University Senate                                                                               

Proposed: February 6, 2015




In the absence of President Lee Bollinger, Executive Committee chair Sharyn O’Halloran called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in 1501 IAB. Forty-four of 97 senators were present during the meeting.

Minutes and agenda. The minutes of November 20 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.

Executive Committee chair’s updates.
Sexual assault policy. The President’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault (PACSA) is working with Suzanne Goldberg, the president’s special advisor on sexual assault, and other members of the administration, as well as with the Student Affairs Committee, on ways to incorporate more student considerations into the policy deliberations.

Sen. Marc Heinrich (Stu., CC), a member of PACSA, said the committee would be holding forums on sexual assault in the coming semester, which will address such topics as preferred sanctions and continuing consent education. He invited senators to offer their comments to him or Sen. Zila Acosta (Stu., Law), who also sits on PACSA.

EVP for Student Affairs. Sen. O'Halloran said a search for a new executive vice president for student affairs is also under way, and there has been active discussion of broad issues of diversity that have been raised anew by recent grand jury decisions in cases in which unarmed black men died at the hands of police. She anticipated that the EVP for student affairs would be addressing some of these issues. She added that students are interested in establishing a new Senate committee, analogous to the Commission on the Status of Women, that would focus on ethnic minorities. She noted that as she spoke, a panel discussion of diversity was taking place in a meeting room down the hall.

Commission on underrepresented minorities. Sen. Heinrich said the Student Affairs Committee would be working with the Executive Committee to form a commission on the status of underrepresented minorities. She said Sens. Ramis Wadood (Stu., CC) and Jillian Ross (Stu., SEAS) would be leading this effort. He said student senators want to make sure this issue gets the attention it needs.

Protocol for calling police on campus. Sen. O’Halloran addressed questions that had arisen in connection with some recent protests about procedures for bringing police on campus. She said there is an elaborate procedure for deciding when to bring police onto campus because of a demonstration. Laid out in Section 444f. of the Rules of University Conduct (chapter 44 of the University Statutes), this protocol requires the president to consult with the Senate Executive Committee, which includes both faculty and students, before calling the police on campus.

Sen. O’Halloran stressed the importance of these procedures for reviewing and filtering such decisions, and the criteria they establish, including a showing that a demonstration constitutes a clear and present danger to persons and property and substantially disrupts the functioning of the university. Those are high thresholds, Sen. O’Halloran said.

Sen. Heinrich underscored these points. He said people need to be aware of this procedure and the paramount importance of the provision for consultation with the Executive Committee, including its student members.

Resolution to Honor James Neal on his Retirement. Sen. O’Halloran introduced Prof. Frances Pritchett, a former senator and chair of the Libraries Committee, to read a resolution honoring Sen. James Neal, who was retiring as Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian.

Prof. Pritchett read the resolution aloud. At the end there was prolonged applause.

Sen. Pritchett added her own thanks for the years she had been able to work with Sen. Neal on the Senate Libraries Committee.

Sen. Neal said he first came to Columbia in September 1969, as a graduate student in history. He added that the Senate was very much a product of that period of Columbia's history. He recalled his amazement at the wonderful chaos at Columbia but, more importantly, at the extraordinary, rich intellectual community he was joining.

After completing his graduate work in history, and ultimately in library science, he left for universities around the United States. But when, in 2001, he had the great chance to come back and rejoin this community, he sought out the Senate—a natural place to go after having worked with faculty senates at Penn State, Notre Dame, Indiana and Johns Hopkins. Sen. Neal said the Columbia libraries are among the best in the world, as they must be to serve the best student body and faculty in the world. He thanked the Senate for the recognition and for having been a part of it all these years.

The Senate then approved the resolution unanimously, to more applause.

Committee reports.
Honors and Prizes. Dr. Allen Hyman, professor emeritus of anesthesiology, stood in for committee chair Sen. Debra Wolgemuth (Ten., P&S), who was out of the country.

Dr. Hyman said he first came to Columbia as a College freshman in 1951, and had been involved in the Senate in one way or another since 1980, including a stint as chair of the Honors and Prizes Committee, of which he remains an active member.

With 15 members representing most Senate constituencies, Honors and Prizes proposes nominees for honorary degrees awarded at Commencement. The committee deliberates by itself and then with a counterpart group of Trustees and with President Bollinger to present its recommendations. The president makes the final selections. Usually, there are eight honorees, one of whom is an emeritus Columbia professor. Another prize at Commencement that the committee helps to award is the Medal of Excellence, given to an alumnus younger than 45 who has no current affiliation with the University.

Dr. Hyman said the point of his report was to appeal to senators, as University leaders, to nominate outstanding individuals in the Arts and Sciences, the Humanities, and Public Life and Government. The deadline was imminent—December 19th—but senators still had time to write a letter nominating a candidate for an honorary degree or Medal of Excellence. Additional supporting documentation can be submitted after the nomination deadline. He referred senators to the Senate website, and to a sample nominations form in the packet for the present plenary. He said it is a profound pleasure to see one’s nominee receive an honorary degree.

            Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing. Prof. Jeffrey Gordon, recently appointed as chair, said ACSRI had begun work, and would provide reports later in the year on some big issues. He said the committee had met twice during the fall, and was now considering proposals to divest two kinds of holdings from Columbia’s endowment.

The first set of investments has to do with private prisons. The committee heard a presentation on this subject from students a month ago. The students also met with the president and with Prof. Gordon. An ACSRI subcommittee was now working with the students on this issue. A university-wide panel discussion will be held on this subject on Tuesday, January 20, the first day of the spring semester. He hoped that as many senators as possible could attend, to hear general discussion about the private prison issue.

The second set of investments the committee would be considering in the spring have to do with fossil fuels. Last spring, a student group presented a petition calling for the divestment of Columbia’s shares in fossil fuel firms. ACSRI took up the petition exactly as it was presented, and decided that it could not advise the trustees to approve it. However, the committee did decide to set up a standing committee this year, to figure out exactly what approach to take to the portfolio’s holdings in fossil fuels—ranging from an activist stance to a disposition stance. The committee is considering whether the criteria by which the university decides to divest itself of securities from the portfolio might be broadened to take account of the case of fossil fuels. The committee will address the issue with students and, at some point in the spring, is likely to take some action. ACSRI will have to keep the schedule of Trustee meetings in mind, so that the Trustees can consider the committee’s advice before they have to make their decisions.

Prof. Gordon said there had been an excellent panel discussion on fossil fuels in November, organized by Prof. Michael Gerard of the Law School’s Climate Change Law Center. ACSRI had advance notice of this meeting, and also announced the meeting to the community. Student activists attended.

Prof. Gordon stressed that ACSRI expected to address the question of fossil fuels in a broader way than it did a year ago, when it only made a negative recommendation on a student petition.

Prof. Gordon said that in the spring the committee will also do its regular annual work, which is to look at the proxy proposals on issues of social responsibility that are submitted for the companies in which the university owns stock, and advise the trustees whether to accept them.

Prof. Gordon said he served on ACSRI once before, about seven years ago, and remembered it as a hard-working group. But he is struck by how much more work the committee is doing now, and by the level of dedication that committee members have demonstrated thus far.

Sen. Greg Freyer (NT, Public Health) asked if the committee would consider focusing on irresponsible practices, such as the development of shale oils by some Canadian companies, as opposed to getting rid of all fossil fuel holdings.

Prof. Gordon said he didn’t want to prejudge what the committee will do, but it is considering a range of firms to evaluate, and a range of actions to take. So defining categories by degrees of corporate activity may be a committee focus this year.

Sen. Eli Noam (Ten., Bus.) commended the divestment proposal of the student group last spring, as well as the response of the committee. He found the whole exchange genuinely enlightening.

