I. Introduction

At the beginning of the 2005-2006 academic year, the Physical Development Committee of the University Senate began its study of the decision-making, planning and capital project management of the Northwest Corner building.  The Committee undertook this study as a way of increasing understanding by the internal Columbia community of the process by which major capital projects are undertaken. Such understanding is always important at a space-constrained university such as ours, and is particularly important as Manhattanville moves from drawing board to development. 


The Case Study was presented to the full Senate at its Plenary Session of February 23, 2007.  The three recommendations of the case study were as follows:


A.     That all information, proposals and plans, including Five Year Plans, submitted by the Administration to the Board of Trustees Physical Assets Committee be submitted simultaneously to the Physical Development Committee for its review and for its comment through its two non-voting representatives to the Trustees’ Physical Assets Committee.  


B.     That the Committee work with the Provost, the Senior Executive Vice President, and the Executive Vice President for Facilities to develop the necessary communication platforms and protocols for their use so that the internal University community is appropriately informed regarding programmatic planning and other similar processes. 


C.     That the Committee exercise its powers more fully by proactively communicating with internal University constituencies regarding their needs  and acting in an ombudsman role in voicing concerns and priorities regarding physical development and related issues to the President, Provost and Trustees.


Significantly, the Committee, after much discussion, chose to put forth these recommendations without attached resolutions, believing them to be within the existing charge of the Committee as set forth in the Senate Bylaws.


II.  The balance of the Academic Year

During the remainder of the academic year, and with the Case Study special project behind it, the Committee focused on incorporating the recommendations of the Case Study in its ongoing operations.  On February 23 (after the Plenary Session) and again on May 23, Joe Ienuso, the Executive Vice President for Facilities, presented the project documents that would be presented at the quarterly meeting of the Physical Assets Committee of the University Trustees.  This served to inform the Committee in accordance with Recommendation A, as well as better prepare the two non-voting representatives of the Physical Development Committee to the Physical Assets Committee.  On April 27, the Physical Development Committee in joint session with the Budget Review Committee met with Mr. Ienuso and Al Horvath, the departing Executive Vice President for Finance, for a briefing on the current Five-Year Plan. These meetings, as well as the informal reports made of Committee activity to the Physical Assets Committee, suggest that the first recommendation of the Case Study is already being fulfilled. It is recommended that the Committee continue its quarterly briefings with Mr. Ienuso immediately prior to the meetings of the Physical Assets Committee, as well as an annual joint meeting with the Budget Review Committee for a presentation of the Five Year Plan.


On April 13, the Committee was briefed by Nilda Mesa, the University’s Director of Environmental Stewardship, on the University’s various green initiatives, and with Joe Ienuso, who presented the current designs of architect Rafael Maneo for the Northwest Corner building.


On May 11, at his invitation, the Committee met with President Bollinger at the President’s House to discuss the Case Study.  Toward the end of the wide-ranging discussion, the President suggested that the Committee could play a useful role by identifying issues that needed to be tackled as a consequence of Mantattanville, such as the process by which vacated space on the Morningside Campus would be reassigned. 


It should be noted that the presentation of the Case Study to the full Senate elicited numerous comments from Senators from the Medical Center regarding facilities issues.  In addition, Senators from the School of Engineering and Applied Science subsequently expressed requested the Committee’s help in obtaining further information regarding the role of their school in the planning of the building. 


The fostering of such a dialogue between different constituencies of the University clearly echoes Case Study Recommendation C, and the Committee should endeavor to continue to foster such dialogue and facilitate the flow of information within the University community.  In committee discussions, it was suggested that periodic emails to the rest of the Senate solicit concerns and issues for exploration.


III. Moving forward

The work of the past two years has set a strong foundation for the Committee.  In order to keep that momentum, the following tasks and issues can be identified:


  1. The Committee should meet with the Executive Vice President for Facilities for a project document briefing prior to the quarterly trustee meetings.
  2. The Committee Chair and one additional member (preferably the same from quarter to quarter) should attend all meetings of the Trustees’ Physical Assets Committee to which they are invited, and should brief the Trustees on their work.  The committee representatives should report back to the Committee at the next meeting.
  3. The Physical Development Committee should meet jointly with the Budget Review Committee in the spring for a briefing by the Executive Vice Presidents for Finance and for Facilities of the Five Year Plan.  The Committee’s review of the Five Year Plan and the quarterly project document briefings should be informed by the information it gathers in points 5 and 6 below.
  4. The Committee should schedule meetings with the senior executive of Columbia University Medical Center Facilities Management (Robert Lemieux) as necessary to discuss physical development issues as they relate to the Health Sciences campus.
  5. In its role as facilitator of dialogue among the Columbia Community regarding physical development issues, the Committee should experiment with sending a blast email to members of the Senate at the beginning of each semester soliciting concerns and issues to be investigated.  Issues that warrant attention should set the agenda for the Committee’s ongoing work for the year.  The Committee should use its authority to conduct whatever fact finding may be necessary in the resolution of issues and concerns, and should work with the Administration and Trustees accordingly. The concerns of the Senators from the Health Sciences campus regarding the adequacy of student facilities and of the Engineering School regarding the role of that school in the planning of the Northwest Corner building are possibilities to consider in the upcoming academic year.
  6. The Committee should embrace the President’s invitation to recommend to the Administration and the Trustees emerging issues related to capital project planning and physical development that need to be addressed on a University-wide level.
  7. The Committee should explore efforts to improve communication and coordination with the Task Force on Campus Planning and the Committees on Budget Review and Education.
  8. In accordance with Recommendation B of the NorthWest Corner Case Study,  the Committee should work with the Provost, the Senior Executive Vice President, and the Executive Vice President for Facilities to develop the necessary communication platforms and protocols for their use so that the internal University community is appropriately informed regarding programmatic planning and other similar processes that may not be relevant to the external community and thus may not be adequately communicated through those vehicles.  The page of the “Neighbors” web site devoted to construction updates (, for example, could be used as a model for a similar communication platform addressed to the internal Columbia community.



Respectfully submitted,


Sen. Bradley W. Bloch (Alumni), Chair

Sen. Richard Bulliet (Ten., A&S/SS)

Sen. Jeffrey Fagan (Ten., PH and Law)

Mr. Kevin Fox (Admin.)

Sen. Karen Green (Lib. Stf.)

Sen. Sharyn O’Halloran (Ten. SIPA)

Sen.  Ron Prywes (Ten., A&S/NS)

Sen. Antonios Saravanos (Stu., TC)

Sen. Daniel Simon (Stu., SCE)

Sen. Henry Spotnitz (Ten., HS)

Mr. Domnic Stelline (Ad. Stf.)

Sen. Richard Wald (Non-ten., Journalism)

Mr. Geoffrey Weiner (Admin)

Sen. Paige West (Non-ten., Barnard)