University Senate Proposed: November 20, 1998




The chairman, President George Rupp, called the Senate to order at 1:15 pm in 301 Uris. Thirty-four of 80 senators were present during the meeting. There was no quorum.

Adoption of the minutes and agenda: The minutes of the meeting of September 18 were adopted without changes but with a clarification by the President about the date of the meeting at which the Trustees approved a plan to sell 50 acres of land in Orangetown, NY. The agenda was adopted as proposed.

The President announced that Michael Feiler of the General Counsel's Office would be filling in for Howard Jacobson as Parliamentarian for the present meeting.

President's report: The President made the following points:

--Honors: Two more scholars who have either attended or taught at Columbia won Nobel Prizes recently, bringing the total to 59: Louis Ignarro (Pharmacy '62) in physiology and medicine and current Columbia professor Horst Stormer in physics and applied physics. In addition, Amartya Sen, whose Columbia connection is the honorary degree he received at last year's Commencement, won the Nobel in economics.

Caroline Bynum of the History Department has been named a University Professor. Her appointment will increase the number of University Professors by one, a change already approved by the Senate Executive Committee and the Trustees.

--Federal developments: The Higher Education bill was reauthorized and appropriations were made. The President commented on two aspects of the legislation:

Student aid: Actual increases in appropriations, for example the maximum Pell grant, were much smaller than the amounts "reauthorized," though there were improvements in the flexibility of eligibility for student aid and in borrowing provisions.

Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Program (VERIP): This important provision addresses the challenge that the elimination of mandatory retirement for professors has posed to their institutions. At first tenured professors were exempted, along with police and firefighters, from Congressman Claude Pepper's bill to eliminate a mandatory retirement age, but the exception for faculty was not renewed when it expired after seven years. VERIP, which makes it possible to provide voluntary incentives for early retirement without risking a law suit for age discrimination, was approved for addition to the Higher Education Reauthorization Act.

Research funding increases have been spectacular, with NIH up by 15 percent, NSF by 7 percent. Friendly intervention by Republican Senator and alumnus Judd Gregg (CC '69) helped win increases in appropriations for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association and the Office of Global Programs, two agencies important to Columbia.

Columbia's own annualized rate of receipt of Federal research money has reached $293 million per year, some $25 million more than last year's record rate.

Events: Columbia co-hosted the NY Small Business Opportunities Conference, sponsored by Congressman Charles Rangel; the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center will open uptown at the Audubon II building on October 29; the Yale game, on October 24, will include an alumni event organized by Sen. Peter Basilevsky (Alum.).

Sen. Eugene Litwak called attention to some retirement incentives involving housing and office space now being offered at the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota that he said Columbia might want to consider. The President said this issue was complicated; for example, an important reason for Columbia's inadequate housing supply, which is a major obstacle in faculty recruitment, is that older faculty--both active and retired--are staying longer in Columbia apartments.

Executive Committee chairman's report: Sen. Paul Duby, the chairman, deferred comment on issues discussed at the October 16 Executive Committee meeting that would be taken up later in the present agenda.

He did mention the letter in the Senate packet soliciting nominations for next year's Senate-consulted Trustee, recalling that the Senate had played a valuable role last year in selecting this year's Senate-consulted Trustee.

The Executive Committee subcommittee that would be exchanging and discussing nominations with the Trustees this year consisted of tenured senators Ferrante, Moss-Salentijn, Duby, as well as Wayne Svoboda (nontenured) , and Samrat Ganguly (student).

Another meeting, also between members of the Senate and Trustees' executive committees, had been scheduled for November 23. He invited senators to suggest topics for discussion at that meeting, a once-a-semester event that was provided for in a 1987 agreement between the Senate and the Trustees.

The Executive Committee had also briefly discussed the Ad Hoc Committee on Enhancement and Enlargement, which did not report last spring, and would be meeting later in the afternoon to decide on its next steps.

The chairman invited committee chairs to feel free to comment during his own report at Senate meetings.

The Executive Committee had held further discussion about the number of University Professors, a topic that might come up later in the year for Senate discussion.

Nominations to committees: The chairman read aloud a few late changes in committee assignments that had been distributed. He also mentioned two new nominees to the Housing Policy Committee--Sen. Daniel Ferguson (nontenured) and John Ittner (Nonsen., Stu.).

