University Senate                                                                                 

Proposed: February 7, 2014

Adopted:

 

MEETING OF DECEMBER 6, 2013

President Lee Bollinger, the chairman, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 106 Jerome Greene in the Law School. Sixty-five of 100 senators were present during the meeting.

Minutes and agenda. The minutes of November 15 and the agenda were adopted as distributed.

President’s remarks. The president made the following points:
Capital campaign. December 31 will mark the end of the current campaign. The initial goal—$4 billion in seven years—was reached early, and the campaign was extended by a year and a half, with a new goal of $5 billion. As the campaign ends, nine years on, it has raised $6 billion—the largest amount ever by an Ivy League university, and the second largest by an American university. There was applause.

The campaign’s purpose was partly to help the university in the present, with vital contributions for Manhattanville and other facilities, but it also strengthened the institution’s future. Many gifts are pledges which may be redeemed in five years or more (some are in estate plans). The campaign has also forged bonds with a group of people who are prepared to support Columbia. Those who give once are likely to give multiple times, because they become vested in the institution. The president said the fundraising record will be surpassed, but the institution should feel proud of this accomplishment.

Institutional commitment to equality. The recent passing of Nelson Mandela is an occasion to note Columbia’s extraordinary commitment over the years to racial and other forms of equality. Columbia people played important roles in the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954. Some of these—Jack Greenberg of the Law School and Judge Carter—were celebrated with honorary degrees in recent years.

The president noted the presence of 60 senators in the room—enough to meet the three-fifths threshold required for a valid vote on the proposed clinical doctorate in occupational therapy. The Senate had fallen a few members short at the previous plenary. The president moved immediately to that item on the agenda.

Resolution to Approve the Clinical Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (Education).
Sen. James Applegate (Ten., A&S/NS), Education Committee co-chair, said the group had reviewed and approved the program.

Janet Falk-Kessler, Associate Professor of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine at CUMC, and Director of the Program in Occupational Therapy, said the goal of the program designers was to create a doctorate that is specifically focused on cognition and its role in daily living skills. Prof. Falk-Kessler offered to answer questions.

Without further discussion the Senate voted unanimously to approve the resolution. There was applause.

Executive Committee chair’s remarks. Executive Committee chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) outlined the main agenda items for the meeting. She added that there have been two meetings of the task force charged to implement the current policy on smoking on the Morningside campus, which the Senate approved at the end of the last academic year. The group is developing a comprehensive plan, and considering locations for designated smoking areas. Sen. O’Halloran thanked Scott Wright, VP for Campus Services, for leading the task force. She hoped to hear from the group in a report to the plenary early in the spring semester.

Committee reports.
--Student Affairs Committee on three topics in their quality-of-life survey. SAC co-chair Matthew Chou (Stu., CC) called attention to summaries of three sections of the committee’s findings in the quality-of-life survey it had conducted the previous spring. The summaries, which had been distributed in the packet, covered academics, safety, and career preparation. They would be part of a comprehensive report in the spring on 13 topics covered in the survey.

He invited feedback on the best way to present the survey’s findings.

The president asked if there was more to the report.

Sen. Applegate commented on a recent Spectator report that student senators were working to provide more study space for students during exams. The article seemed to imply that the university could not make such space available because of the costs involved. Sen. Applegate said providing study space to students, particularly during exams, is an essential component of a university’s obligation to educate its students.

Sen. Ronald Breslow noted a tendency in Spectator to refer to “the Senate” taking a certain position, when it was really a group of student senators taking that position. He asked student senators to be clearer about whose positions they represent.

Preliminary report from the Online Learning Task Force. Sen. O’Halloran, speaking now as OLTF chair, said the group had collaborated closely with a committee on online learning appointed by Provost John Coatsworth and chaired by EVP for Arts and Sciences David Madigan. She thanked both men for a productive collaboration. She also thanked Sens. Chou and Akshay Shah (Stu., SEAS) for work they had done on the OLTF report. She then presented her report, basing her talk closely on its slides, which had been distributed and were now projected on a screen

After the presentation, President Bollinger, speaking for the administration, expressed appreciation for the report, which addresses an important and difficult topic. He invited comment from the provost and EVP Madigan (who was absent), but said his own views were completely consistent with the ideas in the report. He said the report provides a sense of community self-government in deliberations on this subject, thereby fulfilling a vital Senate function.

Provost Coatsworth said the report was an excellent update, and there had been cooperation between the Senate and provostial committees. He hoped to have a fully developed strategy on online learning in the coming spring, to build on what the university has been doing in an uncoordinated way so far. He said the university has learned a lot in the past year.

Sen. Paige West (Fac., Barn.) praised the report. She also called the Senate’s attention to another report on online learning prepared by the Barnard Committee on Online Learning (COOL), a faculty group chaired by Prof. Janet Jakobsen. This report focuses on undergraduate education, and the relationship among faculty research, what is taught in the classroom, and what is shared beyond the classroom. The data in the report is very valuable, Sen. West said.

Sen. O’Halloran thanked Sen. West for the suggestion.

Sen. Arthur Langer (NT, SCE) said online material can be used across platforms in ways never seen before, but there are a number of restrictions at Columbia on the ability of faculty to teach across schools. He anticipated a need to lift some of these restrictions to make this material more widely available.

Sen. O’Halloran identified two important aspects of Sen. Langer’s point: the ability of faculty to teach across schools, and the ability of students to cross-register. She invited the provost to comment.

