September 25, 2009

 

SENATE RESEARCH OFFICERS COMMITTEE (ROC)

2008-2009 ACADEMIC YEAR FINAL REPORT

 

Faculty titles for Professional Research Officers (PROs): After several years of planning and preparation, the senate approved a proposal to create the title "Lamont Research Professor" for what are currently Doherty-track PROs at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. This proposal was subsequently approved by the Columbia Trustees and the plan will be implemented at Lamont over the coming 1-2 years. The Lamont Research Professor title was designed to recognize the professorial research and educational activities conducted by the Lamont PROs, and to help abate the loss of these research scientists to faculty positions at peer institutions.

Postdoctoral issues: This year, the ROC met with Kathryn Espiritu, the Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPdA) in Fall 2008 and Summer 2009.  Over the past two years, the University has experienced a decline in its endowment, which has affected the budgets of most administrative offices, including the OPdA.  While faced with a 10% budget decrease, Ms. Espiritu made strides in several key areas, including options for healthcare benefits for all postdoctoral researchers (including fellows) and salary equity.

Gender equity study: The University is taking what the ROC believes to be an unreasonably long time to complete this study (over 3 years).  We are pushing the administration to have the results out this coming academic year.  Here is the history.  In the Spring of 2006, the ROC together with the Commission on the Statues of Women (CSW) proposed a salary equity study for research officers (ROs).  The Vice Provost for Diversity Initiatives Jean Howard approved the study which was carried out by the Associate Provost for Planning and Institutional Research Lucy Drotning.  Preliminary results for April 2005 to June 2006 were presented to the ROC in August and October 2006.  An ad hoc committee consisting of ROs and faculty was then formed by Jean Howard to aid in the study, but VP Howard was unable to complete the study before her term expired.  In the Fall of 2007 the new VP for Diversity Initiatives Geraldine Downey decided to add data from July 2006 to June 2007 to the study and also to disband the ad hoc committee which had been aiding in the study.  In Summer 2008 the study was taken over by Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg.  In the Fall of 2008 he formed a second ad hoc committee to review the results.  They began to meet in the Winter 2009.  As of Summer 2009, the study is still incomplete.  With Provost Alan Brinkley stepping down and the new Provost Claude Steele starting, we expect this will add yet another delay to releasing the results of this important study.

CUMC Faculty Council: The Faculty Council of the College of Physicians and Surgeons plays an important role in university governance and the stated rules explicitly list PROs as being eligible to serve as members of the council.  The ROC has been in discussion with the CUMC Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Anne Taylor, the CUMC Vice Dean for Research Rocky Kass, and the Chairs of the Departments making up the CUMC Faculty Council to encourage them to nominate ROs to serve on the Faculty Council.  As a result a couple of PROs have been nominated to the CUMC Faculty Council.  However, it appears to the ROC that neither the relevant administrators nor the majority of department chairs support our efforts.  Winning more PRO representation on the Faculty Council is unlikely to succeed without such support.

CUMC salary issues: Two years ago the Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg carried out a study comparing raises between CUMC and the Morningside/Lamont campuses for the period 2007-2008.  The study found that CUMC ROs with titles of Senior Research Scientist/Scholar, Associate Research Scientist/Scholar, and Staff Associate on average had received raises which were 2 percentage points below the raises of those with similar titles on the Morningside or Lamont campuses.  Concerning this issue, this past year we carried out discussions with Rittenberg and with the CUMC Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Anne Taylor and the CUMC Vice Dean for Research Rocky Kass.  There is now a plan in motion to regularize both the raises between the two campuses.  This plan will also regularize the salary ranges for each title between campuses.

Fraction of patent royalties generated by Research Officers: The committee was interested in learning the fraction of patent royalties generated by Research Officers. We discussed this issue with Orin Herskowitz, Executive Director and VP of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer in Science and Technologies Ventures (STV).  He informed us STV does not possess a data base containing this information.

