2003-2004 Academic Year Final Report of the Research Officers Committee


The 2003-2004 Academic Year has been an exciting and busy time for the Research Officers Committee.  It began with the culmination of our nearly three-year effort to increase the delegation of Senators representing Research Officers and to establish a standing Research Officers committee.  Now we are finally in a position to begin to seriously address many of the issues of concern to our constituency.


The committee has been very active during the past year.  Some of the many issues which we have focused in this time include:


1)      Clarifying the exact make-up and voting rights of our constituency.

2)      Working for increased representation on Senate committees.

3)      Changing the titles for Professional Research Officers and for Staff Officers.

4)      The issue of using funding from an existing grant to cover ones salary while writing a new grant.

5)      Termination notices.

6)      The promotion process and criteria for Professional Officers of Research.

7)      Bridging funds for Research Officers between grants.

8)      Attempting to quantify what fraction of research funds at Columbia are brought in by Research Officers.  

9)      Carrying out an updated statistical study of the members of our constituency.


We wish to highlight only the first five of these issues here.



1.                  Voting protocol: Our first task was to figure out a voting protocol for our constituency to elect the six senators representing Research Officers.  After reviewing the Statutory language passed by the Trustees in consultation with the Senate Structures and Operations Committee, it was decided that each of the three major types of Research Officers would vote only for their own respective senate seats on a University-wide basis.  However, contrary to our expectations, it was determined that Post-Doctoral Research Fellows (PDRFs) were not eligible to stand or vote in our first elections for the Senate seat designated for Post-Docs.  This problem led the newly elected Research Officers Committee into discussions with Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg and Structure and Operations, who confirmed this spring that PDRFs should indeed have been included in the November 2002 Senate resolution expanding the researcher delegation to 6.


We now await approval by the University Trustees of new by-law language to correct this omission.


2.               More committee seats: This year we resumed a quest for expanded representation for Research Officers on Senate committees that had been part of our broad proposal for more Senate seats and our own standing committee two years ago. The last two requests eventually surfaced in the November 2002 resolution, but Structure and Operations did not act on the one about committee seats. 


With a total of six Research Officer senators, we now have sufficient personnel to represent the interests of Research Officers on additional standing committees. Such representation would inform Research Officer senators on all issues that these standing committees oversee. As senators we vote on the resolutions these committees draft and bring to the floor of the Senate.  It seems reasonable that we should also participate in the drafting of these resolutions as members of these standing committees, thereby bringing our complementary perspectives to the table.


3.               Better titles: We seek improved titles for Professional Research Officers and for Staff Officers.  There are many reasons for each change, but we will only highlight two points here. 


Current Professional Research Officer titles are Senior Research Scientist/Scholar, Research Scientist/Scholar, and Associate Research Scientist/Scholar.  Many Professional Research Officers are independent researchers whose primary means of supporting themselves and their research is by raising external funds.  However, members of our constituency have had proposals rejected because a number of funding agencies have not recognized scholars whose academic titles lack the word “Professor” as independent researchers.  To address this issue we are considering proposing the new titles of Research Professor, Associate Research Professor, and Assistant Research Professor. This is an issue which we have been discussing with the University administration; we would also like to open a dialogue with the Faculty Affairs Committee over this issue.  Similar titles are in use at Stanford University, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, and Brown University.  Such a change would help to increase our ability to win research grants and bring more research dollars to Columbia. 


For Staff Officers of Research, there are currently only two titles: Staff Associate and Senior Staff Associate.   These titles were designed for experienced research staff who hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree.   However, these titles are also being used for researchers who hold a Ph.D. in some parts of the University, who are often hired into the Senior Staff Associate title with little job experience.  Without a broader range of titles, there is no mechanism for review and promotion within the system.  We are suggesting that ranks (or levels) be introduced to these two titles (for internal administrative purposes only) of the kind found in other job descriptions for administrative staff throughout the University system.


4.               Writing the next grant: Another challenge we took on is the issue of using time and funding from one grant to cover one’s salary while applying for the next grant.  This is not an issue for faculty members, who are paid at least part of their salary by Columbia, and thus can be granted release time by the University for such activity.  But it is a problem for Research Officers, whose entire salaries are paid from research grants.  During a period of increasing auditing by funding agencies requiring demonstration of appropriate spending of research funds, it is not possible for Research Officers to account correctly for the time they spend to prepare new proposals.  The use of research funds for purposes other than those funded raises potential legal issues that we believe Columbia needs to address.  We would like to explore mechanisms by which the University could pay a small (capped)  portion of a Research Officer’s salary to provide release time for writing new grants.


5.               Termination notice: University rules do not require any notice to Research Officers   

for termination (without cause).  Over the past several years, this committee and the   ad hoc committee that preceded us heard many complaints about this policy.  In the Faculty Handbook there is a provision for financial support of Professional Officers of Research in case of unexpected loss of funding requiring early termination of their position.  We would like to use this as a guide for setting timeline requirements for termination notice for these officers.  While most Research Officers have annual appointments, these positions are normally renewed with no participation by the Research Officers themselves.  Therefore, if they are to be terminated because projects are ending, there is no reason why timely notification should not be provided.  Such guidelines would provide longstanding Officers of Research up to six months’ notice, and would prevent the Administration from buying out of the provision of up to six months of funding in the case of unexpected loss of funding in the first half of the calendar year.


In the case of Post-Docs and Staff Officers of Research, it is suggested that they be given notice at least two months before termination.  Such rules will go a long way to reduce the stress reported by many Research Officers over the sudden termination of their positions, especially at the time of yearly recertification. 



In conclusion, we have attached two appendices, which provide more detail on issues listed above:

--A: our proposal to Structures and Operations for expanded representation on standing committees, and

--B: our report to Dr. David Hirsh, Senior Vice President for Research. 



Respectfully yours,


Sen. Barry Allen, Associate Research Scientist, Columbia Genome Center, Co-Chair

Parag Chandra, Associate Research Scientist, Pharmacology

Sen. Mercy Davidson, Senior Research Scientist, Neurology

Sen. Lori Hoepner, Senior Staff Associate, Sergievsky Center

Irene Klotz, Staff Associate, Biostatistics

Terry Lim, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Epidemiology

Sen. Daniel Wolf Savin, Research Scientist, Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory, Co-chair

Sen. Christopher Small, Doherty Research Scientist, Lamont-Doherty









Report of the Research Officers Committee to the Structure and Operations Committee Regarding Increased Representation on University Senate Standing Committees


The University Senate established an 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 Research Officers in the deliberations of the University Senate. 


After an in-depth study into the number and role of Research Officers at Columbia, the Committee came to the conclusion that Research Officers were seriously underrepresented in the deliberations of the University Senate (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/senate/annual_reports/01-02/ResFinalReport042602.htm).


To rectify this, the Committee submitted a detailed proposal to the Structure and Operations Committee requesting changes in the Senate By-Laws and University Statutes that would enlarge the role of Research Officers in three ways:


1.         Increasing the delegation of Senators representing Research Officers from 2 to 6;

2.         Creating a nine-member standing Research Officers Committee; and

3.         Adding seats for Research Officers on Senate Standing Committees.


A resolution addressing Points 1 and 2 was drafted by Structures and Operations, passed by the University Senate on 1 November 2002, and by the University Trustees in December 2002 and again in March 2003.   The first election to fill the new Research Officer seats was held in October 2003.


We now seek to address Point 3.  We continue to strive for a larger voice in Senate deliberations through the formal addition of one Research Officer to key Standing Committees on which we are not currently represented.  With a total of six Research Officer Senators, we now have sufficient personnel to represent the interests of Research Officers on these additional Standing Committees.  Additionally, as Senators we can vote on resolutions which these Standing Committees draft and bring to the floor of the Senate.  It seems only fair that we should also be able to play a role in the drafting of these resolutions by sitting on these additional Standing Committees and by bringing our complementary perspectives to the issues before each committee.


Currently we have formal representation on the Standing Committees: Physical Development, External Relations and Research Policy, Honors and Prizes, Libraries and Academic Computing Facilities, and Housing Policy.  Additionally, we have a seat on the Commission on the Status of Women, a long-standing special committee appointed by the Executive committee; a seat on the Elections Commission is shared between the Professional Library Staff, Research Officers, and the Administrative Staff; and we have a seat on Online Learning and Digital New Media, another special committee.


In addition to the five Standing Committees on which Research Officers are already represented, we ask for formal representation on each of the following Standing Committees: Executive Committee, Committee on Senate Structure and Operations, Committee on Education, Committee on Budget Review, Committee on Rules of University Conduct, and Committee on Alumni Relations.  Here we briefly outline our reasons for requesting these increases:


·        The roles and contributions of Research Officers parallel those of faculty in many ways but are distinct in others.  A Research Officer on the Executive Committee, the steering committee of the University Senate, will add a new member with a complementary perspective on the workings, needs, and future of the University.

·        Our investigations over the last several years have given us a deeper understanding of the structure and operations of the Senate.  We would like to use our experience to contribute to the continued improvement of the Senate and therefore seek a seat on Structure and Operations.

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

·        Research Officers, through their research and teaching, make important contributions to the academic departments and research institutes in which they reside.  Our experiences can provide valuable contributions to the Committee on Education which is charged with creating all new programs, departments, and research institutes at Columbia.

·        The Committees on Rules of University Conduct and on Alumni Relations are somewhat less active than the above 4 Standing Committees, but in the spirit of desiring a voice on all University issues addressed by the Senate, we also ask for seats on these committees.


In order to address our desire for a larger, more representative voice in the Senate deliberations, we have developed a set of proposed changes to the By-Laws of the University Senate.  These draft changes are attached to this Report.














Draft Amendments to the By-Laws, Statues, and Rules of the Columbia University Senate (following the June 2, 2001 Version)


The first sentence of paragraph (h) (1) of Section 3 (Executive Committee):

The Executive Committee shall consist of 14 members apportioned as follows: 6 tenured faculty, 2 non-tenured faculty, 1 research officer, 2 administrators, and 3 students.


The first sentence of paragraph (h) (2) of Section 3 (Committee on Education):

The Committee on Education shall consist of 20 members apportioned as follows: 8 tenured faculty, 3 non-tenured, 1 research officer, 4 students, 2 administrators, 1 alumnus, and 1 library staff.


The first two sentences of paragraph (h) (3) of Section 3 (Committee on Budget Review):

The Committee on Budget Review shall consist of 12 members, all of whom shall be members of the Senate.  The membership of the Committee shall consist of 5 tenured faculty representatives, 2 non-tenured faculty, 1 research officer, 2 student representatives, 1 alumnus, and the Chairman of the Executive Committee or his designee serving ex officio.


The first sentence of paragraph (h) (8) of Section 3 (Committee on Rules of University Conduct):

The Committee on Rules of University Conduct shall consist of 16 members apportioned as follows: 4 tenured faculty, 2 non-tenured faculty, 1 research officer, 5 students, 2 administrators, 1 library staff, and 1 administrative staff.


The penultimate sentence of paragraph (h) (8) of Section 3 (Committee on Rules of University Conduct):

In matters pertaining to rules of conduct and tribunals for Faculty, the Rules Committee shall consult with the Faculty Affairs Committee; in matters pertaining to rules of conduct and tribunals for Research Officers, the Rules Committee shall consult with the Research Officers Committee; and in matters pertaining to such rules and tribunals for Students, the Rules Committee shall consult with the Student Affairs Committee.


The first sentence of paragraphs (h) (9) of Section 3 (Committee on Alumni Relations):

The Committee on Alumni Relations shall consist of 7 members apportioned as follows: 1 tenured faculty, 1 non-tenured faculty, 1 research officer, 1 student, 1 administrator, and 2 alumni.


The first sentence of paragraphs (h) (12) of Section 3 (Committee on Senate Structure and Operations):

The Committee on Senate Structure and Operations shall consist of 13 members apportioned as follows: 6 tenured faculty, 1 non-tenured faculty, 1 research officer, 2 students, 2 administrators, and 1 administrative staff.












Issues of Concern before the Research Officers Committee as Reported to Dr. David Hirsch, Vice President of Research at Columbia University



Termination Notice for Research Officers


At present, while the Faculty Handbook recommends giving as much notice as possible to Research Officers who are to be terminated, the University has no obligation to provide any notice.   Our position is that this policy can be quite harsh, and can lead to a kind of abuse that is always avoidable.  We would like to see new policies put into place which would provide some protection (mainly by setting minimum timelines) for these employees, who belong to three subgroups within the University Senate’s Research Officer constituency:


1. Postdoctoral Research Officers are appointed to yearly terms, normally for a period no longer than three years, and are then often candidates for advancement to another rank , usually Associate Research Scientist.  In general, Postdoctoral Officers know in advance when their term is going to expire, and if they are going to be promoted, so there is little issue over termination for this group.  However, if termination is going to take place because of loss of funding or some other reason apart from cause, we believe the University should provide at least a 60-day notice to allow the individual sufficient time to make alternate arrangements; in addition, the University should try to accommodate a request from the officer for relocation within the University.


2. Staff Associates are a diverse set of employees who usually hold a B.S., M.S. or in some cases a Ph.D. degree.  They usually have a number of years on the job and have a degree of independence in performing their duties.  In general, they are long-term employees who expect to be renewed annually as long as they are performing their duties as expected.   In all cases of termination without cause, i.e., loss of funding or end of project (without follow-on work), their supervisors should be aware of the situation, and should provide at least 60 days’ notice.


3. Professional Research Officers:  The more junior of these officers, Associate Research Scientist/Scholars, are usually early in their careers and therefore more mobile, with less than five years on the job. However, the same rank is also held by a number of professional support scientists who provide critical services to many research programs.  Senior professional officers (Research Scientist/Scholars and Senior Research Scientist/Scholars) are often self-funded; if not, they often provide management within the University system.  Except for Senior Researchers (whose appointment can be for a stated term of up to 5 years), no appointments for Professional Research Officers are for more than one year.  It is our position that such officers should be given termination notice (when termination is without cause) with as much advance warning as they would be given support if termination was necessary for lack of funding.  This system allows for up to 6 months of notice based on seniority on the job at Columbia (1 month/year on the job starting in the fifth year of employment).  This would provide time for senior officers who often have more than ten years on the job at Columbia to find a new position as well as to complete or transfer current research projects before their termination dates.  As with the other groups, notified research officers who request it should be given assistance in relocating their talents within the University when possible.

While these new guidelines may place some limited financial stress upon the University if adopted, they will also help with the recruitment and retention of excellent researchers,  They will also help reduce the fear of many research officers that they can be dismissed at any time, without cause, losing both their income and benefits.  Faculty, administration, and unionized staff all have better provisions for termination notice and benefits than Research Officers.  Therefore we request a review of this issue, and the implementation of these proposed guidelines as University policy, to be printed in the Faculty Handbook.


Bridging Funds


Financial security and continuity are vitally important to officers of research.  Because research officers rely on externally generated grants and contracts, there is a considerable element of uncertainty in our positions.  In some cases, circumstances beyond our control result in funding discontinuities.  For instance, budget-related delays in the arrival of funds from government agencies can create serious complications for researchers.  While some Columbia units have the financial resources to buffer researchers against these discontinuities, we are not aware of a university-wide mechanism for this purpose.  We would like to explore ways to provide bridging funds as a form of salary insurance to cover funding discontinuities.


Specifically, we would like to know what could be done to allocate funds from the overhead on externally generated grants and contracts to provide a salary insurance pool for research officers.  A related issue concerns continuity of benefits in the event that a research officer experiences a medical disability that makes it impossible to complete funded research projects and maintain funding continuity.  We feel that these are basic responsibilities of an employer and would like to press the case for a consistent university policy to prevent such discontinuities from harming the careers and livelihoods of research officers.


Using Grant Time to Apply for the Next Grant


Currently Research Officers must use funds from an existing grant to pay their salary while writing the next grant.  At times there is no overlap between the research of the existing grant and that of the new proposal being written.  Hence the justification for using existing grant funds to pay a Research Officer’s salary while he writes the new proposal can be tenuous, sometimes non-existent.  This use of research funds for purposes other than those funded raises potential legal issues which we believe Columbia needs to address.


Though the magnitude of this issue is unclear, we fear that a U.S. Government decision to pursue these legal issues could have severe consequences for Columbia.  Some institutes have protected themselves by providing salaries from non-grant sources for each new grant application written.  We would like to explore the possibility of developing a similar mechanism at Columbia.  Perhaps Columbia could provide one week’s salary for each proposal researchers submit. submit.


Professional Research Officer Titles


Titles for Professional Research Officers (PROs) do not adequately reflect their various roles.  These include pursuing independent research, teaching undergraduate and graduate students in laboratory settings (outside a classroom), and mentoring Postdoctoral Research Fellows, Scholars, and Scientists. 


The titles currently used for PROs are Senior Research Scientist/Scholar, Research Scientist/ Scholar, and Associate Research Scientist/Scholar.  We seek a change in these titles that will more accurately their roles at Columbia and in the research community outside Columbia. 


One solution would be to change PRO titles to Research Professor, Research Associate Professor, and Research Assistant Professor.  These titles are not only more accurate, but they will also differentiate PROs from the Officer of Instruction Research Faculty, whose titles according to the Faculty Handbook are Professor, Associate Professor, and Assistant Professor.  Titles like the ones we are proposing are currently in use at Stanford, Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins, Duke, and Brown universities.


Here we give, as examples, three reasons in support of this title change:


1) Recognition as independent researchers by external funding agencies may be the biggest concern of PROs.  Their ability to raise research funds, which is their primary means of supporting themselves and carrying out their research, depends on this recognition.  However, the process of obtaining research funding with the current titles has not been easy.  Some grant applications by PROs have been turned down for reasons like the following: ``Dr. X is described as a PI in the Department of Y, but does not have a faculty appointment.  Given her title, it is difficult to judge her role and her ability to conduct independent research.’’  This problem could easily be rectified by the change described above, thereby increasing the research funds that PROs will be able to bring to Columbia.


2) There are already strong similarities between Research Faculty and PROs.  According to the Faculty Handbook, ``Senior Research Scientists/Scholars are officers whose qualifications and contributions to their fields of research are equivalent to those of a full professor.’’  The Handbook notes similar parallels between Research Scientists/Scholars and Associate Professors and between Associate Research Scientists/Scholars and Assistant Professors.  Additionally, the standards for making an appointment to a PRO rank are no less rigorous than those for Research Faculty.  Nominating procedures to the rank of Research Scientist/Scholar are analogous to an ad hoc tenure review.  Lastly, procedures for promotion to the rank of Senior Research Scientist/ Scholar resemble those for promotion to the rank of Professor.  These similarities argue strongly for the proposed PRO title changes.


3) PROs who teach classes are given the additional title of Adjunct Professor at the appropriate rank.  However, PROs also teach and mentor students and postdocs outside the classroom, but there is no additional title to recognize this added responsibility.  The proposed new titles would recognize this additional role played by PROs, namely that of ``professing.’’  We note the relevant definition of the verb ``to profess’’ in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary as ``to practice or claim to be versed in (a calling or profession).’’  Hence, there is a strong linguistic argument for the proposed new PRO titles.


Staff Officers: Titles and Advancement


There are only two titles for Staff Officers of Research: Staff Associate and Senior Staff Associate.  Most of these people have bachelor’s or master’s degrees, a significant number of years of service, and the ability to work independently on assignments and supervise other staff.  However, at Columbia, people with Ph.D.s who are hired at the rank of Senior Staff Associate often find few (or no) prospects for advancement, and therefore see working for Columbia as only an interim stage in their careers.


A parallel problem is addressed in the Columbia administration, by providing different numbered grades to go with various titles.  These grades provide steps forward in seniority and pay scale which can be measured against other officers with similar duties, and enable supervisors to reward outstanding work over time with increases in grade within a given title.  This is especially important for new Ph.D.s hired as a Senior Staff Associates (possibly in their first independent research positions) who now have no apparent way to advance.  While Staff Officers of Research perform research tasks, their jobs can often be described as supportive (to one or more primary investigators), and therefore their jobs in some senses parallel hires that are considered administrative in nature.  We therefore suggest that the administration consider (for internal use within the University) adding ranks within Staff Officer of Research titles to allow some upward mobility.


Cost of Research at Columbia


The work of Research Officers at Columbia is sometimes treated as secondary in importance to the work of Faculty.  One justification for this view is that research at Columbia costs the University more in money than it brings in, that teaching is the primary financial engine of the University and research only a financial drain.  We seek a better understanding of the financial role of research at one of the top research universities in the world.


Further Statistical Studies of Research Officers


The last study describing in detail the members of our community was carried out in March 2002.  At that time we were unable to determine what fraction of all research funds brought to Columbia was due to proposals on which Research Officers were listed as Principal Investigatos or Co-PIs.  We believe this is an extremely important piece of information for understanding the contribution of Research Officers to Columbia’s research mission.  To this end we would appreciate any help your office could provide us.  We also would like help in obtaining the personnel data needed to update our March 2002 study.