The provost said this as an important problem for the university. He said he was appointing a subcommittee of the Council of Deans to look into ways to make it easier for students to cross-register and for faculty to teach across schools and collaborate. He said Columbia now has few ways to make it easier to pursue these goals, as well as numerous barriers. He hoped to find consensus among the deans on useful reforms.

Sen. Breslow suggested looking into a British initiative called the Open University, which had been underway for some time.

Sen. O’Halloran said she had read a large recent report from the U.K. that included the Open University. She would send out links to this and other material that is a part of a burgeoning new literature on online pedagogy.

Sen. Langer said he is on the international advisory board for Britain’s Open University for their law and business programs. He offered to share information about this.

Sen. Eli Noam (Ten., Bus.) said he had been teaching online for years, and could comment on both negative and positive aspects, but he would focus now on some negative points. He said online learning would affect higher education in significant ways, with particular impact on second- and third-tier universities, and a resulting impact on the graduate programs of first-tier universities. First-tier universities will feel the effects both as exporters and importers, but he wanted to focus here on some of the implications of importation of online learning, particularly commercial courses and schlocky courses surrounded by hype, which may be delivered by actors reading someone else’s lines. He said it was important for an online learning committee—and a body like the Senate—to address fundamental questions of standards—standards governing courses to receive credit at the institution, standards governing the use of the University’s name by faculty seeking to make courses sponsored by third parties more valuable for their commercial purposes, and standards governing the participation of the university in profits of third-party providers of courses taught by Columbia faculty.

Sen. O’Halloran said these issues had been addressed by the provost’s online learning committee. Guidelines were developed around 2000 in connection with the development of Fathom.com, a for-profit provider of online courses launched by Columbia. She said it is important to review these guidelines and make sure they remain relevant to current conditions.

Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers) asked about the “flipped” classroom. It’s difficult enough to get students to read the textbook before coming to class, he said. How can they be expected to review online material before coming to class?

Sen. O'Halloran said the technology has to be judiciously used. But having these tools available is important. She said many students complain that they now spend twice as much time on their courses as before—because they have to watch the videos and also do additional work for class. Sen. O’Halloran said there are time constraints on both students and professors. Speaking as a professor, she said it takes an enormous amount of time and effort to put online courses together. What is the right balance?

Sen. Applegate, a member of the task force, said the thrust of the group’s recommendations is not to judge the merits of the flipped classroom, but to ensure that faculty interested in trying it have the resources and incentives to do so.

Sen. O'Halloran was optimistic that people would find the right balance. She said the report would say that there are situations in which the flipped classroom has proven beneficial. It can help students do more than assimilate large amounts of material, enabling them to take the next steps up what she calls the "value chain," which include analyzing the material and then, at a still higher level, applying the knowledge in different contexts. It’s difficult to do this in a standardized MOOC format. But having online material available for reference is important.

Sen. O’Halloran noted another interesting finding—that students often don’t follow the online material at pace, but tend to speed it up, which recoups some of the extra time required to review the online material and do other work for class.

Sen. Nicole Wallack (NT, A&S/Hum) asked about references to a center for teaching excellence.

The provost said Columbia is one of only a few Ivy Plus institutions that do not have such a center, supported by the central administration, for the use not only of teaching assistants but also regular faculty. Columbia does have the Center for New Media Teaching and Learning, which offers guidance on how to use digital technology. There is also a teaching center in GSAS, mainly for teaching assistants, as well as some efforts in the professional schools. He wanted to combine these initiatives in a more coordinated way. He welcomed suggestions and offers of help in this effort.

Sen. Wallack volunteered to help. She said discussions about technology often lead discussions about pedagogy that could have been taking place apart from technological issues. She called for more conversation about pedagogy without a technological focus.

Sen. O’Halloran said OLTF discussion has focused on three themes: audience, technology, and pedagogy. The audience should dictate the appropriate technology and the appropriate pedagogy. What works for one audience might not work for another, or even for the same audience in a different setting. It is important to think systematically across this spectrum of issues.

Sen. Samuel Silverstein (Ten., P&S) said data he had seen on online undergraduate neuroscience courses at Johns Hopkins showed that students come to class prepared and do on average 10 points better on tests than those in traditional versions of those courses. He said the returns were similar for undergraduate courses in cell biology.

Sen. Applegate responded to Sen. Wallack’s point by noting that both on the OLTF and the Education Committee, which he co-chairs, had heard of similar discussions, in which pedagogical issues transcended the technological occasion for the discussion.

Sen. Mary Wojcik (Stu., Journ.) asked if the discussion was considering online degree programs.

Sen. O'Halloran said she thought MOOCs may be part of Columbia’s mission, but not its core mission. If technology is developed to serve existing courses, it quickly becomes clear what works and what can be scaled up to a hybrid model. This is that is happening in both Social Work and Statistics, which now have fully online master’s programs. After this commitment, it might be appropriate to see where to invest in MOOCs, which cost $30-50K each to produce, and see what works and what doesn’t. She reminded the group that there are different kinds of online presentations: fully distanced, with no face-to-face contact, as well as hybrid or partly residential programs. But a MOOC, which offers very little contact with professors, automatic reading, with hundreds of thousands of students, who may have no affiliation with the institution, is in many ways a lesser priority for Columbia. The key question is, How should Columbia invest its scarce resources to take advantage of these opportunities, and serve its core missions?

There were no further questions or comments. Sen. O’Halloran said a final OLTF report would be coming back to the Senate after a round of feedback in Senate committees.

She adjourned the meeting shortly after 2 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff