University Senate

Proposed: October 23, 1998

Adopted:

 

MEETING OF SEPTEMBER 18, 1998

The chairman, President George Rupp, called the Senate to order at 1:15 pm in 501 Schermerhorn. Forty-five of 77 senators were present during the meeting.

Adoption of the minutes and agenda: The minutes of the meeting of April 24, 1998 and the agenda were adopted as proposed.

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

--Columbia offers an elaborate program of 25 summer internships in Washington, D.C. for College and Engineering students, organized by Ellen Smith of the Public Affairs office. The students work in Congressional or administrative offices, and last summer they also learned from Columbia alumni involved in various branches of government.

--Columbia won three major research grants from foundations last summer: a $4.5 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation, involving most of the uptown schools, for health care outreach in Washington Heights; and two $5 million grants, involving NSF and the Dept. of Energy, for widely multidisciplinary basic research, in an Environmental and Molecular Science Institute and a Materials Science and Engineering Center.

--Almost all Columbia schools finished the last year on or ahead of budget. The Arts and Sciences were ahead of their multiyear budget stabilization plan.

--Fundraising went spectacularly last year, bringing in $267 million, a 30 percent increase over the new record set the year before.

--Among major capital projects, Lerner Hall is ready for the installation of the glass wall, and will be finished on time; the Butler Library renovation has now achieved major, visible improvements in the undergraduate library and other public spaces on the lower floors; a multiyear initiative to improve Columbia's somewhat tawdry classroom space began over the summer with basic freshening up of rooms in Hamilton, Fayerweather, and Pupin.

Nominations to committees:

--Election of new Executive Committee members: Sen. James Shapiro (Ten., A&S), the nominee of the tenured caucus, and Senators Corby Dale (GSAS/NS), Samrat Ganguly (Law), and Ariel Neuman (CC), nominees of the student caucus, were elected to fill one-year terms on the Executive Committee.

--Standing committee roster: Other committee assignments, shown on a standing committee roster distributed in the Senate packet, were also approved, with the following additional late changes: Senators Shapiro and Elsa Giardina (Ten., HS) were added to Education, Sen. Robert Jervis (Ten., GSAS/SS) was added to Physical Development, and Sen. William Menke (Ten., GSAS/NS) was removed from Honors and Prizes.

Report of the Executive Committee Chairman: Sen. Paul Duby (Ten., SEAS) began by welcoming new senators, and offering to answer questions after the meeting.

Task force on sexual misconduct: At its meeting of September 14, the Executive Committee discussed the appointment of members to the task force, established in an April Senate resolution, that will study the alternative procedure for hearing cases of sexual misconduct. A roster was available at the door, with two slight variations from the April mandate: the balance of student members in the mandate (three senators and two nonsenators) was reversed; and both faculty members were supposed to be senators, but one was not, although Sen. Duby hoped she would soon become one. Sen. Duby read the names of the members: The student senators were Necva Kazimov and Sofia Berger, both juniors from Columbia College; the student nonsenators were Lili Wright (Arts), Natalie Edwards (CC'98, Law '01), and Matthew Matlack (CC '00); the faculty members were Wayne Svoboda (Sen., Nonten., Journ.) and Gauri Viswanathan (Nonsen., Ten., English); the two administrators involved in student affairs were Karen Blank, Barnard Dean of Students, and Richard Ferraro, GS Dean of Students; Edward Mullen (Sen., Ten., SW) served as a member of a hearing panel constituted under the alternative procedure; and Patsy Catapano served as a nonvoting representative of the General Counsel's office.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve these appointments.

Senate-consulted Trustee: Last year, for the first time, the Senate followed an improved procedure for consultations leading to the appointment of one University Trustee. The new procedure conforms to provisions in the Trustee By-laws for the annual selection of one of six Trustees (sometimes called "Senate-consulted" Trustees) on the 24-member Board.

Sen. Duby was pleased to report that last year's consultations had led to the appointment of Joan Spero, one of six candidates jointly considered by the Senate and Trustee subcommittees, as this year's Senate-consulted Trustee. He said he expected this year's consultations to proceed similarly, and stressed that this was not a futile exercise, but a responsibility of the Senate. He urged senators to suggest names, a role he would remind them about in a joint letter with the President a little later in the term. The timetable called for an exchange of names with the Trustees in early December, to be followed by a meeting between Trustee and Senate subcommittees before March 1.

The President added that Joan Spero's name was first suggested by the Senate nominating subcommittee, which played an important role.

Trustee response to the Senate resolution on the Tenure Review Advisory Committee: The Executive Committee had discussed the July 30 letter from Stephen Friedman, chairman of the Board of Trustees, to President Rupp, which had also been distributed to the Senate. The letter announced and explained the Trustee Executive Committee's reasons for returning the TRAC resolution to the Senate. Sen. Duby said one issue raised by the letter involved the substance of the resolution, a topic he hoped to discuss in a meeting of members of the two executive committees. During the previous year, senators had sought to meet each term with Trustees to discuss issues of community concern, in accordance with a 1987 agreement between the two organizations. Only one meeting had actually taken place during the academic year, on April 24. Sen. Duby had recently spoken with Sen. Keith Walton, University Secretary, who was trying to schedule another meeting with members of the Trustee Executive Committee. Sen. Duby hoped that the meeting would be fairly soon, and that he could report on it to the Senate.

The other main issue raised by Mr. Friedman's letter involved procedure. Sen. Duby said the Senate had followed its own procedures the previous spring in passing its amendment to the Statutes. He said the Senate is allowed by the Statutes and By-laws to propose changes in the University Statutes with a simple majority of a quorum present at a meeting--that is, of as little as half of the membership of the Senate. But in order to change the chapter of the Statutes concerned with the Senate, or to change the Senate By-laws, which derive from this chapter, the Senate needs a three-fifths majority of all incumbent members. Mr. Friedman's letter had suggested that any major changes to the Statutes should require more than a simple majority, a view that the Executive Committee had referred to the Structure and Operations Committee for further consideration.

Sen. Duby said the letter had also noted that a quorum had barely been present when the Senate had passed its April resolution. He added that it is the responsibility of all senators to participate in Senate deliberations, particularly on important issues.

Sen. Duby invited discussion. In a point of information Howard Jacobson, the parliamentarian, stressed the distinction between the Senate's procedures for adopting a measure to forward to the Trustees, and the Trustees' procedures for acting on that measure. In response, Sen. Duby made clear that the Trustees have a right, spelled out in the Statutes, to return a measure to the Senate if they disagree with it. He said he hoped for a chance for dialogue on this issue.

Sen. Joan Ferrante (Ten., GS), chairman of the Structure and Operations Committee, said the issue under discussion had big implications for university governance, and she appealed to all senators to share their thoughts about it with her committee.

Sen. Eugene Litwak (Ten., GSAS/SS) said he thought Mr. Friedman's letter made thoughtful points about how to define a suitable majority, and about the special voice and independent role of the University's chief executive. But he thought the letter's solutions were wrong. He said the Senate's quorum rules, which it had followed the previous spring, addressed the Trustees' concern about a suitable majority. He said it didn't make sense to require one type of quorum for one type of issue, and another for another. He recommended that the resolution go back to the Trustees, for them to take into account the issues they had raised and make a decision.

The President pointed out to Sen. Litwak that the Senate already has more than one quorum requirement. Sen. Litwak said there were already two types; he didn't see the need for three or four.

Sen. Lynch said one issue was the Trustees' recommendation that the Senate change its procedural rules. He said the Senate was grateful for this advice, and hoped the Trustees would be grateful for advice about their procedures from the Senate. The matter had been referred to Structure and Operations, which might report later.

The other issue, Sen. Lynch said, involved the resolution itself. Its substance was of little interest to him, but the Senate had passed it according to its own procedures. Whether or not the Senate were to change its procedures, it would not be considering this resolution under new procedures any time soon. So the status of the resolution was unclear. It was not clear the Trustees had rejected it on the merits. He agreed with Sen. Litwak's suggestion that the Trustees consider it and perhaps say they disagree with it.

Sen. Lynch said it seemed odd to draw lines in the sand about this resolution, whose content had not been controversial. The issue seemed to have been about power from the start, and Sen. Lynch said it would be odd for the Senate to back away from its position now. He said that if the Trustees don't want to follow the Senate's advice on this matter, or will do so only if the President agrees, or only if the Senate mandate is overwhelming, they should say so, and the Senate will know where it stands.

The President recalled that all participants in the debate at the April meeting, including proponents of the resolution to offer a Statutory definition of the Tenure Review Advisory Committee, had strongly endorsed the TRAC in its present form. Earlier versions of that resolution had called for major changes in the workings of the TRAC. This point was relevant to the Trustees' response--that there was no urgent need to codify procedures that are working. In this case, the President said, the attention of the Trustees was focused for the first time on Senate procedures. Some members of the Trustees' Executive Committee who are lawyers thought it was odd to make statutes out of a subset of a process which itself was not in the Statutes. Whereas in another case it might have been possible to approve the measures, then look at Senate procedures, this case, involving changes in the Statutes, seemed to combine process and substance more closely. The President recommended looking at what is involved in making recommendations for changes in the Statutes and at what is appropriate for including in the Statutes. He said it was right to refer the matter to Structure and Operations. He added that it would not be hard to predict the Trustees' response to a Senate offer to review its internal rules while asking at the same time for a substantive response.

Sen. Lynch said the Trustees' response was clear already. They seemed to be saying that they agree with President, and until and unless a larger majority of the Senate requests action on this resolution, they don't even see a need to vote on this. If this response was already clear, maybe the President was right that there was no need to ask for it again. The President said his advice was that if the answer is already known, it doesn't make much sense to ask for it.

Sen. James Applegate (Ten., GSAS/NS) said the real controversy of the previous spring was about the precedent of this Statutory amendment, and had almost nothing to do with the workings of the TRAC. The real problem was that under the Senate's current procedures 22 people could pass a resolution to rewrite the Statutes--a situation that people needed to think about very carefully. The President said Sen. Applegate had precisely stated the concern underlying Mr. Friedman's letter.

Sen. Shapiro agreed that if the Senate were to resubmit the resolution to the Trustees the answer would likely be no. But he said he would prefer that outcome to accepting the Trustees' letter as a precedent questioning the rules of Senate procedure, and questioning how many senators really supported the measure. He had not participated in the debate the previous spring, but could imagine that the measure might have passed by such a narrow majority because some people thought it was not strong enough. Votes of this kind may be too complex for simple explanations. He said he would hate to see a precedent in which the Trustees tell the Senate to change its procedures if they don't like the way the Senate voted. He said Senate procedures are in the Senate's jurisdiction, not the Trustees'.

Sen. Jeremy Waldron (Ten., Law) said there might be good reasons for the Trustees not to accept the Senate's Statutory amendment, but those were not the reasons given in Mr. Friedman's letter. So it seemed defensible for the Senate to say that it was willing to submit general procedural questions to Structure and Operations, but it would like the Trustees' opinion on the merits of the resolution. Sen. Waldron said the Senate should also say that it wants more than a simple no; it wants a letter at least as long as Mr. Friedman's explaining what the substantive differences are. The Senate should also say that it is not prepared to change procedures in midstream because the Trustees dislike the content of the resolution, and that procedures leading to a measure asking only for the Trustees' consideration of a Senate proposal do not set a bad precedent. Sen. Waldron said he was prepared to move that the Senate instruct the President to write to the Trustees saying the Senate would like to hear their views on the substance of the matter--even if those views are dismissive. He said it would be better to have them from the Trustees than to have some prediction about them on the floor of the Senate.

The President reminded the Senate that it was discussing a report from the Executive Committee chairman, so that Sen. Waldron's remarks were now really advice to the Executive Committee rather than a motion. The President said the present discussion was a helpful expression of sentiments and thoughts.

Ad hoc committee on Enhancement and Enlargement: Resuming his report, Sen. Duby said the E&E committee had not submitted an annual report the previous spring, and the chairman, a student, had graduated. He said he hoped to reactivate the committee for at least one meeting, to decide what to do next. Sen. Duby said he also expected the E&E committee to work closely with the Education Committee.

University Professors: The By-laws provide for the President to consult with the tenured members of the Senate Executive Committee before recommending candidates for University Professorships to the Trustees. At first there were only three University Professors, but the number had risen to five, then seven. Because there was some urgency about the appointment of an additional University Professor, the Executive Committee had agreed to allow the number to rise to eight, but had also wanted to start a wider discussion, perhaps in the Senate, about what the most suitable number of University Professors should be. The tenured members of the Executive Committee were enthusiastic about the present candidate.

Provost's report on new investments in the Libraries and ACIS: Sen. Jonathan Cole, the Provost, offered a detailed overview, postponed from the April meeting, of new investments resulting from the Action Plan prepared by the Libraries during the previous year, as well as from a review of the plan by his faculty advisory committee. He made the following points:

Funding: From 1999 to 2004, the Libraries and ACIS will receive increments of $17 million in additional operating revenues. The Libraries will also get an additional $500,000 for temporary storage facilities. Total additional operating funds are $3.6 million for the Libraries, $13.7 million for ACIS. Combined operating budgets will grow from $25 million to $36 million, or about 41 percent. The ACIS budget will increase by 103 percent over this period, the Libraries budget by 34 percent.

The additional funding will come from the general University operating budget, an increased endowment payout, a new annual $30 student fee at Morningside, and a 12 percent phone surcharge. It will also absorb the entire Academic Quality Fund for this fiscal year.

Additional capital projects: There has already been a capital allocation of $18 million for the Libraries, in addition to Butler allocations of $44 million so far; now pending are requests for $72 million more in capital enhancements. There have been some $500 million in worthy capital requests across the University, against a capital budget of about $200 million for the next five years. So it is unlikely any request will be completely funded, but the Provost expected to announce in a month a major addition of capital for the Butler renovation, the Avery renovation, faster retrospective conversion of the catalogue, and other upgrades.

Better library access: The Provost said a major, largely just complaint in recent years has been that overcrowded stacks have made it difficult to access books. Columbia will build a high-density off-site facility, in a joint venture with the New York Public Library and Princeton which the Provost hoped to announce in about a month. The new facility, projected to open in 2000, will resemble Harvard's. It will be no more than an hour from New York, and there will be a 24-hour turnaround for any book request. The Libraries will first move 1.2 million books, then 800,000 that are already stored off-site. The new facility will ould add 100,000 volumes per year. These facilities have a capacity for 1.5-2 million books each, so the number of volumes is expandable for about 50 years. The volumes being moved are ones that fall below a threshold of use, but are valuable.

In the meantime the Libraries will rely on temporary facility operated by a commercial vendor. Already 130,000 volumes have been moved out, and perhaps 180,000 will be out by the end of the academic year. Seldom-used archival materials will also be moved, to make room in the Rare Book Library. This facility will also offer 24-hour turnaround.

To improve access within the stacks, the Libraries have hired a new Director of Access Services, and have started to fill 5.5 FTE stack maintenance positions. New projects are under way this fall to reorganize branch library materials.

Staffing of ACIS: Last year the University addressed the problem of attracting and retaining ACIS staff under current market conditions. A new system of career development is in place, allowing rapid promotion and salary increases for programmers in their first three-to-five years, and encouraging turnover among less effective staff. Substantial adjustments in compensation have been made for current staff, especially for ACIS leaders. Starting salaries for programmers have improved.

The network and central computing: ACIS is supplying new architecture for the campus network, guaranteeing exclusive access for every user to a substantial portion of network capacity. A costly replacement is under way for a system dating from the early 1990s, which cannot handle the exponential growth of demand and new uses. The upgrade will take four years, at a cost of $7.5 million, and will meet Columbia's needs for 7-10 years.

Inadequate remote network access: ACIS has added 184 high-speed modems to the University's pool, and in an experiment has also installed 92 additional modems for the Business School, at their expense. Later in the fall ACIS will upgrade the speed of its current supply of 298 modems to 56 K. All of these, plus 24 others, make a total of nearly 600 modems--a doubling of the current supply, at a cost of $1.4 million. The Provost said that without some pricing policy, the extra capacity might be used up quickly, and congestion problems might return.

Other ACIS projects: ACIS has established backup links with other university campuses, and a high-capacity link to Internet II. An addition of $8.3 million between now and 2004 to the ACIS operating budget will ensure regular updating of central servers and public access equipment.

Library capital projects: Most of the $44 million already invested in Butler is behind the walls, but now people are beginning to see what the remodeled space looks like. The Provost urged people to see the new reading rooms, and the more pleasant public spaces, including the coffee bar. As the renovation moves up to the higher floors, it will reveal an extraordinary undergraduate library, competitive with any in the Ivy League. Phase II of the Butler renovation will end in June 2000.

Branch libraries: Work began over the summer on a new HVAC system for Avery, an improvement critical to that collection; the Business School library will be renovated this year, and work on the Engineering library will begin next summer.

Sen. Neuman said students have complained that changes in Butler are mainly cosmetic, and asked for more details about the stacks. The Provost replied that most of the work so far had been infrastructural, not cosmetic at all. Only now was the space to be used by students becoming available. Undergraduate collections would soon be reshelved; there would be new banks of computers, and more people to help students access information.

The Provost said a recent Spectator op-ed piece complained of overcrowding and insufficient seats. Seating capacity would actually double in the new undergraduate library. A problem might be that attractive new space will draw people from older, dingy spaces, until the renovation has been finished.

Sen. Elaine Sloan, University Librarian, said the stacks are being renovated as the overall renovation goes up to higher floors. Adding light, computers, and seats improves the use of the stacks. Improved maintenance will also help. The reading rooms are also attracting students. She asked students to be patient while the renovation proceeds.

Sen. Shapiro, a critic of University library policy in recent years, and Sen. Waldron, the new chairman of the Libraries Committee, both praised the Provost for the improvements in the Libraries and ACIS.

Sen. Georg Petschnigg (Stu., SEAS) said that over the summer ACIS had hooked up the graduate student facility at Carleton Arms, on 109th Street, to the network. Grad students were enthusiastic. He also asked why 300 new modems would cost $1.4 million--an average of more than $4000 per modem. The Provost said he didn't know the details, but the University had done its best on modem pricing. The new modems might require new servers and other equipment.

He said that a communication had gone out to faculty and grad students about options for using network providers to provide three levels of service, especially for remote access.

Sen. Corby Dale (GSAS/NS) asked about the timetable for the branch libraries, which she said grad students rely on much more than Butler. The Provost said some of the larger renovations require substantial gifts, and some choices have to be made. Avery was a very high priority because it has the world's greatest collection of architectural materials. But five-to-ten years would be required to do all the branches as well as Butler.

Discussion of the University's contract to sell 50 acres of land in Orangetown, NY: The President said that, in addition to the documents in the Senate packet, he had received a petition from some 130 Columbia-connected residents of the Orangetown area protesting the University's sale of 50 acres of land along the Palisades there. A copy of the petition was in the Senate office.

The President said two nonsenators hoped to address the Senate on the issue, but Sen. William Menke (Ten., GSAS/NS), a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, began discussion. He said the sale was an ill-considered move by the University, and had damaged Lamont's reputation, both in Rockland County (Lamont is four miles from the site) and with institutions concerned about the region and the environment that Lamont regularly deals with.

Sen. Charles Calomiris (Ten., Bus.) said he would only be willing to suspend Senate rules for nonsenators who wanted to speak if there was a time limit of five minutes each--including questions--for no more than two speakers.

Sen. Gerard Lynch (Ten., Law) asked for a brief report from the President, before the start of discussion, on the status of the sale. Was it a fait accompli or a live issue?

The President said the Trustees had authorized the sale at their October 1997 meeting, at a specified price. The property was marketed aggressively to all interested purchasers. Two bids were received, and a contract was signed with the higher bidder in June 1998. The sale remained subject to a number of zoning questions in Orangetown, and in that sense the present discussion was not entirely without prospect of impact. Columbia certainly expected all environmental regulations to be observed. But Columbia could not unilaterally withdraw from the contract unless the developer were to default in his obligations or fail to win the approval of the Orangetown planning board.

In that case, Sen. Calomiris said, discussion would be a waste of time. The President disagreed, saying that discussion would be useful to correct errors of fact that he said had been conveyed in a recent e-mail to senators, and to hear concerns, albeit with some constraints. His own recommendation was that, having aired the issue at the present meeting, the Senate could refer it to the External Relations Committee, to meet with concerned members of the community, as well as with appropriate University officials from the offices of Investments, Public Affairs, and the General Counsel, to find out where things stand and what the alternatives are.

Sen. Joan Ferrante (Ten., GS) said public debate would be useful partly because the developer might not have provided full disclosure on all the details of his plan, and it might be possible to abrogate the contract; if that was not possible, it was still important to know the whole story, in order to develop procedures that would help prevent the University from getting into such an embarrassing situation again. But she agreed with the President that a committee inquiry would be the best way to ascertain the facts.

The first nonsenator to speak, Kathe Chipman, a librarian at Avery and an Orangetown resident, said that she knew of no cases in her more than 10 years of experience in which the town planning board had rejected a major development proposal, even when there was a public outcry. She said the people of Orangetown were looking to Columbia for leadership, and to set an example for proper land use. She said there was no public knowledge of Columbia's ownership or sale of this land before the July 22 town planning board meeting.

Ms. Chipman said the contract purchaser had a poor record of meeting requirements for site work. In an ideal world, she said, there are protections against environmental abuses, but it doesn't always work out that way. The penalties for violations involving trespassing, the bulldozing of conservation easements, and clear-cutting are weak.

Ms. Chipman said she had tried to raise the issue within the Columbia family, without results, before initiating the petition delivered to the President.

The second nonsenator to speak, Prof. Wm. Theodore de Bary, said that because of the extreme limitations of time, he would forego the early history of the matter--what happened in 1968 and 1969, when Columbia yielded to community wishes and gave up a plan to develop 500 acres of land adjacent to the 50-acre site now under discussion. He said that as Provost during the early 1970s, he had discussed the region with Corliss Lamont, who agreed that the remaining Lamont property not already dedicated to the Observatory should be deeded to Columbia to be preserved as a nature sanctuary. As a result, most of the area near the Hudson's western shore from the New Jersey border going north almost to Nyack was preserved. In addition to the land provided by Corliss Lamont, this area includes the historic Rockland Cemetery and Tallman State Park.

Prof. de Bary said few people were aware that the 50 acres now under discussion were reserved, and disposable. Subsequently a larger nearby area was declared parkland, with restrictions to limit blasting, drilling, and tree clearing. People did not realize that these ordinances do not apply to the 50-acre lot.

Prof. de Bary said the property was now under a contract of sale with a developer, William Brodsky, who was notorious for his disrespect for natural values. Prof. de Bary knew personally of four parties whose properties had been harmed by Mr. Brodsky, who was known for his avarice, rapacity, and brutality, and for threatening people. Prof. de Bary said it was most unfortunate for Columbia to be associated with this developer. Most people were unaware of the sale until Mr. Brodsky requested a building permit.

Prof. de Bary said he knew nothing about how the transaction was carried out, but he did know that it jeopardized the larger effort to preserve the surrounding natural area. He said Columbia should make any effort possible to remedy what he considered to be a mistake. He said he had no reason to doubt the good intentions of those who had negotiated the contract, but they must have been unaware of the environmental issues involved.

The President thanked the two speakers, and appreciated their discipline in speaking briefly on an issue they felt strongly about. He acknowledged that not all parts of the University had been aware of the history involved, and said he had made an effort to learn more about it since the issue had arisen. To Ms. Chipman, he said he did not know how she had proceeded within the Columbia family before the story became public, but that was a separate matter.

The President offered some facts to show the complexity of the issue. First, the 50-acre plot was never part of the original 500-acre lot. In exchange for agreeing in 1969 to relinquish its option to buy the larger lot for possible development as faculty and student housing, Columbia received the adjacent 50-acre plot, which has always been in an area with residential zoning. The issue discussed then was only whether Columbia would agree always to abide by this residential zoning.

The President said the land in question, to the west of Route 9 and Route 5, was never zoned as parkland. Even the east side of Tweed Boulevard, as Route 5 is called there, is residential. So is adjacent land to the south. One indication of the zoning is that Columbia had paid $500,000 in taxes for the property over the previous 28 years. The President said these points did not blunt important issues that the speakers had raised, but it was important to be sure about the facts and, more importantly, to see what courses of action were still open.

Sen. Menke said he remained concerned about the need to institute procedures so that such problems don't recur. He asked if, when the Trustees had considered the sale in 1997, anyone had realized that the site is four miles from Lamont, or that people at Lamont might be concerned. The President said these issues had not come up.

Sen. Calomiris asked if the county was allowed to bid for the land. He said that according to the e-mail circulated to senators, the county had bought most of the surrounding land since the late '60s. As an economist, he believed that if the social gains of not developing the land outweigh the private gains of development, the appropriate action was for the local government to buy the land. His own view was that if that government agency is not prepared to outbid the private developer, then the developer should get the property.

The President referred the question to Bruce Dresner, Vice President for Investments. He said the University had hired a national brokerage firm, charging it to market the property broadly under existing zoning regulations to get the best price. Sen. Menke said it was important to know whether Columbia had offered the property to the local government.

The President said this was one fact to be ascertained. He added that one alternative to consider as a way out of the unfortunate present situation would be to have a government entity buy the property as another wildlife preserve. Again, he said, External Relations could help to focus the alternatives.

Sen. Ariel Neuman (Stu., CC) said the documents seemed to show that little time remained: the second of three planning board meetings would be at the end of September. If the Senate was to make its views known, then committee deliberations might have to occur sooner.

Sen. Michael Hall (Stu., HS) said he didn't see why the Trustees, knowing what they knew about the land, including its residential zoning, should have proceeded differently.

Sen. Menke said there is a temptation for people some distance away to view a property like this as simply an asset, like a stock certificate or a piece of gold bullion, but that approach is mistaken. He said the University had certainly had financial success in buying and selling real estate, but such transactions must be done with greater awareness of consequences.

The President repeated that the 50-acre lot had always been zoned residentially. That observation was not a defense of all the steps taken, he said, but casual comments that senators need to express their views may be premature.

Sen. Litwak asked whether there was time pressure. Kate Chipman responded that, at the current pace, the approvals process might be completed by the end of October, perhaps early November. She added that the town might make a substantial offer for the land, but did not know if a town offer would match the developer's. Sen. Calomiris said this was a crucial fact.

Sen. Lynch said he would be loath to have the Senate micromanage the University's land deals, especially given the fragmentary knowledge senators now had. He supported the idea of passing the matter to a committee. He also asked for more precise information on the status of the contract: Was there time left for the University to act?

The President said committee referral does not mean the issue has to come back to the full Senate. It might be possible to take action after working just with the committee.

He asked Lisa Amzallag, a real estate officer in the Office of Investments, to estimate the length of the approvals process. Ms. Amzallag said it required three stages: pre-preliminary approval, the stage the developer was in now; preliminary approval, granted after satisfying a number of agencies' requirements; and final approval. She concluded that it was a lengthy process, impossible to complete in a "slam dunk."

Sen. Lynch asked if the contract itself was contingent on these approvals, or was the University's role finished? Sen. Elizabeth Keefer, the University's General Counsel, said the contract was closed, but the developer must get his approvals within a certain period of time. If he is unsuccessful, he can choose to return the property to Columbia, or keep it without developing it. So it made sense to think of the sale as something that had happened already, but the approval of the regulatory system was still relevant.

The President offered an additional historical fact: Columbia had sold the property in 1972, but the developer could not get the necessary approvals, and the property reverted to Columbia in 1974.

Sen. Calomiris said that Sen. Geoffrey Heal, the other Business School tenured senator, was an expert on conservation plans, having worked on projects involving the Amazon rain forest as well as the Hudson River region. He urged External Relations to talk to Sen. Heal.

Sen. Menke elaborated on his earlier remarks, saying he had known about the property; in fact, Lamont had considered it as an environmental instrumentation site. But no one at Lamont had known that the Trustees had authorized its sale. He wished he had known.

Sen. Peter Basilevsky (Alum.), a lawyer, warned that the University might expose itself to liability if it were perceived to be interfering with a contract it had signed, for example by sending someone to a planning board meeting to argue against the development. He added that the local community has the right to raise myriad objections in the planning process--involving septic systems, traffic, environmental issues, water, etc. He said the issue should now be left to the local community. On the other hand, if the developer failed to win the necessary approvals, he would be open to suggestions about how to get the property off his hands. The President thanked Sen. Basilevsky for raising this issue.

The Senate unanimously approved Sen. Lynch's motion to end discussion and refer the matter to External Relations.

The President thanked Ms. Chipman and Prof. de Bary again for their contributions. He said the next step was to identify what alternatives are live options. He adjourned the meeting at 3:25 pm.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Tom Mathewson, Senate staff