Staff Officer Issues: The ROC sent a letter to Vice Provost Roxie Smith urging the University to provide a tuition exemption benefit of fifteen credits per term to all staff officers.  Currently only those staff officers registered a degree program are eligible for this benefit.  The response letter stated that the tuition benefits program is reviewed on a regular basis; however, at that time the Provost’s office does not anticipate making any changes to existing program.  The ROC will continue to monitor the situation and press for tuition exemption benefits for all Staff Officers.

Other staff officer issues which the ROC has discussed this past year include: the current two year waiting period before staff associates become eligible for retirement benefits, salary raises, training and promotion, the limited promotion possibilities due to there being only two staff officer titles, title changes for staff officers holding PhDs to associate research scientists/scholars, co-authorship on manuscripts, and attending conferences and presenting research results.

Effort reporting: New Federal law requires that all principal investigators (PIs) report their total Columbia effort (TCE) and that of their group members.  What constitutes a person’s TCE?  Which parts of one’s TCE can be covered by sponsored sources (i.e., research grants)?  Which parts must be covered by non-sponsored sources (i.e., not by research grants)?  What are the non-sponsored sources available for RO PIs?  In an effort to clarify these and answer these questions, the ROC has met with a number of guests including Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg, CUMC Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Anne Taylor, CUMC Vice Dean for Research Rocky Kass, Executive Vice President for Research David Hirsh, Associate Vice President for Research Compliance Naomi Schrag, Associate Controller Richie Ruttenberg, and University General Counsel Jane Booth.  Any RO PIs with questions concerning effort reporting should first contact Naomi Schrag.  Concerning the question of what source of support a RO PI can charge their non-sponsored TCE to, that is an issue to be determined by the department, center, or school housing the RO PI.  It has been made clear to the ROC that there are no central administration funds for such support.

Institutional review board (IRB): The regulations related to the eligibility of ROs to serve as PIs on grants were changed by the Office of the Vice President for Research. As a result of this, several associate research scientists who have been established PIs in previous grants were not permitted to submit applications for IRB approval, and were denied the opportunity to be PIs. Discussions with the Director of IRB, George Gasparis, resulted in the Office of the Vice President for Research issuing a memorandum detailing and clarifying the policy of eligibility criteria.  Senior research scientists/scholars and research scientist/scholars are automatically eligible for PI status.  Full-time associate research scientists/scholars and postdoctoral research scientists/scholars may serve as principal investigators with the approval.  At the CUMC this is granted by the Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences, at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory by the Director, and for all other cases by the Executive Vice President for Research.

Conflict of interest: The Office of the Vice President for Research revised the university Conflict of Interest Policy to assure institutional compliance with applicable government regulations concerning outside financial relationships and research.  The new guidelines cover conflict of interest, how to avoid it, procedures for disclosure of conflicts, and actions to be taken.  The new policy on Financial Conflict of Interest and Research went into effect on July 1, 2009. Member of the ROC served on the subcommittee that evaluated the policy before it was brought to the Senate for approval.

Manhattanville: A representative of the ROC sits on both the Physical Development Committee and the Task Force on Campus Planning (TFCP).  Within the last two years, both committees have focused on the planning and development of Manhattanville.  In the last year, the ROC developed and submitted our planning template for the development of Manhattanville to the TFCP.  This effort is part of a cohesive report from all committees within the Senate.

Visitors: The ROC met with the Directory of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Kat Espiritu, on September 16, 2008 and again on August 4, 2009.  We met on December 9, 2008 to discuss a range of CUMC issues with Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg, the CUMC Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Anne Taylor, and the CUMC Vice Dean for Research Rocky Kass.  To discuss Effort Reporting we met with the Executive Vice President for Research David Hirsh, the Associate Vice President for Research Compliance Naomi Schrag, and the Associate Controller Richie Ruttenberg on February 17, 2009.  On March 24, 2009 we met with Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg and the Associate Provost for Planning and Institutional Research Lucy Drotning to discuss the salary equity study.  We also met with the University General Counsel Jane Booth on July 13, 2009 to discuss effort reporting issues.