University Senate

Proposed: November 12, 1999




The chairman, President George Rupp, called the Senate to order at 1:15 pm in 301 Uris. Thirty-one of 72 senators were present during the meeting.

Adoption of the minutes and agenda: The agenda was proposed. The secretary said Dean Galil of the Engineering School had made a few editorial suggestions about the portion of the minutes of September 24, 1999 devoted to his remarks about faculty consultation for the school's proposal to establish a new department of biomedical engineering. The President told the secretary to handle any editorial suggestions. With this understanding, the minutes were adopted.

President's report: The President announced the following faculty honors:

--Prof. Robert Mundell has won the Nobel Prize in Economics, becoming the 60th person who either studied or taught at Columbia to receive such recognition.

--Prof. Ponisseril Somasundaran has recently been named to the Indian National Academy of Engineering.

--Profs. Michael Shelanski of Pathology and Lewis Rowland of Neurology have been elected to the Institute of Medicine.

The President said the annual federal budget process has been unusually chaotic, but the budget now taking shape appears to favor universities, both in student aid and in research, with likely increases of at least 12 percent for NIH funding, and 7 percent for NSF. Another piece of good news is that reductions in Medicare reimbursement rates to hospitals resulting from the Balanced Budget Act of a year ago will be frozen, at least for the time being. The reductions have had a severe impact on teaching hospitals, most of which are in the red. Congress is likely to pay for these favorable adjustments by borrowing from next year's federal budget.

The President gave a quick update on recent deliberations, including Trustees, about the ethical implications of the University's investment decisions and its role as a shareholder. The goal, he said, is to design a process for allowing a representative body of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to advise Trustees on these issues, a role that virtually all Trustees now recognize as valuable. The chairs of the Investment Subcommittee, the Finance Committee, and the full Board were taking part in these discussions. The President stressed that Trustees feel strongly about their fiduciary responsibility for all Columbia property, including investments, and will insist that input from other groups must be advisory, as it is at all other institutions that allow this kind of consultation.

The President reported on preparations for a Trustee decision in December on whether to renew Columbia's agreement to manage Biosphere 2, the 3-acre replica of the earth that the University is managing in Oracle, Arizona. He said the University was making substantial progress there in research, educational programs, and public outreach.

The biggest challenge has been in research, the President said, where Columbia has had to scale down the original plan in order to conduct successful controlled experiments in the facility's "biomes," or sections replicating deserts, rain forests, oceans, and other environments. One successful project, to be presented soon in Nature magazine, measured the effect of temperature increases on coral reefs in the ocean biome. Another measured the impact of different levels of carbon dioxide on trees in three otherwise identical sections of the agricultural biome. The increasing confidence of Columbia scientists and outside agencies in the research enterprise at Biosphere is evident in substantial new grants and prospects for others.

As for the educational programs, more than 700 students have taken part in the Earth Semester at Biosphere 2. They are from Barnard and Columbia, as well as from 26 partner institutions, some of which have many applicants for only a small number of positions. Many students have spoken highly of the program. The population of students at Biosphere 2 at any one time has risen from about 25 to about 100, and is expected to grow to about 300, a level where the economics work better. There is now also a Universe Semester program, taught by Columbia professors Joseph Patterson and David Helfand, and relying on a newly dedicated astronomical observatory, with the nation's largest telescope devoted to educational and public use.

With some 200,000 visitors a year now, Biosphere 2 has also made an unquestionable impact on public awareness of environmental issues.

The President said three volumes of review material on Biosphere 2 had been presented to the Trustees. He added that, as his comments made clear, at the December Trustee meeting he would recommend renewal of Columbia's contract to manage Biosphere 2. At the request of Sen. Paul Duby (Ten., SEAS), the President said he would make a copy of the review available in the Senate Office.

Late Nominations to Committees: Sen. Duby, chairman of the Senate Executive Committee, read aloud a short list of committee assignments that was distributed at the door. Sen. Rohit Aggarwala (Stu., Bus.), chair of the student caucus, also announced the following late committee appointments of student senators: Alex Oberweger (Bus.) to Physical Development, Sofia Berger (CC) to Structure and Operations, and Brian London (SEAS) to Housing Policy.

Report of the Executive Committee chairman: Sen. Duby gave an update on faculty elections at Health Sciences, which were mismanaged in the spring and had to be repeated. He had hoped to welcome newly elected senators at the present meeting, but the second election was delayed. The scheduled nomination period was from September 20 to October 1, with voting to take place October 4-8. Sen. Duby had learned from the dean's office that the voting would probably start on November 1. At his request, Dr. Jennifer Bell, a former senator representing Health Sciences faculty who still serves on the Senate Elections Commission and the Committee on Structure and Operations, was trying to find out more about the delay, which Sen. Duby characterized as unfortunate.

Sen. Duby announced the members of the subcommittee of the Executive Committee that will propose candidates for next year's Senate-consulted Trustee: Sen. Richard Bulliet (Ten., A&S), Sen. Charles Armstrong (NT, A&S), Sen. Letty Moss-Salentijn (Ten., SDOS), Sen. Aggarwala, and himself. This group will receive suggestions from senators and others, submit a few of these to a parallel group of Trustees, then meet with the Trustee group before March 1 to arrive at the selection of the next Senate-consulted Trustee. Sen. Duby called attention to the letter in the Senate packet from himself and the President soliciting nominees.

Sen. Duby briefly reviewed the Executive Committee deliberations that led to the new business on the present Senate agenda.

Sen. Duby was pleased to have the Provost's annual letter to the Senate, which had been distributed at the door. He urged individual senators and committees to read it, ask questions (perhaps at the next Senate meeting), and pursue relevant issues further

The President said the Parliamentarian had reminded him that the Senate as a whole must approve nominations to committees. By voice vote, the Senate then unanimously approved the new assignments announced earlier in the meeting.

New business:

--Interim report from External Relations on the work of its subcommittee on codes of conduct for apparel manufacturers: Sen. Eugene Litwak (Ten., A&S), chair of External Relations, said the subcommittee was pleased that the University quickly took the initiative in asking all of its suppliers to adopt the standards developed by the Fair Labor Association and to disclose the location of their factories. He said the early response had been positive.

One problem in revising the code, Sen. Litwak said, is finding a balance between stating general principles in the code and adding specific requirements for its enforcement. Weighing the need for good standards against the risk of making them so tough that they cost third-world workers their jobs is another difficult balancing act. Sen. Litwak said the subcommittee was meeting every week and working hard, and hoped to complete its report by the November meeting. He gave special to thanks to Greg Smithsimon, a student member of the subcommittee who had presented the issue of sweatshops in the Senate last spring and who this fall has provided the subcommittee with a document of code revisions to criticize and work through.

Sen. Litwak called attention to the recent New York Times article that he had distributed in the Senate packet on Nike's recent decision to disclose some of its factory locations. He said this news was a promising indication of what joint action by universities might be able to accomplish through FLA standards.

--Interim report from the Task Force on Sexual Misconduct: Sen. Sofia Berger, a

member of the task force, said the group's written report would be presented at the November 12 Senate meeting.

Asked by the President to comment on the task force's discussions with student groups concerned about issues raised in the report, Sen. Berger said three student groups were particularly concerned: the Policy Reform Organization (PRO) of the Rape Crisis Anti-Violence Support Center; Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER), who have put up posters around campus and distributed red tape for people to wear as a sign of concern; and Columbia Men Against Violence. These groups are planning to bring a large number of people to the November and December Senate meetings. In the month between those meetings, task force members will hold a large forum to discuss their recommendations with students. It will be prepared to incorporate any ideas for revisions that it agrees with.

In response to a question from Sen. Litwak about allegations of sexual discrimination against faculty, Sen. Berger explained that the policy the task force is revising is exclusively concerned with student complaints against other students. There followed several minutes of discussion on topics unrelated to the sexual misconduct policy.

--Resolution to Establish the Taub Institute on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging

Brain (Education): Sen. Herve Varenne (Fac., TC), standing in for Education Committee chair Sen. Moss-Salentijn, presented the resolution.

Sen. Aggarwala asked if the University knew anything about the Taub family. Is there a policy of checking the background of donors whose names Columbia buildings and academic units bear? The President said that questions about donors' backgrounds are not raised routinely, but only when there is some reason for concern. He said he knew nothing about this particular family, but was confident that people at Health Sciences who have worked with the family are persuaded that its reputation will not damage the University. Prof. Varenne pointed out that the family's name was already on a center devoted to the study of Alzheimer's disease.

By voice vote, the Senate unanimously voted to establish the Taub Institute.

The President adjourned the meeting shortly after 2 pm.

Respectfully submitted,


Tom Mathewson, Senate staff