Sen. Noam raised three questions:
1. What general criteria might the committee might apply to particular cases? It is important for the university to avoid slippery slopes. He noted that hard cases can make bad law.
2. Should Columbia give incentives to companies that behave better than others?        
3. Are there actions Columbia can take aside from divesting (a step the stock market would barely notice)? What about proxy measures?

Prof. Gordon said he had been thinking about all three questions. He hesitated to respond fully before a large group, partly because he didn’t want to seem to commit the committee to any particular position. He said ACSRI had already devoted serious discussion to the issue of the slippery slope. He offered his personal view that in coming up with a proposal and a rationale that the Trustees might really accept, the committee must account for the need to distinguish one case from the many cases that could potentially follow it. This consideration is important, not only in setting criteria, but also in defining a set of actions the committee might recommend, which might range from divestment to a more active form of engagement—a proxy resolution from the university itself, perhaps in conjunction with others, or an endorsement of someone else’s resolution. These actions might also be linked to incentives for firms to do better.

He repeated that all of these issues had already figured in ACSRI discussions.

Sen. O’Halloran thanked Prof. Gordon for this update, and looked forward to hearing from him again at the February 6 plenary. He said he might not have much else to say that soon. Sen. O’Halloran said they could talk further about the return date.
--Online Learning: Update and New Initiatives (Soulaymane Kachani, Vice Provost for Online Education). Sen. Kachani (NT, SEAS) stated his Senate affiliations (11 years as a faculty senator, and several years as a member of the Executive Committee and chair of Budget Review) but spoke now in his provostial role, which he started earlier in 2014. He hoped his present talk would prompt other conversations with senators about development of Columbia’s online space.

He then gave a PowerPoint presentation on online learning initiatives.

Sen. Daniel Savin (Research Officers) expressed enthusiasm about the creation of the Center for Teaching and Learning, an area in which Columbia has lagged behind its peers. He asked what the staff would be for the CTL. How will the budget compare to those of comparable centers at peer institutions? Will Columbia’s CTL receive the resources necessary to meet the needs of this community?

Sen. Kachani said proper planning for staffing, oversight, budget, and space is a top priority for him. He anticipated that plans will be in good shape by end of the summer of 2015. This will include not only the innovation-experimentation component, which is already underway, but also a significant professional development capability for faculty and for teaching assistants. This will require the hiring of full-time professionals, but Columbia will also do what its peers (and Columbia’s own Business School) do, which is to have a roster of coaches and trainers to call on as needed. Sen. Kachani expected the CTL to grow, as faculty start engaging with it, and to require an important investment of resources.

Sen. Noam said he had been doing online instruction for 20 years, and so was not a Luddite. But he said it's important to understand that these new initiatives are not just a matter of technology. At stake is the question of the relationship of the faculty to its work product, and to the university as an institution. In the lower-tech past, courses belonged to the faculty who taught them in some sense. If they left the university, they could take the course with them. Now, the university is taking the position—not totally illegitimately—that because there is online help for these courses, they belong to the university. A faculty member who leaves does not take the course with him or her. Is that the direction in which the university is headed?

Sen. Kachani said the university’s position is slightly different from those recently taken by Penn and Stanford, whose policies closely resemble Sen. Noam’s description. The view of the Provost’s Faculty Advisory Committee on Online Learning (PFACOL) is that under current policies the faculty member owns the course content, but the university owns the course. His understanding of the existing policy on intellectual property, adopted by the Senate in 2000, is that any commercial use of a current course would require the approval of a school dean and the provost; for a free (non-paying) use of a course there would be considerable latitude, unless the project becomes a full-blown online course. If such a course starts to compete with existing programs, then the department or school may take exception. As for the use of the content after a faculty member leaves the university, there has to be a conversation, both about the use of the content for the first few years after the faculty member’s departure, as well as the use of the content in a new university. Columbia is developing mechanisms for addressing these situations.

Sen. Lucianete Hoffman (Stu., Journalism) said she was excited to sample Columbia’s new MOOCs and other online offerings. But she was concerned about offering support for people who sign in and then get lost while trying to follow a course.

