June 10, 2009

Annual Review of the Education Committee


The committee completed its usual schedule of a total of eight monthly meetings. The leadership of the committee was strengthened by the addition of a new co-chair, Senator James H. Applegate.

Much of the work of the committee requires assignment to subcommittees to review of proposals, surveys and other information the committee is charged with evaluating. Since each subcommittee is composed of two or three senators, much work has been done by all members of this committee.

Reviews of proposals for new educational programs

Among the regular duties of the committee is the review of proposals for new programs, which are received from the Provost’s office. The following proposals were approved by the Education Committee and resolutions were forwarded for their approval by the Senate:

While it does not occur with great frequency, proposals for Departmental name changes are received from time to time. Two were received during this academic year. One of these proposals was entirely non-controversial, while the second one was scrutinized for several months before an agreement was reached and a resolution forwarded for approval.

During its April meeting the education committee received six additional new program proposals, which were assigned to subcommittees for review during the summer.

Five-Year reviews

The committee, with the cooperation of the Senior Vice Provost, surveys new programs five years after their approval by the Senate. The survey is intended to assist the committee in determining whether a program has been implemented as originally proposed, whether it has met its purpose, how many students have applied, matriculated, and, when applicable, completed the program. The survey is analyzed by a subcommittee of three committee members

The two programs are the Ph.D. program in Kinesiology and the Ph.D. program in Biomedical Engineering.

Five programs were slated for review in 2008-2009:

Academic Calendar reviews

On a regular basis the University Registrar consults with the committee on future academic calendars. This year has been no exception. University registrar John Carter and Associate Registrar Brady Sloan met twice with the committee to discuss the academic calendar. The committee was also given a draft for review of the calendar for the next 10 academic years. While much of the calendar is routine, problems may arise occasionally because of a rather late Labor Day date or a coincidence of religious holidays and key academic dates.

Since the NYSED requires a 15-week term, there are few solutions to the problem of those calendar years with late Labor Days, other than starting the academic year the week before Labor Day during certain years, discontinuing the election break, etc.

In the recent past ad-hoc solutions have been found. In the autumn 1998 semester, for example, the exam period was shifted one day (December 17-24, with the promise to schedule exams on December 24 only as a last resort). This resulted in two study days. A similar solution has been agreed to for the autumn 2009 semester: an extra study day will be scheduled on Wednesday, December 16 for a total of two study days, The last day of examinations will be rescheduled on Thursday, December 17, with other examinations from Friday, December 18, through Wednesday, December 23, with some of that day’s late exams to be scheduled on earlier days.

No generally acceptable solutions have been generated for this problem as yet, but an effort will be made during the next academic year to address this issue.

Occasionally, there is a conflict between a regularly scheduled event in the academic year and a religious holiday. The committee discussed this problem in detail and came to the conclusion that a change in the academic calendar would not be appropriate for this secular institution with its increasingly diverse, multi-religious community. The pending conflict of the dates for commencement 2010 and Shavuot will be followed by a conflict of the dates for commencement 2018 and the first day of Ramadan.

Commencement 2010

The scheduled commencement date for 2010 coincides with a major Jewish holiday, Shavuot. Several requests were received by the Education Committee to change the commencement date in order to accommodate those who cannot attend because of their observance of the holiday.

After considerable discussion, a near-unanimous vote, and a confirmation of that vote during a subsequent meeting, the Education Committee decided not to move the commencement date even though the members of the committee were mindful of the difficulties this would cause to those who would be affected by this decision.

Diversity is not free. Membership in a large, pluralistic, and diverse community like Columbia imposes obligations and responsibilities on its members in addition to granting them rights and privileges. One of the obligations is to relinquish the expectation that major University events be rescheduled because of conflicts with religious holidays. One of the responsibilities of University leadership is to resist the demands for such changes when conflicts inevitably occur.

Religion is a potentially divisive issue. Columbia is a far more diverse institution than it was a generation ago, and far more aware of that diversity. The decision of the Education Committee was based on our own practical experience and a conservative extrapolation of our national experience with the First Amendment. We know that religious expression and the common good of religious tolerance thrive under secular authority. We must take care not to appear to treat members of different faiths differently, preferring one over the other. This will be difficult if events are rescheduled because of some religious holidays and not others.

Columbia University is a secular institution. Increasingly, especially in the last twenty years, the changing demographics of the student body have resulted in the observance of many religions in our academic community. While arrangements are made to allow individual students to meet their academic obligations should conflicts with religious observances prevent them from doing so on scheduled dates, the University's academic calendar should not be adjusted to accommodate the needs of any religious group.

At the May 1 Senate plenary meeting, President Bollinger announced that he had requested and received permission in a unanimous vote by the Trustees to move Commencement 2010 because of the conflict with Shavuot. At this writing, a new date has not been announced.

Report to the Campus Planning Task Force

A subcommittee consisting of Samuel C. Silverstein, Jacquelynne Modeste and Catherine Nepomnyashchy drafted this report on behalf of the Education Committee. The committee as a whole reviewed two iterations of the draft before it was forwarded to the Campus Planning task Force for Manhattanville.

Finally, the Committee wishes to acknowledge with gratitude the continued and wholehearted participation of Anna Longobardo, Trustee Emerita, and Jacquelynne Modeste, Alumna, in the work of the Committee.

Respectfully submitted,

James H. Applegate
Letty Moss-Salentijn