Senate Research Officers Committee’s

2004-2005 Academic Year Final Report





Our biggest accomplishments this year were the four Senate resolutions passed on April 1.  These resolutions call for adding a Research Officer seat to the Committee on Senate Structure and Operations, the Committee on Budget Review, the Committee on Rules of University Conduct, and the Committee on Alumni Relations.  We are looking forward to participating on these committees.


Similar resolutions for the Executive and Education committees fell only a few votes short of the three-fifths supermajority needed to amend the Senate by-laws. From the closeness of the Senate vote and from discussion with Senators unable to attend the April 1 meeting, we believe that a supermajority supports these resolutions, and we plan to submit these resolutions again next year.  Our participation will benefit the Senate by allowing us to bring our complementary knowledge and experience to the deliberations of these key committees.  


The University Senate is an evolving body and it is slowly recognizing the important role that Research Officers play at this University.  Three years ago the Senate voted to increase the number of Research Officer Senators from 2 to 6. 





With regard to termination policy for Research Officers, during the course of the past year we have carried out extensive discussions with AVP Raph Kasper from the Office of the Executive Vice President (EVP) for Research at Columbia.  Here is a brief description of the changes we are seeking.


Notice of Renewal


Currently the University is under no obligation to provide timely notice of whether a Research Officer’s appointment will be renewed.  Often we do not receive a reappointment letter, even though we have in fact been reappointed.  If we do receive such a letter, it typically comes six months after the end of our last appointment.  As a result, some researchers discover only days before the end of their appointment that they are not being renewed.  This current policy is quite harsh and in some ways even abusive. 


We wish to institute a University policy to require 4 weeks of notice to Research Officers about their reappointment.  We believe this is readily achievable.  At present, the University administration initiates the reappointment paperwork about 6 weeks before the end of a researcher’s term.  This then goes to the appropriate department or center.  The paperwork must be returned to the administration within a couple of weeks to ensure that if a researcher is reappointed, then there will be no interruption in pay.  It is at this point where one could readily generate letters informing researchers whether or not their appointment will be renewed.


Layoff Pay


Staff and Professional Research Officers who have accumulated five continuous years of compensated, full-time, non-instructional service, and who are laid off due to a “sudden and unexpected loss of funding” are now eligible for layoff pay.  The University administration interprets this to mean that if a researcher is terminated in the midst of an appointment for reasons other than cause, then they receive severance pay graduated according to the number of years of service at Columbia.  In our view this is an overly narrow interpretation of “sudden and unexpected loss of funding.’’


Staff and Professional Research Officers are long-serving officers at the University.  On average they have a seniority of between 6 and 14 years, depending on their exact rank.  These officers have made a long-term commitment to Columbia and the University has regularly renewed their appointments.  In an environment where there is no timely notice of renewal, the non-renewal of an appointment is equivalent to a “sudden and unexpected loss of funding” for the researcher.  Therefore, we are asking that the layoff pay benefit be extended to cover termination due to non-renewal of appointment. 





The currently policy is that the average salary increase for researchers should not exceed the average increase for faculty in the same department or school.  We believe this coupling of researchers’ raises to faculty raises is inappropriate.  Faculty salaries come from central funds which are constrained.  Salaries for research officers come from external grants which have cost-of-living increases written into the budgets. 


Over the last several years, in order to save money, faculty in various departments and schools have not been given raises.  As a result of the current policy, researchers in these same departments have also not been given raises.  This policy is wrong because the funds exist in the grant budgets to cover raises for Research Officers.  Also this policy does not save the University money.  In fact it reduces the amount of fringe monies collected.  Furthermore, funding allocated for salary raises is not being used for that purpose.  Therefore, we are seeking to correct these anomalies with reference to researchers’ raises.




Sen. Mercy Davidson, Senior Research Scientist, Neurology    


Sen. Lori Hoepner, Senior Staff Associate, Sergievsky Center   (

Dr. Wahida Karmally, Associate Research Scientist, Irving Center for Clinical Research (

Ms. Irene Klotz, Staff Associate, Biostatistics


Dr. Stephanie G. Newman, Saltzman IWPS


Sen. Daniel Wolf Savin, Research Scientist, Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory, Chair (

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


Sen. Cathy Taylor, Postdoctoral Research Scholar, School of Social Work


Sen. Maya Tolstoy, Doherty Research Scientist, Lamont-Doherty