Sen. Kachani said MOOCs offer a “low-touch” environment, offering a lot of content to masses of people, with little opportunity for feedback. When his departmental colleagues in Engineering offered the first Columbia MOOCs, they had 85,000 students. But for uses of technology both in degree-granting online programs, as well as for “flipped” classes (combining face-to-face and digital interactions), support and feedback are critical. This is a key priority in the small grants recently awarded to faculty to develop online or hybrid courses, and Sen. Kachani said he is also carefully reviewing Columbia’s existing full-credit, full-tuition, degree-granting online and hybrid programs, to make sure that the student experience is as engaged and closely monitored as in existing on-campus classes.

Sen. Kachani said one advantage of online courses is that they provide a huge amount of data. Course designers can tell exactly when and how often students are watching what. They can learn the average watching habits of the new generation of students, one of which is that their attention to video segment typically lasts no longer than 10 minutes. With MOOCs the professor can tell from a segment frequently rewound by students that it wasn’t clear and needs revision.

Sen. Kachani said MOOCs make it possible to capture every student click, and to learn about how people study, how they prepare for midterms and finals. Do they? What's the difference? Do they really watch the video? Do they see the questions? How do they do the “homework”? This fascinating data would also be available to the research center on learning that would go hand in hand with the Center for Teaching and Learning—a great opportunity for Columbia.

Sen. Daniel Libby (Alumni) said he had not seen the new website, and asked when it had been announced. Had it been communicated to the alumni community? Sen. Kachani said there was a “soft launch” back April 15, but the main announcement was on October 16. The initiative had been communicated to alumni. He was also working with the Columbia Alumni Association to find the best way to reach alumni populations.

Sen. Melissa Martinez Larrea (Stu., SIPA) asked how hybrid classes will be evaluated to determine which ones to continue and expand.
Sen. Kachani said there was no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. What is essential in evaluating a pedagogical experiment is to have a good design and a good way to assess outcomes. In a hybrid course that has been taught before, there have to be features of the class than can be measured. At one end of the spectrum, biology professor Brent Stockwell, in the next iteration of a hybrid course that he has taught before, will teach different things to four different groups of students, randomizing the trials, and he has also incorporated in his course design gift cards for students who undertake this research. At the other extreme, with a professor teaching a course for the first time, in hybrid form, there will also be an attempt to capture and understand as much information as possible, for use the next time around. What changes will be made? What worked? What didn't? Should the course be fully “flipped” or just half, or 25 percent?

Sen. Kachani said all of these issues need to be considered and discussed. Some will be specific to the course, or to the discipline. Others may be generalizable to an entire curriculum, or to the rest of the university. It is vital to share best practices and pitfalls in figuring out what to expand or discontinue.

            Rules of University Conduct. Committee chair Christopher Riano (Nonsen., NT, SCE) said the group voted on December 1 voted to open the Rules up for further review and analysis. He expressed the committee’s continuing gratitude to those in the Columbia community who have participated in discussion of the Rules during the fall semester.

Looking ahead, Mr. Riano said the committee expected to use the winter break to begin a serious review of the significant materials the committee now had before it. This includes the full record of the town hall meetings, as well as emails and proposals the committee had received. He encouraged the community to continue to send items over the break. He said the committee was particularly interested in additional comments from faculty members, especially from those who had already been in contact.

Mr. Riano said the committee will also be considering the history of the Rules at Columbia, including the question of how they have or have not been applied in the distant as well as the recent past. The committee is also studying the rules that sister institutions have developed to manage the freedom to speak on their campuses. Mr. Riano repeated an earlier statement that the committee is particularly mindful of the historically unique and important place of protest in the Columbia community.

Mr. Riano said that in keeping with his role as a teacher of constitutional law and the application of due process in American higher education, he had assigned homework to committee members over the break—a reading of relevant texts and case law.

Sen. O'Halloran thanked Mr. Riano for his report, and then adjourned the meeting shortly after 2:30 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff