University Senate Proposed: January 30, 1998

Adopted:

 

MINUTES OF DECEMBER 12, 1997

President George Rupp, the chairman, called the Senate to order shortly after 1:15 pm in the Schapiro Engineering Auditorium. Thirty-six of 83 voting members and about 20 spectators were present. There was no quorum.

Minutes and agenda: The minutes of the meeting of November 21 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.

President's report:

--Early decision applications were up substantially for both the College (by 23 percent) and the Engineering School (by 60 percent).

--The Passport to New York program had expanded. Over 3000 students had been to the Museum of Modern Art; discussions were under way with other cultural institutions; internships were being developed.

--The university would reassure all employees who were members of Oxford, the health care vendor whose financial troubles had recently received wide publicity, that their health benefits would continue, with the same doctors, no matter what happened to Columbia's relationship with Oxford.

--In Washington in recent days, the President had had good discussions with Jack Gibbons, the science advisor to President Clinton and head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; with Gene Sperling, head of the National Economic Council; with Ernie Moniz, undersecretary of the Department of Energy, who is responsible for a range of high-level computing activities of importance to Columbia scientists and engineers; and with Vice President Al Gore's congressional liaison. At a dinner organized by Columbia Vice President for Public Affairs Alan Stone, President Rupp and a handful of other university presidents had discussed the higher education agenda with Senators Ted Kennedy and Tom Dashell. Two U.S. senators, Jim Jeffers (Rep.,Vermont) and Pat Moynihan (Dem., NY), had been on campus in the past week.

Senator Alex Marx (Stu., CC) asked if the Lerner student center would be completed on time--by September 1998--and under budget. President Rupp said it would be completed on schedule. Progress might appear to be slow because the building was now developing from the inside out. There had been some problems with the budget, but the president said they had been stabilized.

Executive Committee chairman's report: Sen. Paul Duby (Ten., SEAS) listed the main documents on library policy that senators should have received: the action plan released by Vice President Elaine Sloan on November 25, the transcript of the November 18 Libraries Committee hearing, the external review of the Libraries carried out in the spring of 1997, and the self-study that the Libraries prepared for the external review team. All of these documents were available at the door for the present meeting, along with an article about university libraries by Columbia professor James Shapiro in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

A subcommittee preparing nominations for next year's Senate-consulted Trustee had exchanged names of prospective nominees with a Trustee committee on December 1. The two committees would meet in January to discuss these nominees. At around the same time, there might be another meeting with a Trustee group, in accordance with a 1987 agreement between the Senate and the Trustees calling for a meeting every semester to discuss issues of community concern.

A brief discussion of videotaping Senate meetings had focused on the question, In what sense are Senate meetings and hearings public? The question had been referred to Structure and Operations.

Responses to the Faculty Affairs benefits survey were coming in slowly. Sen. Duby stressed the importance of the survey and the need for a good response rate, particularly in view of the current discussions with Oxford that the President had mentioned.

The Senate Office had been remiss in overlooking the need for a review of the Center for the Study of Addiction and Substance Abuse three years after it had been established in a Senate resolution of 1991.

Sen. Duby urged senators to attend the reception outside the auditorium after the meeting.

Sen. William Harris (Ten., GSAS/SS) said the Libraries Committee, which he chairs, had asked the Executive Committee to distribute the external review of the Libraries. Sen. Duby said the Executive Committee had distributed the review.

Committee reports:

--Faculty Affairs: Sen. Eben Moglen (Ten., Law), the chairman, said the committee was pursuing several grievance investigations, and expected additional grievances during the spring term. Legislation on the Tenure Review Advisory Committee, was in a subcommittee chaired by Ruth Wageman (Nonsen., NT, Bus.), and might reach the Senate early in the spring term. A survey of experience with health care benefits was under way; a second mailing would go out in January.

--Education: Sen. Letty Moss-Salentijn (Ten, SDOS), the chair, said the committee had read the relevant documents on the libraries and held a good discussion that morning with Vice President Elaine Sloan that had addressed the specifics of the action plan. She stressed the need for rational discussion of an issue that had generated a lot of passion--understandably because the libraries and ACIS are at the core of teaching and research, providing scholars with the basic tools to do their work. She said that, while the committee expected to offer additional input, it strongly supported the action plan and urged the administration to give it the highest priority. Among the committee's own highest priorities for the libraries were staffing levels, shelving, library hours, and modem access to the internet.

A second main issue for the committee was distance learning programs, which were already part of the Columbia curriculum, including degree programs, and would be proliferating in the near future, particularly in General Studies and professional schools involved in industry and the health sciences. There was a clear need for such programs, but they raised a number of practical issues, particularly with large numbers of students involved: the issuance of ID cards and access to libraries, sports facilities, housing, health care, and financial aid. There was also a more fundamental philosophical question requiring further discussion: To what extent should Columbia even be involved in distance learning?

A third issue is the status of the University's two non-degree academic credentials: The committee had set guidelines for both of these in 1995: one was the statutory certificate, whose requirements resemble those of a master's degree; the other was statement of attendance, which requires a minimum of 12 credits. Recently, she said, questions had been raised about these standards, particularly the statement of attendance, which some consider insufficient for competing in a marketplace with inflated academic credentials. At the same time, New York State's regulations are among the most restrictive in the nation. A subcommittee was studying these problems, and the committee might bring a solution to the Senate in the spring.

The committee was also evaluating one new degree program, the Ph.D. in Communications, which would likely reach the Senate in January. It had also approved a basic academic calendar for the next 10 years. Sen. Moss-Salentijn praised the Registrar, Joseph Capobianco, for having made this decision so easy for the committee. The President echoed this praise.

Structure and Operations: Sen. Joan Ferrante (Ten., GS), the chairman, said the committee would be taking up its assignment from the Executive Committee, considering in what sense Senate meetings are public. She read from Section 1 (h) of the Senate By-Laws: "The Minutes of the Senate shall be widely disseminated, and shall be made available to the campus and other news media." She said the committee would like to hear from senators on this issue.

Sen. Moglen said he would join that discussion, and would advocate a freedom of information act for Columbia University.

On the question of videotaping Senate meetings, Howard Jacobson, the parliamentarian, said Section 1 (c) of the By-Laws restricts access to Senate meetings, including the types of media allowed. In response to questions, he affirmed that the By-Laws don't restrict access to Senate minutes, and that he was not commenting on whether minutes could include videotapes.

Libraries: Sen. Harris summarized recent developments involving the libraries, including the committee's November 18 hearing, the release of the 75-page action plan (which the committee discussed on December 1), and the first meeting earlier that day of the Provost's new faculty advisory committee. He said it was important not to lose sight of the external review of the libraries, less than 20 pages long, a sound and intelligent document not meant to be comprehensive.

He said that Sen. Jeremy Waldron (Ten., Law), a member of the committee, would speak in detail about the action plan. Sen. Harris's own first reaction was that the action plan was fine as far as it went. There remained questions of emphasis, of priorities, and of omissions. He said it was important to recognize that the libraries are in crisis, a sense sometimes missing in the tone of the action plan, for example in the phrase "to maintain the robust information infrastructure."

Sen. Harris addressed a point that Prof. Shapiro had raised in the Chronicle article that had been distributed to the Senate--that Columbia spends a smaller fraction of its budget on its libraries than its peers do. Sen. Harris recognized that statistics of this kind were complex, and said he was less concerned about the comparison with lavishly endowed institutions, which could always spend more, than with comparably endowed schools. But he said that if Columbia were to match the fraction that Yale spends annually, it would have to add $17 million to its library operating budget.

Sen.. Harris said he felt somewhat more optimistic about the libraries than he had two months before. He said the issue had always had the Provost's attention, and he knew it had the President's attention. He stressed that no one concerned with the problem was questioning anyone's good faith or commitment. Everybody at Columbia wanted to see the system work better. Such a goal could not be reached all at once but would require a long-term commitment.

The President said his reading of the Libraries Committee hearing was that he had been identified as not being interested in the problems of the libraries. He thanked Sen. Harris for making clear that he was indeed interested.

Sen. Waldron said the discussion so far, with contributions from different committees, was a healthy sign that the action plan was becoming a focus of debate. He said such discussion was necessary to make the preliminary version of the plan better. The main challenge of the present plan--version 1.0--was to get a sense of how its proposals should be ordered as priorities and, above all, of how the plan relates to the sense of crisis that elicited it. The difficulty, Sen. Waldron said, was to relate the plan in detail to the sense of crisis, point by point. He said he understood why that hadn't been done, but added that it was important to do that, at least as a supplement to the plan. He said five or perhaps six of the 13 recommendations at the end of the Frye report were not addressed at all in the action plan. This may have been partly because the Frye report addressed broader issues of administrative structure, which may have been considered inappropriate for a libraries report. Some other issues addressed in the action plan, such as staffing levels and salary incentives, were not clearly and precisely related to the Frye recommendations and did not focus on the long term, for example on staffing needs a decade or more down the road. What was missing was a point-by-point correlation between proposals and criticisms, with explanations where appropriate of why certain recommendations were not addressed. Sen. Waldron hoped that a joint effort to make these connections would enable people concerned about the libraries to develop a framework for solving their problems.

Sen. William Menke (Ten., GSAS/NS) said he didn't see a clear connection in the action plan between its action items and its overall goals.

Asked by the President to comment, Sen. Elaine Sloan, Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian, said she thought her role for the moment was to listen to comments and take notes. She repeated that the present version of the plan was 1.0.

Sen. Ferrante said the plan was a first step, spelling out minimum requirements in shelving and acquisitions for keeping the library barely functioning. She hoped to see the plan beefed up, above all with provision for more staff. She said the present staff was wonderful, but needed more help.

The President said that resources had not been identified for any of these improvements, and that a difficult priority-setting process lay ahead. A $17 million addition to the library budget would be as big as the total grant budget of Columbia College. Such an addition would certainly require base-budget adjustments elsewhere.

Sen. Ferrante said another approach was to increase endowment spending. She stressed a point that Sen. Moss-Salentijn had made earlier--that libraries are central to faculty operations. Sen. Ferrante said she considered it a primary principle that a library has to function, that a way has to be found no matter what it costs.

Sen. Moglen said that senators involved in the hard work of detail on library policy need the support of fellow senators above all for a reminder of the basic subject of that discussion, in relation to the university's largest budgetary priorities.

He said the action plan was a major step forward, proposing to reduce the current lag of 25 years behind libraries at peer institutions in computerization to about a decade, and proposing to put the University's present terrible off-site storage service in the Bronx, while continuing to maintain one site which provides poor service. He said the action plan had not corrected the present failure to staff the reference desks, or the decision to enter the 21st century with a telephone system ill equipped for data communications, or the inadequate band width that makes it impossible to provide the network to the desktop.

He said there was no question that these improvements would be expensive. He questioned the fiscal wisdom of some other University projects, such as its involvement in Biosphere 2 and the construction of the coffee bar in the lobby of Dodge Hall.

The question now, Sen. Moglen said, was what the University's central priorities ought to be. While the discussion that turns version 1.0 of the action plan into version 2.0 would certainly be certainly important, the real question for the Senate was, What investments will move 1.0 to 2.0? What new money will there be? Sen. Moglen said it was not realistic to discuss that investment as a subtraction from faculty salaries or some other equally indispensable piece of the educational mission. So far, he said, there had been a refusal to join issue on the great questions of resource allocation. In the coming months, he said, he hoped to hear more realistic discussion of the money involved from the present leadership.

Hearing no further comments, the President said he had forgotten to mention earlier that he had appointed Sen. Charles Calomiris (Ten., Bus.) to chair the Housing Policy Committee. Then he adjourned the meeting at around 2:05 pm.

 

Respectfully submitted,

 

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff