University Senate

Proposed: October 24, 2014




President Lee Bollinger called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in Davis Auditorium, Shapiro Engineering (CEPSR). Fifty-seven of 94 senators were present during the meeting.

Minutes and agenda. The agenda and the minutes of May 2, 2014 were adopted as proposed.

President’s remarks. The president said he believed deeply that Columbia University is in one of its greatest moments. He said it is a tremendous experience to be part of a great institution on the path to becoming greater. He mentioned wonderful new deans joining the university, after searches revealing candidates of extraordinary quality from all over the world.

One of the new deans is Gillian Lester of the Law School, formerly acting dean and a distinguished scholar at Berkeley. She will start at Columbia on January 1. The other is Amale Andraos of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. She has been at Columbia for a few years, and was so impressive as a member of the search committee that it became apparent she would be a great dean. They join excellent deans who have been here a little longer: Merit Janow of International and Public Affairs, Mary Boyce of Engineering, Christian Stoller of the College of Dental Medicine, and Steven Coll of Journalism. The president said this collection of deans may be the best in the country.

In every school, the president said, there is an overall sense of improvement and excitement. The School of Engineering and Applied Science, for example, has progressed a great deal over the past decade, and is on a course to improve even more. This is a time for engineering, with great attention to questions involving data, computer science, biomedical engineering, genetic engineering, and other fields that fit well into the university’s global agenda and have interdisciplinary relations throughout the institution.

The president said the most important criterion is the quality of the students, which continue to improve throughout the university, along with the faculties.

Infrastructure. The president said he had just attended topping-off ceremonies for two new buildings—the Lenfest Center for the Arts in Manhattanville and the new education building at the Medical Center. Another important building, now a few years old, is the Northwest Corner building, designed by Rafael Moneo. A few blocks away, in Manhattanville, is the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, which is in the midst of a great site to be developed as a whole new campus over the next half-century.

In a matter of months another building, which the president called the forum, will rise out of the ground in Manhattanville to serve a vital function that Columbia has missed till now: a place for university events in state-of-the-art auditoria and meeting rooms. He also hoped to find funding for a major building in Manhattanville dedicated to the theme of globalization.

Fundraising is also still under way for the new Business School building just to the north of the ones the president had just mentioned. Also nearby will be another building devoted to data sciences and other engineering activities.

Another exciting possibility is Columbia’s bid to house the Obama Library and Museum in Manhattanville, on the east side of Broadway.

The president said the condition of the Medical Center, with its new education building and current efforts to improve facilities, departments, and relations with the hospital, has never been better. The personalized medicine initiative has, in its new leader David Goldstein, one of the leading human geneticists in the world. He will arrive from Duke to set up a broad university program in human genetics. The president said he hoped to announce an important gift soon for the personalized medicine effort. A related initiative in data science is also under way.

Finances. Final figures for FY14 are not available yet, but the president was confident Columbia’s would remain the most successfully invested American endowment of over $1 billion. As for fundraising for FY14, the president said he was determined to stay among the top five American universities in actual dollars that come in every year. Columbia’s capital campaign--the second-most successful in American history, after Stanford—was over, but it would be foolish to pause now. New capital campaigns are beginning throughout the university.

Sexual assault. The president said universities across the country must do a better job of addressing the problem of sexual assault. He said Columbia has tackled this difficult issue as well as anyone. It devoted a good part of the summer to this task, and announced a new policy just before the fall semester. This required a massive institutional effort, and he and other administrators accounted for numerous suggestions from students in formulating the policy. But it was the middle of the summer, and the policy had to be in place before the start of the semester. Discussion is continuing on certain issues, and the administration remains open to arguments, pro and con.

The president expressed particular satisfaction with the reformulation of the President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault (PACSA), which met earlier on the present day. PACSA will now play a more central role in addressing these issues. The president appointed Suzanne Goldberg from the Law School over the summer as the point person for thinking about sexual assault. He praised her work so far, along with that of Susan Glancy, his chief of staff. He cautioned that no one should think for a minute that the problem of sexual assault has been solved.

The president said there are also issues of culture and education. He said Sen. James Valentini and others in the room have thought deeply about how to convey fundamental messages about personal responsibility to students in connection with sexual behavior, but not without finding ways to let them absorb the messages in their own way.

The president invited questions and comments. There were none.

Executive Committee chair’s remarks. Executive Committee chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) congratulated student senators Zila Acosta (Law), Marc Heinrich (CC), and William Zvara (Bus.) on their nomination by their caucus to serve on the Executive Committee.

Sen. O’Halloran offered her own update on sexual assault. In the spirit of PACSA’s new mandate, she said, the Senate was amply represented at that committee’s meeting earlier in the day, with seats for herself and Sens. Acosta and Heinrich. In addition, a new Senate working group, to be led by Sen. Acosta, will channel the concerns of different student bodies to PACSA.

Sen. O’Halloran added that Suzanne Goldberg, special advisor to the president on sexual assault, and Melissa Rooker, associate provost for equal opportunity and affirmative action and Title IX coordinator for the university, would both speak at the next plenary on the new policy and its implementation, as well as the recent release of aggregate data on gender misconduct cases at Columbia. They will also discuss a survey that will be going out in the spring on the sexual climate on campus, perhaps in combination with the next student quality-of-life survey.

The Senate is also reviewing a new proposed policy on conflict of interest in research for administrators and for the institution as a whole. Naomi Schrag, VP for Research Compliance, would report on this later in the meeting. A faculty panel had drafted the policy. VP Schrag had presented it to External Relations, and it will go to Faculty Affairs, and come back at the next plenary for action. She noted that conflict of interest is a complex issue, and said it’s important to understand its impact on faculty and administrators, some of whom rotate through both groups.

Advisory Committee on ROTC. Sen. Jeffrey Kysar (Ten., SEAS), chair of the provost’s advisory committee, said ROTC was now beginning its third year back on the Columbia campus. It had its first commissioning ceremony in over 40 years on the day after Commencement last May—an important day for Naval ROTC. The student who was commissioned is now in flight training at Pensacola, Florida, to become a naval aviator. She came to Columbia as an enlisted sailor in the Navy, and went through a program called STA-21 program (Seaman to Admiral in the 21st Century), pursuing her B.A. in mathematics through the School of General Studies. There are now seven students on campus who are involved in ROTC programs. Four of them entered Columbia as freshmen, after applying through a national competition for a scholarship to attend a university. They got admitted here after going through this gauntlet. The oldest of these is now a junior, who will be commissioning at the end of 2015-16. There are also two enlisted Marines pursuing bachelor’s degrees at GS. They’re in a program called MECEP an acronym whose meaning escaped Sen. Kysar for the moment. The seventh student, an enlisted sailor, is in the STA-21 program.

Sen. Kysar said he had little else to report, partly because the Naval ROTC program is up and running. It has an office on the first floor of Lerner, which is open most weekdays. Columbia has had discussions with the local Army ROTC, which was traditionally at Fordham, but is now also just up the street at City College. There have also been conversations with the Air Force ROTC unit at Manhattan College. Columbia University has two or three students participating in these other programs each year. One recent Columbia student was actually commissioned by the Air Force ROTC.

The Naval ROTC students must take two classes here that have been approved for credit at Columbia. One is in the history department, the other in the mechanical engineering department. Sen. Kysar introduced the new director of Naval ROTC on campus, Captain Mark Scovill, as well as the associate director, Lieutenant Colonel Mike Songster. Both officers are regularly on campus, but their main offices are at SUNY Maritime in Throgs Neck in the Bronx

Sen. Kysar said Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg has said he thinks the advisory committee of ROTC that was assembled in the fall of 2011 has completed its work. So Dr. Rittenberg has asked Prof. Kysar to oversee the academic aspects of NROTC, bringing in other faculty as needed.

Sen. Kysar invited questions.

A senator asked if the number of students at Columbia in the ROTC program is expected to grow.

Sen. Kysar said he didn’t know. He said he didn’t need to remind people what the acceptance rate is for applicants to Columbia College and SEAS. And that’s after they have won a Naval ROTC scholarship in a nationwide competition. But he expected the number of Columbia undergraduates in ROTC programs to increase by two or three a year. But it depends on the students. There are also the programs for enlisted sailors and enlisted marines to come in, typically through the School of General Studies.

The president thanked Sen. Kysar for his report.

Welcome to new senators. The secretary read the names of the 21 new senators, asking them to stand when called and to remain standing. When he finished the list, the Senate welcomed its new members with applause.

More Reports
Research Officers’ Committee annual report for 2013-14. The committee chair, Sen. Daniel Savin, spoke to the two-page report, which had been distributed. He said there are now some 2,300 people in the Senate research officer constituency, a population that has grown by 27 percent since 2005. By comparison, he said, faculty have grown by only 11 percent, while the administration has grown by 36 percent and support staff have declined by 9 percent. Of the 2,300 research officers, 800 are professional research officers (PROs), whose qualifications parallel those of faculty. Many PROs serve as principal investigators on research grants. There are also 400 staff research officers, who play a wide variety of roles ranging from bench scientist to manager of research programs.

The other 1,100 research officers are postdocs, whom Sen. Savin called the pipeline to the future. Of these, 850 are postdoctoral research scholars and scientists, whose salaries and benefits are provided by Columbia. That leaves 350 postdoctoral research fellows, who have brought to Columbia the fellowships they have won from around the world. Unfortunately, Sen. Savin said, Columbia does not provide the research fellows with health benefits, and many of their fellowships do not include funds for health benefits. These future leaders of academia bring some $14 million in research funds to Columbia, Sen. Savin said, and the university should be trying to attract them, and not in effect penalizing them. Many peer institutions already provide stipends to cover the health care costs of fellows. For Columbia to remain competitive with this group, it must start matching what sister institutions are doing.

For the past several years, Sen. Savin said, the Research Officers Committee has pursued this issue with the administration, but has made little headway. This year the committee plans to bring a resolution to the Senate floor, calling on the administration to provide stipends for those fellows whose fellowships do not cover their health care costs.

