Annual Report from the Co-chairs of the Commission on the Status of Women

Co-chairs Christia Mercer and Carolyn Mutter


         During the academic year 2006-07, the CSW met monthly to pursue its mandated goals, namely, to inquire into the status, equity, and opportunities available at Columbia to women who are officers of instruction, of research, of the libraries, of administration, students, and supporting staff. This year we continued work on child care matters, offered support to Columbia’s new work-life efforts, and began a new initiative concerning Columbia’s romantic relations policy.

I. Child care and family support

In discussions with faculty about why searches for qualified women fail, two issues have been brought up repeatedly. One concerns the lack of effective partner placement policies and programs; the other concerns the paucity and expense of child care.

A. Background

         In fall of 2004 the Columbia University Commission on the Status of Women identified child care as its principal priority for academic year 2004-05. As a Senate committee they were responding to concerns expressed by members of the university community about both the lack of adequate child care on or near the campus and also the high cost of that care. Working in conjunction with the newly formed Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity, the Commission gathered preliminary information on the availability of child care near the Morningside and uptown campuses, the cost of that care, and the ages of the children served. They also collected data on what peer institutions do by way of child care provision. The results of this initial round of information gathering convinced the Commission that there was, indeed, a problem, both in terms of the paucity and costs of care in our affiliated centers and in other neighborhood facilities as well, but also in terms of our competitiveness with our peers. Consequently, the Commission and the Vice Provost asked Provost Brinkley to hire Bright Horizons Families Solution Consulting Practice to do a more formal and extensive study of the child care needs of our faculty, staff, and student body. They were also asked to determine how adequately those needs were being met by existing sources of care and to determine the degree to which cost was inhibiting particular populations from accessing that care.

Provost Brinkley agreed to this request; the Bright Horizons group was retained; and over the course of a twelve-month period stretching from spring of 2004 to spring of 2005 Bright Horizons conducted a three-part analysis of needs and options for addressing those needs. Part I, completed summer of 2005, focused on the analysis of existing child care policies and programs, the child care center market near the Morningside and Medical campuses, interviews with university leaders about child care policies and priorities, a benchmarking analysis of child care at peer institutions and leading New York employers, and an analysis of employee demographics. Part II, completed in March 2006, involved the administration and analysis of a child care needs assessment survey sent to Officers, Post Docs, and Graduate/Professional Students in November 2005. 28,441 people were sent web surveys; 3,956 responded, making for a 14% response rate. Part III, completed in May of 2006, involved a lengthy options report setting out all the things that Columbia could do to improve its policies and practices in regard to the child care needs of its students, faculty, and staff.

B. Child Care Recommendations and Implementation

         In the summer of 2006, Jean Howard, the Vice Provost for Diversity Initiatives, working with Roxie Smith, Vice Provost, formed a small working group to analyze the outcomes of the Bright Horizons study and to recommend to the Provost and the President a series of phased initiatives that could be taken in response to that study. Howard and Smith had, in the course of the study, become quite familiar with the Directors of Columbia’s Affiliated Child Care Centers and had begun, on an ad hoc and informal basis, to untangle the complex maze of subsidies and special arrangements that governed their relationship to the university, as well as to provide support for them in their requests for specific maintenance projects and modest facility upgrades. What follows is the report of that working group whose membership includes, besides, Howard and Smith, John Huber, Chair of Political Science; Susan Rieger, Associate Provost for Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity and Member, Commission on the Status of Women; and Christia Mercer, Co-chair of the Commission of the Status of Women and Chair, ECFAS; Lucy Drotning, Member of the Commission on the Status of Women and Head of Columbia’s Office of Institutional Research. The report has four parts: (1) a statement of the child care problem at Columbia; (2) a case for expanding the university’s commitments in this area and for doing it now; (3) a summary of the kinds of support the university presently offers those with child care needs; (4) a list of recommended child care enhancements, laid out in order of proposed enactment with the rationale for each recommendation and an analysis of costs associated with it.
The report was submitted to the CSW for approval and then to Provost Alan Brinkley at the end of the fall semester. The CSW is pleased to announce that the President and Provost accepted four of the report’s main recommendations and that several other recommendations have been tabled for further consideration next year.
Columbia has already begun the implementation of the following three recommendations. Two of our existing affiliated child care centers, Tompkins Hall and Red Balloon, will be expanded to accommodate infants and toddlers. The most pressing need is for spaces for our very youngest children. Over the course of the next two years, Tompkins Hall will get new spaces for approximately ten infants and seven or eight toddlers. Red Balloon will add a room that will accommodate from ten to twelve one- to two-year-olds.
At the same time, Columbia will move to affiliate up to four new centers into our existing child care network. These centers have been selected because of their proximity to campus, the high quality of the care they provide, and the fact that they have places for infants. Arrangements with these centers will also allow us to sequester a certain number of places for faculty who are hired late in the academic year after the regular admissions season is over.

C. Work-life Help

With the support of the CSW, the Vice Provost for Diversity, Jean Howard, has successfully completed a search for the University’s first Associate Provost and Director of Work Life. She is Carol Hoffman, who comes to us from the University of California at Berkeley, where she had a strong track record in developing child care opportunities for the university, along with faculty assistance programs and other initiatives. She was director there of a Sloan Foundation grant for work-life initiatives. She started work on February 22 and her office is located on the fourth floor of Low Library. She provides direction to all our future work-life efforts, including oversight of child care initiatives. Carol Hoffman has already begun to work with the Commission, and will be an ex officio member of the CSW going forward. For example, the CSW has offered advice on the Work-Life web information.

D. Back-up Care

Columbia has finalized a program that will provide emergency back-up care for children and family members (including elderly parents) when regular care arrangements break down—when, for example, a nanny is sick, a snow day closes schools, or a child is mildly ill and must stay home from school. This program is available to all non-union faculty and staff, to all Ph.D. students, and to all post-docs. It provides 100 hours of back-up care for each eligible member to use at highly subsidized rates.

II. Sexual Harassment and Romantic Relations

            This year the CSW began a study of matters to do with sexual harassment and with Columbia’s romantic relations policy. Progress was made on several fronts:

  1. Co-chair Christia Mercer met with the dean of the graduate program, Henry Pinkham, and associate dean Jan Allen, about harassment concerns. The CSW is not satisfied with the present system of lodging complaints (it is too formal and hence too frightening). The CSW is interested to explore existing or new structures to make it easier for graduate students to be advised about harassment issues.
  2. Members of the CSW compared Columbia’s policy on romantic relations with those of our peer institutions. Members called colleagues at universities such as Michigan, where stronger policies are in place to discuss the motivation for establishing more comprehensive policies. Follow-on outreach regarding the effectiveness of the stronger policies is planned for Fall 2007.
  3. The CSW decided to conduct a survey of all Columbia students, both undergraduate and graduate, about the present romantic relations policy. In February, the survey went to all students and, by May, there were nearly 2,000 logged responses. These are being read and categorized.
  4. The faculty has expressed interest in participating in the survey. The CSW intends to arrange for a survey of faculty as well. When all data are accumulated, recommendations will be made regarding the present policy and related practices.

A romantic relations study is challenging owing to the paucity of data – many are not willing to voice opinions owing to fear of more powerful persons in influential roles. A preliminary finding is that there are likely to be a range of complementary actions that should be considered in parallel with consideration of revisions to policy. A specific area – that resonates also with concerns raised by the Senate’s Research Officers Committee – regards the role of training in supervisor-supervisee relations across a range of levels from student through tenured faculty. It is felt that a significant number of incidents stem from an inadequate understanding of what constitutes inappropriate supervisor-supervisee interactions. Annual training of equal ranks on this topic is anticipated to be extremely valuable to raising awareness and empowering the individual who might otherwise become a victim. This is an area for ongoing consideration in the Fall of 2007.

 III. Salary Equity

The CSW continues its study of the question of salary equity, in partnership with the Research Officers Committee and the Provost’s Office for Institutional Research. Excellent data have been secured this year and are currently under analysis.

IV. Membership

The CSW has drafted Terms of Reference for Membership, including terms for leadership of the commission, to complement a lightly revised mandate for consideration by the Senate in the Fall of 2007.

V. Leadership for 2007 onward

The co-leadership of the CSW from 2007 onward is still under discussion. Dr. Mutter has served as co-chair for the CSW since the fall of 2005. She has been asked to retain this role for 2007 – 2008 to enable the staggering of co-chairs from this time forward, as established in the draft CSW Terms of Reference. As Assistant Director for Science Management at IRI, Dr. Mutter interacts with one of Columbia’s most dynamic and diverse research groups aimed to deliver new capabilities in climate risk management – a climate-informed approach to decision-making increasingly seen as the way forward in adapting to a changing climate. Earlier in her career, Dr. Mutter provided sustained effort on the case for the provision of child care for Lamont Campus staff, culminating in the establishment of an on-site day care at the Lamont Campus of Columbia University 2000.