University Senate                                                                   

Proposed: December 11, 2014



President Lee Bollinger called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 103 Jerome Greene Hall. Fifty-five of 97 senators were present during the meeting.

Minutes and agenda. The minutes of October 24 and the agenda were adopted as distributed.

President’s remarks. The president said he had many thoughts about the Rules of Conduct governing political rallies and demonstrations, but he wanted to offer one at the present meeting—that the best way to approach the current review of the Rules is to embrace the principle of freedom of speech as defined in the First Amendment. He said this opinion might be predictable since the First Amendment is his field. He said it is generally understood that Columbia, as a private institution, is not obliged to follow the First Amendment, which formally applies only to public institutions. Therefore, the degree of free speech in campus discourse is a matter of choice for the University. He said it is consistent with the history and culture of this and other great universities to want to embrace the scope of freedom of speech that is protected by the First Amendment. He recognized that, within this framework, a number of issues remain to be sorted out.

Sexual assault. The president said that the university will be working on the problem of sexual assault well into the future. It raises a complex set of issues that have to be addressed in all of their dimensions. He said many people are working to assure that Columbia has the best, fairest, and most responsive policies, procedures, education, training, and institutional culture. This effort requires first-rate research, because many questions remain unanswered, and an academic institution is uniquely responsible and qualified to answer them. The president was pleased to report that a new research project was being planned by a group of university experts that he had convened.

He invited questions and comments. There were none.

Executive Committee chair’s remarks. Executive Committee chair Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten., SIPA) reported that the Presidential Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault, of which she is a member, had begun regular meetings and formed a set of working groups addressing the problem of outreach to the Columbia community and feedback, and the project of producing an annual report to the Senate by the coming spring. She asked student senators Zila Acosta (Law) and Marc Heinrich (Columbia College) to comment.

Sen. Acosta said she is on PACSA’s annual report subcommittee, which is thinking about the kinds of information PACSA should provide to the Senate, particularly since its recommendations go to the president. The report, or a portion of it, will be shared with the Senate. She invited senators to suggest questions they consider important, and offered to meet with senators on this subject. She said the report expected from PACSA next spring will be an annual report to the Senate.

Sen. Heinrich said he is on both the subcommittee on forms, which is planning ways to collect feedback from the community, and the communications subcommittee. He said the forms would be distributed early in the spring semester, and would have to be collected by March 1 to be included in PACSA’S annual report. He said there would also be other feedback mechanisms, including a Google form.

Sen. O’Halloran added that Columbia will also be participating in a joint survey on campus sexual “climates” with a consortium of peer institutions in the spring. It will be necessary to coordinate several surveys at that time, including the second edition of the student quality-of-life survey. She invited faculty and student senators to comment or take part.

Sen. Ian. Lipkin (Ten., PH) on the Ebola epidemic and collaborative efforts to combat it.
Sen. Lipkin said he would talk about recent efforts to develop a rational policy for addressing emerging infectious diseases, specifically Ebola. The goal is to make sure that it’s possible to do the research and necessary service work to meet the challenges in West Africa. At the same time, it is critical to protect the Columbia community, and to remember Columbia’s dubious distinction as the only university to have brought somebody back who was subsequently diagnosed with disease. This is not something anyone wants to repeat, and a lot of effort has gone into thinking of ways to handle this situation better.

Sen. Lipkin then gave his report, which was closely based on a series of PowerPoint slides that he projected onto the screen. At the end, he invited questions, but there were none.

External Relations Committee annual report for 2013-14. Sen. Howard Worman (Ten., P&S), the committee chair, said the committee devoted the bulk of its effort during the previous year to the portion of its mandate devoted to research policy, focusing on an issue highlighted by the sequestration crisis in Washington in September 2013—the risk to research funding across the university. The committee met with EVP for Research Michael Purdy, who explained that Columbia’s federal research funding has been flat for the past several years and also acknowledged that Columbia’s budget depends heavily on federally sponsored research. If this should continue to decline at the present rate, it will be very difficult to make up the loss.

Sen. Worman said Rudina Odeh-Ramadan, Associate Vice President for Sponsored Projects, provided the committee with some of the actual numbers on research funding. They showed that funding was essentially flat between 2009 and 2013 in nominal dollars, about a percent or two lower in 2013. But adjusted for inflation, the numbers show a 10 percent decline.

Sen. Worman said the committee also met with Ross Frommer, Vice President for Government and Community Affairs at CUMC, and Loftin Flowers, Associate Vice President for Government Affairs, about Columbia’s lobbying efforts to get more federal funding for research.

These discussions prompted the committee to raise the following questions, for further study:

  1. Does Columbia have any plans to address the problem of declining research funding across the university, which is particularly pressing in schools in which salaries and fringe benefits depend heavily on “soft” money? If funding continues to fall or stay flat, how can this support be made up?
  2. What will be the impact on faculty productivity if faculty members are spending too much time writing grants, rather than doing research or teaching?
  3. How is this situation affecting the morale of faculty, graduate students, and postdocs?
  4. Federal funding also supports more than just faculty and their research, and even students, in some cases. It also pays for a lot of the administration. Is there a way to address the growth of the administration enabled by research support now that the support is waning?

Sen. Worman said the committee also discussed the policy on conflict of interest in research that was presented several years ago by Naomi Schrag, Associate Vice President for Research Compliance, and approved by the Senate in 2009. Sen. Worman understood that the situation with conflict of interest for investigators is somewhat fluid, with possible further changes to come based on new revisions in federal regulations. The committee’s understanding is that this conflict of interest policy is functioning well enough.

Sen. Worman said the committee heard from Orin Herskowitz, head of Columbia Technology Ventures, about technology transfer and university patent policy. It also heard an update on smoking policy, a topic on which the committee has perhaps heard enough for the time being. It was content to follow up in a year or two to see how the implementation of the policy approved by the Senate in May 2013 is progressing.

Finally, the committee heard from EVP for Communications David Stone and the work of his office in using traditional and new media to get Columbia better known throughout the world.

Sen. Worman said he would provide one more update relating to research policy. While watching CNBC a few weeks earlier, he had noticed a news item crossing the bottom of the screen about Columbia and a $9 million settlement regarding research irregularities. This turned out to be a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the United States concerning accounting practices on multiple government grants. The irregularities were associated with the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Program (commonly called ICAP), which is based in the Mailman School of Public Health. Sen. Worman said the committee didn’t have much information about this, but he hoped someone from the General Counsel’s Office could answer any questions about it. He also offered to answer any other questions senators might have about his report.

There were no questions or comments.

New business.
            Resolution to Adopt a New Policy on Institutional Conflict of Interest in Research (External Relations). Sen. Worman stayed at the front of the room to present the resolution, which his committee had endorsed. It concerned the new policy on institutional conflicts of interest in research (as opposed to conflicts of interests of individual investigators), which had been discussed at the September plenary. Sen. Worman said External Relations had favorably reviewed the proposed new policy, particularly the provisions enabling the university to manage any conflicts involving administrators, if necessary by having the official dissociate himself from the research, or in extreme cases having the university give up the research. He noted that investments that Columbia holds through its endowment were considered separate enough not to be covered by this policy. He said the new policy might come into play in a situation in which, say, Columbia Technology Ventures owns equity in a small company, and someone wants to do research that has a potential conflict with that company. Sen. Worman said the committee considered these safeguards important, and approved the policy, with the proviso that it should be monitored closely after its adoption, to make sure, among other things, that it does not unnecessarily impede research or place undue burdens on investigators. He invited questions.

Sen. Ronald Breslow (Ten., A&S/NS) said a colleague had a temporary loss of funding from a federal grant, and he had a research group of significant size. When he sought funding from private sources to keep the research going, he was told that the university wouldn’t permit that. Sen. Breslow cautioned against producing rules that say, in effect, This is how research may not be funded. He said this was particularly important in a climate of declining federal funding.

Naomi Schrag said the policy on institutional conflict of interest does not address the situation of faculty members who might be able to fund their research by using their own personal resources.

Sen. Breslow stressed the need to make sure that rules don’t choke off research that should be

Sen. Worman said a committee will address issues of this kind.

Ms. Schrag said the policy explicitly stresses the importance of enabling research at the university. The focus of the policy is to protect research from potential risks, resolving any problems that might prevent it from going forward at the university.

Sen. Lipkin understood the main principle to be that that one should not be getting paid for doing research that might affect the amount that one would get paid. So one cannot be a member of a scientific advisory board that would direct monies to fund one’s own research. Investigators always can choose to walk away from whatever compensation they might get, so they can proceed with the research without conflicts. So the guidelines don’t have to impede research.

Ms. Schrag said this was a good summary of the policy on individual conflict of interest. But the policy before the Senate at present addresses a different potential conflict situation, in which the university itself may have a financial interest, either through university holdings, or through those of an institutional official, who has research oversight responsibility in some way.

The president asked if the Senate was ready to vote.

Sen. Greg Freyer (NT, Public Health) noted that the threshold for potential conflicts seemed to be higher for administrators than for faculty. Why was that?

Ms. Schrag said everyone who conducts research, regardless of their rank, is subject to the same thresholds. If President Bollinger were an investigator on a research project, and he had a related financial interest greater than $5,000, it must be reviewed for potential conflict and management. But the present policy considers a less direct situation, in which a dean or a department chair not directly involved in a research project has a financial interest related to that project. The drafting committee determined that in this situation a higher threshold--$25,000—would be appropriate.

Sen. Silverstein understood that it is now CUMC policy that an investigator cannot make a contribution to his or her own lab in order to fund a project. This policy, implemented by the university, does indeed obstruct research. He said it’s not conflict of interest unless one considers it a conflict to give oneself money for a research project.

Sen. O’Halloran repeated that the policy before the Senate does not address the issue Sens. Breslow and Silverstein had raised.

Sen. Hyunwoo Paco Kang (Stu., P&S) asked how the $25,000 threshold for administrators was chosen. He understood that $5000 is a common threshold figure for administrators at other institutions. He said there is even a position paper by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) that affirms $5,000 as the appropriate threshold amount.

Ms. Schrag said other institutions have actually adopted a broad range of dollar thresholds for administrators. Some have adopted a $100,000 threshold. The drafting committee chose $25,000 as at the low end of the spectrum, but still felt that some adjustment was appropriate, given the less direct involvement of institutional officials with oversight responsibility for the research, and therefore the less direct potential risk.

The president asked if the Senate was ready to vote.

Sen. Worman added that his committee would monitor the implementation of the new policy over the next couple of years. If there are any significant impediments to research, the committee will recommend revisiting the issue.

Sen. Lipkin asked for more information on the question of whether investigators can fund their own research.

Sen. O’Halloran repeated that this issue was not relevant to the proposal now before the Senate. She suggested raising it off-line with Ms. Schrag.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve the new policy on institutional conflict of interest.

More reports.
Education Committee on recent actions it has taken. Committee co-chair James Applegate said the committee had approved a Certification of Professional Achievement, a non-degree document. It requires 12 points or four classes at the graduate level. It was developed 15-20 years ago by the Engineering School, as part of their continuing education for working engineers. Offered mainly through the Columbia Video Network, the program has been very successful. The Education Committee considers proposals like this one based on their academic content. Its approval does not require further Senate action, though the committee customarily reports its decision to the Senate. The two certifications that Education approved at its last meeting are collaborations between the Engineering School and the Earth Institute. One is in low-carbon and efficiency technology, and the other one is on carbon management policy and economics. These both have to do with a field that involves, essentially, carbon capture and storage. These programs are offshoots of a master’s degree program, the Master of Science in Carbon Management, that was approved by the Senate about a year ago, and is about to be launched by the Engineering School.

Sen. Applegate also mentioned a couple of “coming attractions”—programs that his committee would be bringing to future plenaries: the Master of Science in Enterprise Risk Management from the School of Continuing Education, and the M.S./Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from the Engineering School.

Rules of Conduct Committee. Christopher Riano, the chair, said the committee had now completed three town hall meetings. He thanked the committee for its work so far, noting that most members had attended the town halls or served on a panel. He said transcripts from both Morningside town halls were available.

Mr. Riano listed a few themes the committee had been hearing from the community at large. He said the committee welcomed additional comments and questions, as well as affirmative proposals. He said participants in the town halls felt strongly that the Rules of Conduct should be reviewed and revised, and made clearer and more specific, with students involved in the drafting. There have also been many questions and comments about the relative merits of the internal Rules process (dean’s discipline, as practiced in various Columbia schools) and an external disciplinary procedure that people charged with serious Rules violations may choose. There have been requests for a wider array of possible sanctions under the external procedure, and many questions about the technological changes that have occurred since the Rules were last amended 24 years ago. There is also a desire for clearer rules of evidence, a clearer distinction between warnings and actual sanctions, a clear procedure for bringing complaints to the community, and an affirmative statement of rights. There have been questions about legal representation, and a desire for a more diverse adjudicatory model.

Sen. Riano said the committee would likely decide at its next meeting on December 1 to vote on whether to rewrite the Rules. But he added that he could not promise this outcome since he is only one of 15 committee members.

Mr. Riano invited questions. There were none.

The president then adjourned the meeting shortly before 2 pm.

Respectfully submitted,


Tom Mathewson, Senate staff