Sen. Savin turned to the question of salary equity. In May 2010, he said, the provost’s office released a study of research officers that found a number of statistically significant differentials in pay, by gender, race, and ethnicity. It also made a number of recommendations for following up on the findings. In February 2014 the provost released a follow-up study that found almost exactly the same pay differentials. Sen. Savin said there was more to be done in understanding the cause of these differentials. The committee will continue to meet with the provost’s office in an attempt to resolve the issue. He referred senators to the committee’s two-page annual report, which had been distributed.

Rules Committee. Christopher Riano, the committee chair, a former student senator and now a lecturer in law at Columbia, announced a series of three town hall meetings on the Rules of Conduct, which govern political rallies and demonstrations. The dates are October 17, October 22, and November 10. After the town halls, the committee will decide whether to recommend significant changes in the Rules. If it does change the Rules, it will present its revisions at another town hall in January, and then to the Senate for debate and a vote.

New ombuds officer. The new ombuds officer, Joan Waters, introduced herself and her plans for her office, basing her report on a PowerPoint which she presented on the screen.

Sen. Andreas Hielscher (Ten., SEAS) said he understood that Ms. Waters cannot divulge personal information. But can she report aggregate data of various kinds?

Ms. Waters said this information would be assembled. She produces an annual report and gives it to the president. The distribution of that report hasn’t been discussed yet. And to the extent that the data can be scrubbed of any personal identifiers, she would try to share as much of it as possible. This is how change can happen. She said she also takes notes, which she guards carefully, but is prepared not to if people ask her not to.

The president thanked Ms. Waters for her report.

Special thanks. The president then gave particular thanks to Provost Coatsworth and his office for their work on the sexual assault policy in recent months.

A new proposed policy on institutional conflict of interest. Naomi Schrag, VP for Research Compliance, presented the policy. She said the problem of institutional conflict of interest has prompted many peer institutions to adopt new policies in recent years. Executive Vice President for Research G. Michael Purdy appointed a drafting committee—chaired by Sen. Henry Spotnitz (Ten., P&S)--to produce a policy for Columbia.

The committee included senior faculty from across the university—from Arts and Sciences, Engineering, CUMC, and Lamont—and included former provost Jonathan Cole. There were also non-voting members from the various important administrative offices that may be involved in this policy, including the tech transfer office, science and technology ventures, and alumni development. The committee worked hard for most of the last academic year, meeting monthly and addressing difficult issues.

The focus of the policy is to protect the objectivity of Columbia research from potential financial conflicts of interest that involve Columbia itself—either the institution itself, or the officials acting in an institutional capacity. So the policy covers situations such as Columbia ownership in a start-up company, or a major corporation’s gift to Columbia University at a time when the corporation may somehow also be involved in research at the university. It also covers financial interests that may be held by a Columbia official who has a role in processes of the university that relate to research. It encompasses everyone from the president through department chairs and division chiefs.

Like Columbia’s policy on conflict of interest in research by individuals, this policy requires disclosure of financial interests to the university, and case-by-case review where those interests may relate to a research project. And as with the individual policy, there are many different ways to manage such a situation. For example, if a potential conflict involves an institutional official, perhaps a person without conflicts could be identified to replace the conflicted person if there were a particular decision that has to be made about a research project related to this issue.

The drafting committee was sensitive to protecting researchers, and the research community, by making sure that the implementation of the policy would not burden researchers or administrators. There will not be (at least at this point) any new disclosure forms for anyone to fill out, just a single additional question on the current form. And, similarly, the immediate administrators who approve those sheets—division chiefs or department chairs—will have to answer one additional question. She added that senior administrators already have to complete a disclosure form just for them.

Ms. Schrag said the draft policy also protects researchers by calling on the review committee to make every attempt to resolve institutional conflicts in a way that enables research to proceed at the university. But there could be a situation in which there is no simple way to manage an institutional conflict of interest. A review committee would determine that the affected research should take place somewhere other than Columbia. But the policy requires such a result only after every other option for managing the issue has been considered and rejected.

Implementation of this policy will involve compiling information from existing research administration systems, such as RASCAL, and from Columbia’s technology transfer and development offices. Ms. Schrag’s office is developing a database, again through RASCAL, that will do automated cross-referencing that will help identify potential problems. A review committee will take on these problems, but the expectation is that most of the implementation will be behind the scenes, and won’t affect the individuals carrying out the research.

Ms. Schrag invited questions.

Sen. Robert Brown (NT, P&S) asked why the university doesn’t have a single conflict-of-interest policy for both campuses. He said there seemed to be one committee for the uptown campus and one for Morningside, setting different limits on research.

President Bollinger said the new policy applies equally throughout the university.

Ms. Schrag added that the thresholds are the same for everyone.

Sen. O’Halloran repeated that the policy would be up for a vote at the next meeting. She thanked Ms. Schrag for her report.

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

Respectfully submitted,

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff