University Senate                                                                      April 26, 2002

 

 

Final Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Research Staff Affairs

 

We submit our interim report of March 29 (attached) as a final report, with a few additions:

 

1.  The Ad Hoc Committee will continue its work during the summer toward the realization of the proposal we submitted to the Structure and Operations Committee on March 22, 2002.  To that end, members of the committee will be available to work with Structure and Operations.

 

2. Yesterday we met again with Executive Vice Provost Michael Crow, who updated us on some issues we have discussed with him before:

 

Health benefits. Colleen Crooker, Vice President for Human Resources, is working on ways in which health benefits for researchers could be provided for instances of serious illness and for periods between grants.

 

Pro-rated health benefits for part-time researchers. The Vice Provost's office is considering ways to address this issue.

 

Bridge funding.  Some units, like Lamont-Doherty, have a regular arrangement to provide such funds for researchers seeking follow-on or new grant support, and Dr. Crow said many ad hoc arrangements are made around the University for the same purpose. More systematic arrangements will require more cooperation between the central administration and departments.

 

Dr. Crow also discussed two other issues raised by our committee that the administration has not yet addressed: the uneven peer review and promotion process for researchers at Columbia, and the need for new channels of communication for researchers.

 

The Committee thanks Mike Crow for his cooperation and wishes him well in his new post as President of Arizona State University.

 

3.  The Ad Hoc Committee intends to continue this fruitful dialogue with the new administration.

 

For the committee,

 

Stephanie Neuman and Barry Allen

 


 

University Senate                                                                                                         March 29, 2002

 

 

INTERIM REPORT OF THE AD HOC COMMITTEE

ON RESEARCH STAFF AFFAIRS

 

 

The Senate established the Ad Hoc Committee on Research Staff Affairs in January 2001 to (1) investigate the status of research officers at Columbia University, and (2) decide whether to recommend a larger role for our constituency in the deliberations of the University Senate. Our mandate runs out at the end of this Senate session, and we would like to offer a near-final progress report on the work we have done.

 

Who we represent. Since we began a little more than a year ago, we have been busy collecting data on our numbers, locations, titles, grade levels, highest degrees, gender, ethnicity, and length of employment. We now have an empirical picture of who we are, in a statistical profile provided this spring by Human Resources that we attach here as Appendix I.

 

We are a highly educated, diverse, and productive group, 1809 strong at last count. Seventy-nine percent of us hold doctoral or equivalent degrees. Forty percent are non-white, and 41 percent are women. The Senate researcher constituency includes three distinct subgroups, which we describe in more detail later: 30 percent, or 548, are professional officers of research; 24 percent, or 441, are staff officers of research; and 45 percent, or 819, are postdoctoral officers of research. We also are a relatively stable group. The average length of employment for the staff associates here now is 7.7 years. The junior professional officers (associate research scientists/scholars) have been here an average of 10.1 years, and the senior professional officers (research scientist/scholars and senior research scientist/scholars) have been here an average of 16.9 years.

 

For a variety of reasons, it is difficult to establish the exact monetary contribution of research officers at Columbia. An exploratory analysis suggests that the dollar value of research grant proposals submitted by our constituents is significant. This preliminary investigation did not include the value of gifts, royalties, or patents attributable to our work.

 

We have also gathered comparative data on researchers at Cornell, Michigan, and other universities

 

Focus groups: In addition to collecting empirical and comparative data, we met with focus groups of our colleagues at the three Columbia campuses—Morningside, Health Sciences, and Lamont-Doherty—in order to learn their concerns. We heard complaints of serious inequalities in salaries, benefits and status from research officers, who also expressed frustration over the lack of a grievance procedure that would enable them to bring complaints to a group of their peers in a confidential setting. Attached as Appendix II is a sample of the concerns expressed by constituents at the focus meetings, as well as anecdotal information gathered from confidential messages we received from individual researchers since January 2001, with names and other identifying information removed. We conclude from our inquiry that the 1800+ researchers we represent are a neglected and vulnerable community at Columbia.

 

Our focus groups and follow-up communication on researcher e-mail lists also helped us to recruit our ad hoc committee members, who represent all three campuses and include a senior research scholar and two research scientists from Morningside, a senior research scientist and a senior staff associate from Lamont, and three associate research scientists from Health Sciences.

 

As the University faces tightening fiscal constraints and a declining revenue stream from licenses, patents and royalties, research grants are becoming an increasingly important segment of the operating budget. As we learned from President Rupp at the December Senate meeting, Columbia is now the nation’s preeminent institution in total expenditures from research grants, with a 25 percent increase last year to $529 million. But the University cannot hope to remain at the forefront in grant support if there is serious discontent among its research staff.

 

Communication with the administration: Our committee also invited members of the administration to our meetings to gather more information and to discuss matters related to the status of researchers at Columbia. We proposed several issues, including the problem of sick leave for researchers, and the need for a “bridging fund” for research officers who are between grants. Executive Vice Provost Michael Crow and others are studying these problems now.

 

Another issue, for attention in the near future, is a salary equity study for research officers.

 

We are pleased to report that, in response to a request from our committee, ACIS has already increased the standard allotment of space for research officers on the Columbia server from 20 to 80 kilobytes, the amount provided to faculty.

 

A proposal for a larger role for research officers in the Senate. As result of these investigations and discussions, we believe that officers of research are seriously under- represented in the deliberations of the University Senate. One important step in creating a cohesive community of scholars is to assure meaningful participation in decision making and governance for all of its members. To that end, we have submitted a detailed proposal to the Senate Structure and Operations Committee requesting changes in the Senate By-Laws and University Statutes that would enlarge the role of officers of research in three ways:

 

1.   increasing the delegation of senators representing officers of research from two to six;

2.   creating a nine-member standing committee on research officer affairs;

3.   adding seats for officers of research on Senate committees.

 

Structure and Operations is now looking closely at our proposal, so we will not recount the entire presentation here before they complete their work. However, since these three proposals for change represent the main product of the committee’s work over the past year and a half, and since the mandate of our ad hoc committee runs out soon, we would like to outline the rationale for our request here.

 

MORE SENATORS: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS. If one measures purely by participation in the University Senate, we believe our contribution to the life of the university is seriously undervalued. We do the same kinds of work in research as officers of instruction, and a number of us teach as well. We also undergo appointment and promotion procedures analogous to those of officers of instruction, with internal departmental recommendations, external letters of recommendation, and University review. But the 900 or so tenured faculty in the Columbia corporation hold 42 seats in the University Senate, or roughly one per 21 professors; nontenured faculty who hold 15 Senate seats, are notoriously difficult to count, but a reasonable estimate of 1500 would mean one seat per 100 nontenured faculty. Officers of research, by contrast, have two Senate seats, or one for every 900 constituents.

 

The Research Staff, as our constituency of officers of research is identified in the Senate By-laws and the University Statutes, is one of three “staff” constituencies in the Senate, each with two Senate representatives. The other two groups are the Library Staff, composed of about 180 officers of the libraries, and the Administrative Staff, with more than 3000 members, most of them administrative officers. We intend no invidious comparisons with the contributions of librarians and administrators when we argue that our case for larger Senate representation has a special urgency, partly because our work involves us centrally in the University’s intellectual mission and financial welfare, and partly because we outnumber the librarians nearly tenfold!

 

Our rationale for expanding our Senate delegation to six requires a closer look at the three groups who comprise our constituency. We believe they are distinct enough for each group to deserve Senate representation, to be elected at large from Morningside, Health Sciences, and Lamont, our three main campuses.

 

Professional officers of research make up 548 members, or 30 percent, of our group. Here are their three main titles, along with the Faculty Handbook’s listing of their equivalences to faculty titles in qualifications and contributions to fields of research:

 

Officers of Research                                                 Officers of Instruction

senior research scientist/senior research scholar             full professor

research scientist/research scholar                                 associate professor

associate research scientist/associate research scholar    assistant professor

 

Columbia has 64 senior research scientists/scholars, who may be appointed for a renewable term of up to five years, and 69 research scientists/scholars, who have renewable annual appointments. This makes a total of 133 officers in the two ranks that the Handbook equates with senior faculty titles. We propose a delegation of three senators from these senior researcher ranks, to be elected at large from the three Columbia campuses. This would mean a ratio of a Senate seat for every 43 senior researchers, a fraction smaller than but compatible with the tenured faculty ratio of one Senate seat per 21 professors. We also believe it is essential to weight the Senate research delegation to this senior group, partly because a viable standing committee on research affairs (which we discuss in the next section) will need senior members.

 

The associate research scientists/scholars, equated in the Handbook with assistant professors, make up 415 members, or 23 percent, of our constituency. They have renewable annual appointments. We propose one seat for this junior researcher group, in line with the Statutory apportionment scheme of one nontenured seat per school faculty.

 

Staff officers of research, with renewable annual appointments, comprise 441 members, or 24 percent, of our group, and hold two titles: staff associates have at least four years of professional experience in their field, and senior staff associates have at least eight years of experience. According to the Faculty Handbook, staff officers do not have as broad responsibilities for research projects as professional officers of research, but they are “distinguished from technicians, who are members of the supporting staff, in that they work under only limited supervision on complex assignments that require them to exercise a high degree of initiative and independent judgment. They also generally have greater knowledge and experience in their discipline, which they use to design solutions to specific research or technical problems.” Indeed, though staff associates are the only group of research officers for which the Ph.D. is not required, 76 of them, 17 percent of the group, have Ph.D.s, and 245 of them, about 55 percent, have master’s degrees. We propose allocating one Senate seat to a staff officer of research.

 

Post-doctoral officers of research are the biggest group (819 members, or 45 percent) in our constituency. Postdocs with the title post-doctoral research scientist or postdoctoral research scholar are eligible for Senate representation. Normally, these young men and women have recently received their doctorates, and are continuing their training at Columbia. With appointments renewed every year, their total period of service as postdocs is typically three years. We propose one Senate seat for this group.

            A STANDING COMMITTEE FOR RESEARCHERS: We recommend the establishment of a nine-member standing Senate committee on research staff affairs. With a mandate parallel to that of the Faculty Affairs Committee, the new group would have jurisdiction over a broad range of issues related to individual researchers and to the constituency as a whole. We feel this is needed because Officers of Research as a group now have no forum to contribute ideas and represent themselves within the University at large. After considering alternatives, we believe the University Senate, as a representative body of Columbia constituencies, is the appropriate institution for this purpose. Many officers of research have appointments in University centers and institutes, and do not even belong to a department. In the case of a grievance, research officers have only the Administration of the University available to resolve their complaint. Our membership is especially vulnerable because of our limited (generally annual) terms of appointment.

 

            SEATS FOR OFFICERS OF RESEARCH ON OTHER SENATE COMMITTEES: Officers of Research now sit on only four committees: External Relations, Libraries, Physical Development, and Honors and Prizes. We seek a larger voice in Senate deliberations through the addition of one research officer to key committees on which we are now unrepresented.

 

We believe that a single seat on the Executive Committee, the Senate’s steering committee, is warranted because our role in and contribution to the life of the University parallels that of the faculty in ways we have outlined here. Six tenured and two nontenured faculty serve on the Executive Committee.

 

Our involvement in Columbia’s research mission provides us with a crucial vantage point on essential workings of the University budget, which could lead to valuable contributions to the work of the Budget Review Committee.

 

We have learned in our first year of operation as a researcher committee (see Appendix II) that there are both pressing and abiding housing issues for all members of our constituency, from post-docs to senior researchers. A membership on the Housing Policy Committee would enable us to address these concerns more effectively.

 

Our quest for a larger role for our constituency has meant a steep learning curve for us in the (sometimes inscrutable!) ways of the Senate. By the end of this trajectory, we expect to have a valuable perspective on fundamental Senate issues, which we could usefully impart through a membership on the Structure and Operations Committee.

 

Conclusion: We offer this interim report today for informal reactions from fellow senators. Under our mandate, this is the next-to-last opportunity for us to present our committee’s findings and conclusions to you. We believe that researchers at Columbia, as now constituted, are a disenfranchised group in the Senate. Enlarging our role will, we believe, make the Senate a more representative body, and enrich its deliberations.

 

Stephanie Neuman

Chair, Ad Hoc Committee on Research Staff Affairs


 

Appendix I

Table I: PROFILE OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY RESEARCH COMMUNITY

Derived from Human Resources data March 10, 2002

(HR reports 2,921 Researchers)1

  Total      ( %)

 

Downtown2

    Other

Uptown

Males       (%)

 

Researchers (per Senate By-Laws)

1,809 

  588

   97

1,121

1,074 (59.4)

Highest Degree Earned

 

 

 

 

 

B.A.

  120 ( 6.6)

   42

    4

   74

   52 (40.6)

M.A./M.S.

  245 (13.5)

   65

   16

  164

  111 (45.3)

Ph.D. (or equivalent)

1,426 (78.8)

  478

   77

  871

  903 (63.3)

Other

   18 ( 0.9)

    3

    0

   15

    8 (44.4)

Ethnicity

 

 

 

 

 

Asian or Pacific Islander

  490 (27.0)

  103

   24

  363

 

East Indian or Indian Subcontinent

  100 ( 5.5)

   28

    4

   68

 

Black

   35 ( 1.9)

    7

    2

   26

 

Hispanic

   95 ( 5.2)

   26

    7

   62

 

White

1,089 (60.2)

  424

   60

  605

 

Gender

 

 

 

 

 

Females

  735 (40.6)

  160

   37

  538

 

Males

1,074 (59.4)

  428

   60

  586

 

Title

 

 

 

 

 

Staff Associate

  287 (15.8)

   67

   13

  207

  109 (38.0)

Senior Staff Associate

  154 ( 8.5)

   54

    6

   94

   80 (51.9)

Post-Doc Scholar

   14 ( 0.8)

   12

    2

    0

   10 (71.4)

Post-Doc Scientist

  805 (44.5)

  242

   23

  540

  510 (63.4)

Assoc. Research Scholar

   23 ( 1.3)

   21

    0

    2

   11 (47.8)

Assoc. Research Scientist

  392 (21.7)

  105

   36

  251

  250 (63.8)

Research Scholar

    6 ( 0.3)

    4

    2

    0

    4 (66.7)

Research Scientist

   63 ( 3.5)

   33

   10

   20

   48 (76.1)

Sr. Research Scholar

   17 ( 0.9)

   17

    0

    0

   14 (82.4)

Sr. Research Scientist

   47 ( 2.6)

   33

    5

    9

   37 (78.7)

Other (Research Study Facilitator)

    1   

    0

    0

    1

    1  

 

1Human Resources reports 2,921 researchers at Columbia University.  Of these, we believe 1,112 are not eligible for a Senate vote and are therefore not included in this analysis.  These are: Clinical Titles (825), Visiting Research Titles (17), Adjunct Research Titles (228), Other (42).

2Downtown            =              Morningside + Lamont-Dougherty Earth Observatory + Nevis

 Other                    =              Others + All Listed Hospital Locations

 Uptown  =              Health Sciences Division + CU Buildings

 

Table II: RESEARCHERS’ SENIORITY DATA

Years of Seniority

1,809 Researchers3

819 Post-Doctoral

441 Staff Associate

415 Jr. Professional

134 Sr. Professional

less than 5

1,150

756

227

143

 24

 5 to  9

  331

 63

 83

167

 20

10 to 19

  211

  0

 84

 84

 41

20 to 29

   77

  0

 34

 16

 27

30 to 39

   31

  0

 12

  3

 16

40 to 49

    9

  0

  1

  2

  6

 

Average Seniority

  2.1 years

  7.7 years

 10.1 years

 16.9 years

 

3Researchers                       =              Researchers described in Table I

 Post-Doctoral                      =              All Post-Doctoral titles

 Staff Associates                  =              All Staff Associate titles

 Jr. Professional                  =              Professional Officers of Research whose titles begin with Associate

 Sr. Professional                 =              Professional Officers of Research whose titles do not begin with Associate


Appendix II

 

ISSUES OF CONCERN TO COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY RESEARCHERS:

EDITED SUBMISSIONS RECEIVED AFTER MEETINGS

AT MORNINGSIDE, LAMONT AND HEALTH SCIENCES

 

 

A. Titles and Promotion Criteria

 

“I am a Research Scientist and I am also a PI at . . . I am now fairly successful in obtaining grant funding after prior unsuccessful attempts. In the past, reviewers at granting institutions have been confused about the title of Research Scientist, mistaking it for a postdoctoral position, and have questioned, therefore, the independence of the person applying for grants. I have now learned to enclose the memo from the dean’s office with every grant application explaining this title, in order to vouch for my capabilities as an independent investigator. Furthermore, I have requested my chairman and the director of my group of PIs to write letters explaining the title. It was and is embarrassing and even humiliating to have my status and credentials at Columbia University questioned in this manner.”

 

“What I find most frustrating is the system of promotion and titles. While it is claimed that there are equivalent lateral connections between the teaching track and the research track, the scientific world outside of Columbia University fails to see it that way and this negatively affects the ability of researchers to obtain funding. The whole system of titles for research staff needs to be reevaluation. For example, in order to be promoted to the title of Research Scientist from Associate Research Scientist, I had to be nominated by my chairman and went through the regular procedure of requesting several letters of recommendation by a . . . committee, which after due screening approved my title change. I believe that the entire process was as rigorous as the appointment of a teaching faculty member. Moreover, the dean’s office has issued a memo that the title of Research Scientist on the research track is equal to Associate Professor on the teaching track. I therefore suggest changing the titles so that they are comparable, so that funding institutions will understand the equivalent level and competence of the researcher applying for support. This will clarify the appointments on the two different tracks. It does not entail any major changes to the Office of Academic Appointments, while at the same time, it better explains to grant proposal reviewers the degree of independence associated with the title. Such a change would, I believe, improve Columbia’s ability to obtain funding. I therefore suggest the changes to the titles of researcher officers be made as follows:

1) Associate Research Scientist to Research Assistant Professor

2) Research Scientist to Research Associate Professor

3) Senior Research Scientist to Research Professor”

“I am a senior researcher with a Ph.D., a long publishing record and teaching experience and yet at Columbia I am considered a member of the ‘research staff’—a large group that includes varying levels of education and responsibility. I am unrecognized as contributor to my field and to the academic life at Columbia. My reputation and prestige is bestowed outside of Columbia.

Moreover, there appears to be no uniform method of promotion and advancement for researchers at Columbia. Although the Faculty Handbook outlines the criteria for titled appointments, it does not provide a uniform procedure for promotion, nor is peer review mandated as it is for all instructional appointments at Columbia. Regularizing the process for appointment and promotion of professional Officers of Research, including a peer review mechanism, would go far to raise the status of professional researchers at the university and among potential funders. There should be some means of distinguishing between the various educational and achievement levels of the research staff community. Perhaps the titles for professional researchers with Ph.D.s—many of whom teach at Columbia—should be Research Assistant Professor, Research Associate Professor, and Research Professor. These titles should be determined by the researcher’s level of educational and professional achievement.”

 

 

B. Questions of Salary Equity and Working Conditions

 

“Our postdoc salaries are low, benefits are few! But we have to work 60 hours per week!!”

 

“There is no defined method for performance and salary review of the technical staff (at least some of whom are researchers and PIs) that effectively covers their technical skills and that is immune to the perception of conflict of interest. We have seen instances where individuals are given glowing performance reviews but very small recommended raises by scientists for whom they work. This leaves the whole method open to the criticism that the reviewers are biased toward keeping their own costs down.”

 

“The first major issue for me is salary. I have been at Columbia for over 4 years now, the same length of time I have been out of school with my doctorate. Salaries at Columbia are notoriously low and this needs to be addressed. Compared to other universities we are paid significantly below market rate. For example, I know of friends with the same experiences and less time out of school who make at least 20% more than I do at other universities. In addition, within Columbia salary inequality needs to addressed. Again, I hear from my division that what I am being paid is the going rate for someone in my position, but I can provide examples where this is not the case. I find this very frustrating. Within my own division, I know of salary inequalities based on responsibilities that are performed (PIs and project directors making the same as data managers who report to these project directors). While I do enjoy the work experience at Columbia and the mentorship I am receiving, having Columbia’s name behind me does not help pay a mortgage and raise children. It has gotten to the point that I feel I am being taken advantage of at Columbia and that I need to look for employment elsewhere.”

 

“I am a researcher who has worked at Columbia’s . . . for 13+ years. I started off on the tenure track but was denied tenure and was shifted to the research track because I was funded. I was then and am now my own PI, and I teach three courses. I make 50K—equivalent tenure-track people in my field make over 90K. . . .Why should there be this inequity?”

 

“Field programs are by necessity 7 days a week, sometimes for several months. Sea pay is an extra $35/day, $50/day after 30 days. This means that for all Saturdays and Sundays, that is the only pay. There is no additional vacation time to reflect the extra work days. There is no extra pay at all for land‑based expeditions.”

 

“My main complaint is about having to overwork on a sustained and dangerous (and unconscionable) basis. The last time I went to sea I was required to work the first four days around the clock. Four days around the clock! (I sneaked a 5-hour sleep and missed a station.) One, two and even three days around the clock are also often routinely required. On a previous expedition I had to work continuously for 12 hours (literally continuously, keeping 3 rigs going simultaneously) every day 7 days a week, no days off for bad weather. On the 37th day my workload was expanded by 50%. On the 41st day I collapsed. If we don’t do these things, or if we even complain, we’re seen as slackers.”

 

 

C. Benefits

 

(1) Health

 

“I suggest changing the policy that research officers must be full time to receive benefits. Benefits should be prorated according to how much of the year they are funded for. The clerical staff get benefits when they work part time, why shouldn’t we? Either that or those who get grants and don’t receive benefits directly should not have to pay the fringe on salary. Why should we have to pay it if we don’t benefit?”

 

“I believe Columbia’s practice of charging the funder for fringe that does not benefit the researcher is unethical!”

 

(2) Vacation and Sick Leave

 

“Unlike Officers of Instruction, Officers of Research have their vacation and sick leave charged directly to their grants and contracts. While this can cause difficulties even with regular vacation and sick leave, it becomes particularly problematic for Officers of Research who must take disability leave under the University’s salary continuation policy. This policy provides both short- and long-term disability coverage at full salary for up to six months. Included are provisions for pregnant Officers to take ‘a medical leave of absence for the period surrounding the birth of her child during which her doctor certifies that she is unable to work’ (Faculty Handbook, p. 110).

Grants and contracts are awarded to perform a specific research project and funds are provided to cover the salary of the Researcher during the conduct of this research. If these funds are diverted to pay the Officer’s salary under the salary continuation policy, they are not available to pay for the research when the Officer returns to work.

One Officer waived her right to receive a paid medical leave for pregnancy (short-term disability under this policy), because she would not have funds remaining to complete her research if she took the leave. This situation has also caused problems for several Officers who needed to take extended leaves for other medical reasons. This policy places an unfair burden on the Researcher and has potential for causing severe problems with funding agencies.”

 

“To the best of my understanding the policy for handling days lost to illness is immoral if not illegal. From what I understand, if I am unable to work due to illness or perhaps injury, my salary is paid out of my grant(s) until there is no more money. When I am well, and can return to work, there is no money. If I can’t show a full year salary, I get terminated.”

 

“The current method of paying for vacation time does not work for those who work on short-duration grants. If I have a short grant that expires before I want to take a vacation day, it simply is not possible to charge that grant its fair portion. Vacation time should be accrued in a suitable account and used whenever in the year the time off is desired, not charged to a particular grant directly. There is a method like this at our part of Columbia now (the ‘technicians’ pool’) but I am told that PIs are not allowed to work under this arrangement.”

 

(3) A Bridging or Banking Fund

 

“I have been successful at raising funds for research and have brought substantial amounts of overhead to the University as well as positive exposure through publications, conference papers, participation at meetings, etc., for a number of years. In spite of my record, the University does not support me while I search for new funding. I find this frustrating and counterproductive.”

 

“I would like to address the need for University‑wide ‘bridging’ funds to ease the burden of termination compensation. In my experience and from what I have seen of others’ experiences in . . . , it is solely the department that decides whether or not to bridge the lack of PI funds to ease termination compensation. If the PI is not responsible and there is an insufficient amount of funding, the researcher can get almost no notice of termination. My former PI really only gave me a couple of weeks’ notice and the department head refused to commit any funds to support me. I have seen this several times in my years here. My former PI did get me partial funding from another investigator, but that was inadequate. If there were a ‘bridging’ fund available, it might help. But I am not optimistic. Even if it did exist, given my experience, I believe it would be quickly abused by irresponsible investigators and thus would be dispensed with unequal, political discretion, i.e., it would be hard to regulate and manage fairly. A fair, equitable means of helping researchers find new sources of support during periods of transition is needed at Columbia.”

 

“Apart from the need to have bridging funds available, a process for obtaining them ought to be part of the package. Research officers near the end of the their currently committed funds ought to be able to apply to whichever office was responsible for administering those funds. The application might be in the form of a ‘proposal,’ detailing the outstanding grant prospects for proposals submitted but not yet funded, proposals in preparation, etc. These could then be evaluated and ranked by the administering office for “bridging” priority. Something like this would be an equitable way of managing the funds and insuring some impartiality. The proposals might also include a departmental commitment for a portion of the request. In general, there is no current mechanism to compensate research officers for writing proposals. This work is usually taken ‘out of our hides.’

“In a related issue, there is a current problem with ‘continuity’ in the transition between funded projects that has nothing to do with funds directly but does have to do with decent practices. I have been in the position where I was moving from one supported project that ended to another that was funded but not yet started. The starting date of the latter did not match the termination date of the former. For the gap of several months, I was willing to forego salary— it was during the summer. However, once my salary stopped, all manner of implications followed that were at least inconvenient and in one instance unnecessarily stressful. In the former category, my name was removed from the directory for the coming year and my ID card and card- swipe privileges were canceled. I needed to ask other department members to let me in the building after normal hours. In the latter category instance, I was threatened with losing my CU apartment.”

 

“The fact that there is no security for researchers at Columbia means that many people end up taking jobs with other institutions (NASA, the CUNY system, Rutgers, the SUNY system) in order to gain some job security. I believe many of them would stay with Columbia if there were some (semi) tenure-track system for research faculty such as the opportunity to get 50% of one’s salary guaranteed. Of course it is the best researchers, who bring the most money in to Columbia, who get ‘poached’ by other institutions, so the administration should have an interest in instituting such an approach to help stabilize the lives of their researchers and increase Columbia’s stream of research revenue.”

 

“I would very much like to serve on the Senate in some capacity. But in my position, I have no way of covering my salary for any time spent doing anything other than my job responsibilities. If there were a way to do it, I would. It would be unethical to take that time from an NIH or other grant. There should be some general University fund to compensate researchers for service to the University.”

 

(4) Housing

 

“My one complaint is affordable housing for researchers near the Columbia campus. The administration makes a sincere effort to help place professors in subsidized housing near the Morningside campus, but other officers are neglected. There is a long, long waiting list for non‑professor officers. I have been told by the housing office that it is not expected that anyone is ever moved up the list. Considering the non‑competitive nature of our salaries, and the wide range of subsidized housing owned by Columbia, is it truly unreasonable to expect assistance from the university?”

 

“I’ve been on the waiting list for housing as an associate research scientist (with a K08 award). I’ve been told by the housing office at Health Sciences that I need a better title (e.g., Assistant Professor) to get in. Isn’t an Associate Research Scientist supposed to be the equivalent of an Assistant Professor? Why are we treated differently?”

 

“Since our jobs are not secure and Columbia can get rid of us without notice, how do they deal with housing issues? Can they kick us out as soon as we are terminated? Since I have two kids (one only 6 months) and no savings, this is a particularly worrisome issue for me. What can be done about it?”

 

“Something needs to be done about housing for researchers during periods when a project is terminated but new funding is expected. Technically, when a project ends the researcher is no longer employed by Columbia University. The housing policy now requires that you notify the housing office immediately and prepare to vacate your apartment within 30 days of ‘termination’ of employment. There apparently isn’t any policy to accommodate transitional, short-term unemployment. I simply violated the regulation and stayed in my apartment until official notice of funding arrived. But we should not need to “sneak” around the regulations. There should be a rational policy to accommodate researchers during these transitional periods.”

 

(5) Travel Monies, Conference Allotments

 

“There is no source of special funds for researchers to go to conferences or training sessions, buy books or journals, or tap into resources to further our expertise and usefulness on a particular project or in a particular field. For example, the associate director, . . . , along with the then‑director) declined to fund a day’s salary for me to go to a local conference where there was a special session on exactly what I do. (So I had to use a vacation day.) About a year or so ago, for example, the question of such a fund came up again at a meeting between our then‑director and associate directors. It was voted down. Yet there are obvious abuses of funding here at . . . for other purposes. For example, one of the associate directors who voted this down had the money to give a gift of a new computer to an esteemed colleague (who hadn’t asked for it and at first declined it) to compensate him for a ‘forced’ change of offices. Such blatant discriminatory practices are very elitist and short-sighted in terms of the good of the research community, and disrespectful to those of us who pour our hearts and souls into the institution. We have nowhere to report these inequities that is confidential and will correct unfair practices.”

 

(6) Tuition Remission

 

“The issue I wish to raise regards the benefits package offered to Officers of the University who are in the scholarly, as opposed to managerial, ranks. It turns out that a scholarly officer is not eligible for tuition remission in a graduate-degree-granting program. However, a managerial officer is eligible for tuition remission. So I, as a Research Scientist, am not eligible for tuition remission should I decide to go for, say, a master’s in public policy. But any managerial officer would be eligible. I do not understand the logic of this and would like to see this policy changed so that officers of all types are eligible for tuition remission in a graduate-degree-granting program.”

 

(7) Computer Access

 

“Teaching faculty receive far more computer space and time on the Columbia server than researchers who need it most. Why should this be so? There needs to be a consistent, uniform AcIS policy regarding computer space and time for researchers.”