Committee reports:

--Interim report from External Relations on issues raised by the University's contract to sell 50 acres of land in Orangetown, NY. Chairman Eugene Litwak (Ten., GSAS/SS) said the committee had met three times since the September Senate meeting: once with University administrators representing the General Counsel's and the Investments offices; once with Kate Chipman, Wm. Theodore de Bary, and Peter Grilli--three Columbia people who are also concerned community residents; and once with Sen. William Menke (Ten., GSAS/NS) of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The committee had also received a letter from John Mutter, deputy director of Lamont, and had maintained contact with the Columbia College Student Council, through Sen. Ariel Neuman (Stu., CC) a common member.

Sen. Litwak reviewed the history of the property since 1972, when the University tried to sell the site in question to a builder who was unable to develop it and returned it to the University. Columbia made no active effort to sell the property until 1997, when better market conditions convinced the University to undertake a national marketing effort with a major realty company, which notified 137 agencies and brokerages about the property. It is not typical of a marketing effort of this kind to notify local officials or the larger community of the availability of the land.

Another relevant fact, Sen. Litwak said, was the lack of awareness among Columbia officials of the University's larger commitment to environmental preservation, particularly in the mission of Lamont-Doherty, which is located only a few miles from the Orangetown site. Until recently, Lamont pursued mainly oceanographic research, but is now focusing more on inland subjects. About 10 percent of its $50 million annual research budget is devoted to studies of the Hudson River and New York region. Lamont is troubled that the Orangetown matter will undermine public perceptions of Columbia's long-term commitment to the environment. Sen. Litwak said the Investments Office was not guilty of anything in treating the Orangetown sale purely as a business transaction and missing its environmental implications.

Sen. Litwak said the External Relations Committee was developing policy guidelines to help prevent similar problems from arising over future land sales. As for the present Orangetown dilemma, Sen. Litwak made the following points: there is genuine community concern about the Orangetown sale, which the University should address. There is no reason why Columbia should not make public its commitment to do well by the environment. Without violating the legal constraints imposed by its sales contract, the University could make clear its willingness to release the developer from the contract, and to enable him to return the property if he chooses. The point was that the community should, if at all possible, be made aware of any University initiatives of this kind.

Sen. Basilevsky asked whether the University had explored the possibility of involving preservation groups which can not only provide funding but also serve as facilitators in the search for solutions to problems like the Orangetown dilemma. Three of these are Scenic Hudson and the Open Space Institute (both funded by the Readers Digest Foundation) and the Palisades Parkway Commission, a New Jersey state government organization. Sen. Basilevsky suggested that the way to get the developer to change course was to offer him an alternative, which these eleemosynary institutions might provide.

Sen. Litwak said the participation of such groups was a promising possibility. The President said that the University, through its Public Affairs and General Counsel's offices, had been exploring a number of alternatives, including making contact with the Orangetown town supervisor.

When Lisa Amzallag, Senior Real Estate Officer in the Investments Office and a nonsenator, asked to speak, the President asked the Senate to provide permission for her and a couple of other guest speakers at the same time. There was no objection.

Ms. Amzallag corrected part of Sen. Litwak's historical account, saying the 1972 sale had indeed gone through, and the land had reverted to Columbia after the seller defaulted on his mortgage. She also described recent efforts by her office and the Office of the General Counsel to help put the Open Space Institute in contact with the Orangetown Town Supervisor.

The second guest speaker, Prof. David Walker of the Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Lamont, said he had been a resident of Piermont, a community near the Orangetown site, for the past 17 years. Over that time there had been a good deal of development in the area, but most of it had been at lower elevations. Columbia responsible for some of the development, notably in the proposed construction of the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction building at Lamont. But the combination, in the present case, of a developer with a record of insensitivity to the environment and a site at the top of the Palisades where development would be visible for miles around amounted to a bad message to the community. Even though Columbia is committed to a contract to sell the land, the issue has caused a lot of local discomfort and remains a concern for local Columbia people who have to converse with friends and neighbors.

Prof. Walker said he would like it very much if Columbia could find a way to get out of this contract. He said it didn't know what the mechanism would be to accomplish that, but he wanted senators to know that neighbors and people at Lamont were concerned about the damage this development might do to Columbia's reputation.

The third speaker, Prof. Wm. Theodore de Bary, mentioned some contributions to discussion of the Orangetown issue since the previous Senate meeting, including a statement distributed at the present meeting from the Columbia College Student Council, which he praised, and a series of stories and editorials in the Rockland County press that expressed near-unanimous support for the idea of keeping the Orangetown site undeveloped and turning it into park land. He read aloud a letter from Republican Congressman Benjamin Gilman to the Clausland Mountain Preservation Association, a local group opposed to the development, reporting actions he had taken to support their efforts.

Sen. Ariel Neuman (Stu., CC), a member of External Relations and of the Columbia College Student Council, introduced the Council's resolution on Orangetown, which was for discussion only. It asked the University to say publicly that it would allow the developer to withdraw from the sales contract, and to get back any money he had already paid for the property. The resolution also proposed steps the University could take to assure better oversight of future land sales, including a guide for the Investments Office to follow in determining the environmental, historical, or civic importance of certain sites, as well as a procedure of notifying local communities of planned sales. He asked for a response from the administration.

The President said he was puzzled that Sen. Neuman, after meeting with members of the Investments and General Counsel's offices, could have produced a resolution with so many errors.

Sen. Neuman asked what the errors were. Sen. Luciano Rebay (Ten., GSAS/H) suggested the resolution had too many "whereas" clauses.

Sen. Linda Lane (NT, A&S) asked if the University had contacted the developer. The President said it had.

--Interim report from Faculty Affairs on its inquiry into tenure review procedures in the Law School: Sen. Eugene Litwak, the chairman, reported briefly on this issue, which had been referred to the committee at the April Senate meeting after Sen. Charles Calomiris (Ten., Bus.) had complained about the Law School's exemption from University-wide ad hoc tenure review procedures. After learning about the Law School's procedures in some detail, and after considering the Law School's outstanding reputation, the committee agreed unanimously that the Law School's tenure process was very good. In response to a second complaint--that Law School professors, despite their exemption from ad hoc review, nevertheless sit on ad hoc committees reviewing tenure candidates from other parts of the University--Sen. Litwak said Law School faculty serve on these committees as a courtesy to their Columbia colleagues, and would not object if they were not asked to continue.

--Interim report from Structure and Operations on its inquiry into Senate voting rules: Sen. Duby reported briefly for Sen. Joan Ferrante (Ten., GS), who had not yet arrived at the meeting. He said the committee had discussed the advisability of changing Senate voting rules, an issue raised by Trustee chairman Stephen Friedman in his July 29 letter and referred to Structure and Operations at the September Senate meeting. The committee felt strongly that a stiffer requirement for voting majorities would seriously inhibit the work of the Senate. He cited the poor attendance at the present meeting as an indication of the problem involved. The committee had also affirmed the appropriateness of the Senate's longstanding requirement of a higher majority for any proposed changes to the Senate By-laws or the chapter of the University Statutes from which they are derived. Finally, the committee thought that the requirement of Trustee concurrence for most actions of the Senate was a sufficient safeguard against any harm they could do to the University. Sen. Duby said the committee would later present a written report on this matter.

Sen. Duby said Structure and Operations had also discussed the problem of low attendance at Senate meetings and chronic vacancies in certain Senate seats, as well as faculty representation in the Arts and Sciences. The committee would also report on these matters later in the year.

Old business:

--Executive Committee reply to the July 29 letter from Trustee chairman Stephen Friedman returning the Senate's April resolution on the Tenure Review Advisory Committee: Sen. Duby called attention to the letter in senators' packets that he had written to Trustee chairman Stephen Friedman on behalf of the Executive Committee. He had based his draft on senators' comments at the previous Senate meeting and at several committee meetings. A majority of the Executive Committee had approved the letter on October 16, with some further changes. The letter had been delivered to the Secretary's Office on October 19.

Sen. Rebay said he hoped that there would not be further conflict on this issue, and that the Trustees would accept the validity of the Senate vote on the Tenure Review Advisory Committee (TRAC). He hoped they would not press the argument that the Senate needs different voting rules on the basis of a particular vote that had displeased the administration, in particular the Provost.

The President interrupted to say that the Senate resolution was in fact opposed not only by the Provost, but also by the President and the Council of Deans.

Sen. Rebay accepted the correction, to say the administration had unanimously resisted the April resolution as an attempt to reduce its power, even in a small way. He said he hoped the Provost would rethink his opposition to the resolution, and consider the importance of Senate rules. He reminded the Senate of the example of a recent Italian government that fell after losing a parliamentary vote by a count of 353-352.

The President stressed that what the administration had unanimously opposed was the content of the Senate's resolution on the TRAC, not the voting procedures the Senate had followed. He added that if and when there was a response to the Executive Committee letter, the Senate would certainly know it.

New business:

The President said the Provost's annual letter to the Senate, 23 pages long, had been distributed at the door. It would be discussed at the next Senate meeting.

The President adjourned the meeting at about 2:20 pm.

Respectfully submitted,


Tom Mathewson, Senate staff