation rates. Aetna sometimes has trouble with reimbursements.

Sen. Robert Brown (NT, P&S) said it’s good to have a good primary care provider, but when someone has an unexpected illness, it’s important to know that a majority of the specialists in the specialties one doesn’t anticipate needing participate. He said there are broad differences in participation rates, partly because insurance companies pay in different ways. One way for them to bring down their costs is to pay less. In Dr. Brown’s specialty—liver transplants--most insurance is accepted because transplants are well reimbursed, better than in other specialties.
Ms. McLennan agreed to try to provide percentages showing the participation rates of Columbia doctors in Columbia health plans.

Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers) said many postdoctoral research fellows are foreign nationals, totally unfamiliar with the American health system. He anticipated that many such fellows, if required to go on the Exchanges, would be overwhelmed. So he urged the university to provide coverage for postdoc fellows who don’t have health insurance, as some peer institutions already do.

The provost said the administration was considering such a policy.

To applause, Sen. O’Halloran thanked Ms. McLennan for her report. She then adjourned the meeting at about 2:30 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Tom Mathewson, Senate secretary