 

 

D. Discrimination, Unfair Practices, and Mistreatment by Superiors

 

            “I am a Research Scientist. Before that I was as Assistant and Associate Professor at . . . Let me write my complaint in general terms . . . A grant proposal was submitted to . . . , which listed me and a colleague as co‑PIs. I wrote this grant and did all the subsequent work getting the clinical trial approved. At some point I heard my co-PI was recruiting someone to replace me. He then reportedly wrote a letter trying to remove me as PI on the clinical trial, a letter I have still never seen. He also ‘fired’ me from one of my other funded projects, and locked me out of my own data. My position was then terminated for ‘lack of funds,’ and he submitted a project progress report to the funder of that grant . . . but I never saw the progress report, even though he put my name on it.

            “I brought the matter to the committee on scientific misconduct, indicating that I thought the progress report was fraudulent, that my name was on it, and that I had never seen it. The committee took no action. They sat on my complaint for 5 months and then “reported” that there was “no wrongdoing” since the other guy was ‘PI.’ That was simply incorrect. The grant was submitted with me as PI, and one of the questions I submitted to the (head of the) committee was how the other investigator’s name wound up on the contract when I alone wrote and submitted the grant. My question was ignored. I never did get to see the letter trying to remove me from the clinical trial. In fact, the file given to the (head of the committee) was purged and there was no record that I ever was involved with the clinical trial

            “This all happened over the course of about 18 months. I had no real recourse to any of the ‘evidence,’ and there was absolutely no way to get anyone to hear me out. I never got a written response from [the] committee, and officially they never even carried out an investigation. As a result, the funder ( . . . Company) canceled the projects. During the entire period they were furious at me for being behind in the schedule while at the same time I was excluded from participation by the . . .

“This is not an isolated incident. You might contact . . . in . . . He’s had to deal with several projects that were severely damaged, one by sabotage, and the other by the stubborn non‑cooperation of a colleague. He tried to have the issue mediated, but basically there is ‘no one home.’ A further issue may be the role of the ombuds office. How effective is it? Most frustrating is the lack of a confidential appeal process for researchers. We need an impartial appeal procedure, a ‘court of last resort’ manned by our peers.”

 

            “I often feel pressured not to write and publish findings that my superiors do not agree with or accept, even though it is my project and the findings are supported by empirical evidence. My position at . . . is insecure so I am afraid to challenge them.”

 

            “Journal publications help in the career development of researchers. I have personal experience regarding the Principal Investigator excluding me as a co‑author in publications, even though my scientific and technical contributions amounted to more than 30% of the published paper. It is ironic that co‑authors at . . . are often given credit for papers to which they have contributed less than 5% of the effort, while researchers, such as I, are omitted. I am sure many researchers have similar unfair experiences regarding publications. I regard this as an unethical practice.”

 

 

E. Status

 

            “I have been a research scientist at Columbia University for many years. In my experience the interests of researchers at CU are ignored. To the deans and department chairs, research scientists are not formal CU employees but rather some professor’s private employee. Research scientists are treated as postdocs or graduate students. There is no recognition on the part of the administrators that CU’s research scientists have made big contributions for CU in the sciences and engineering technology fields. Not only have researchers gotten or helped to get lots of research contracts, they have also helped to guide the graduate students. I hope that with your efforts, the situation of researchers at CU will be improved.”

 

            “I am an associate research scientist and there are things that concern me with regard to my status at Columbia. I fully cover my salary, project and more with my own funding. Yet I see my position within the university as vulnerable, shaky and unsatisfactory. On one hand, I still must formally depend on my supervisor, who oftentimes behaves as if he/she is my full boss, even though I am self-supporting. On the other hand, I feel as if, from now on, the University will not support me while I search for funding, despite my having brought Columbia funds (overheads, etc.) and exposure (publications, meetings, etc.) for a number of years.

            “If I keep on raising funds and paying my own salary, but remain unable to achieve recognized independence, some commitment in case of temporary lack of funding, or an ability to shape the research agenda in my position at Columbia, then what incentive do I have to remain within the University? Since I can support myself through grants, why shouldn’t I do that on my own, i.e., as a consultant, free to really shape my own agenda, possibly maintaining only a minimal, formal link with the University, without providing overhead to Columbia from my grants? This is an important issue for me as well as other researchers. I hope this discussion leads to an improvement of the condition of researchers within Columbia. It is badly needed in my opinion.”