September 28, 2012

Here we provide brief summaries of the highest-priority issues that the ROC discussed during the past year.

Salary equity study: In May 2010, Provost Steele publicly released a salary study of officers of research.  To quote from his cover letter, the report “finds some evidence of statistically significant differentials in pay by gender and race/ethnicity…. There is also evidence that some of these differentials are related to starting salaries.”  The Provost shared the report with the appropriate senior administrators on the Medical and Morningside campuses.  He asked for reviews of current salaries and for adjustments where appropriate.  He also asked for a review of the process for setting starting salaries “to ensure that starting salaries are comparable, all else being equal.”  Two years later, after several meetings with various university administrators, our committee has little sense of whether the report’s recommendations have been implemented throughout the University. .  Senior Vice Provost Stephen Rittenberg is initiating a new salary study of research officers this fall to re-evaluate the situation and quantify what changes have been made.

Effort reporting: By law, Federal grant funds may not be used to compensate researchers for the time they spend writing grant proposals. Such support must come from “non-sponsored” sources.  The ROC remains concerned that the University does not have adequate funding sources for this purpose.  We are also concerned that Principal Investigators are not fully aware of this requirement and continue to instruct their group members to prepare grants without providing non-sponsored funding for such work.  We have raised both of these issues several times in meetings with various senior administrators, including Executive Vice President for Research G. Michael Purdy last April.

Benefits: The ROC provided extensive comments on the changes to officers’ benefits that a provostial committee proposed in the spring of 2011.  We are extremely pleased with Provost Coatsworth’s decision to restore and also extend some of the tuition benefits that research officers enjoyed before 2011.  Research officers now enjoy the same level of tuition exemption as do officers of the libraries and of administration.

Postdoctoral issues:  We are impressed by the accomplishments of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs (OPdA) under the directorship of Lily Bao Secora.  OPdA offers a wide range of professional development and social/networking programming.  We are also excited to hear that the administration has finally instituted a change that the ROC has been advocating for years—a university-wide minimum stipend for Postdoctoral Research Fellows (PDRFs).  Such a policy already exists for Postdoctoral Research Scientists/Scholars (PDRSes).  This change will help to ensure that all PDRFs receive at least the minimum level set by the NIH. 

However, a number of issues remain for PDRFs.  The biggest one is that many of them must pay the full cost of health care benefits out of their own pockets.  Many PDRFs have no money in their fellowships for this purpose. .  Winning these competitive fellowships is evidence that these postdocs are the best in their fields. We should be encouraging them to come to Columbia by offering support for their health insurance. But we are effectively penalizing them by making them fend for themselves. The 300+ PDRFs bring about $13 million each year to the university in research funds.   If Columbia wishes to continue to attract the best research, we think it should begin to cover the health care costs for these future leaders of their fields.

Meetings with University Administrators:


University Senate Research Officers Committee (2011-2012)
Daniel Wolf Savin, Chair, Senior Research Scientist, Astrophysics Laboratory
Hatim Diab, Senior Staff Associate, SEAS Center for Computer Learning Systems
Mona Diab, Research Scientist, Engineering and Applied Science
Mercy Davidson, Senior Research Scientist, Radiation Oncology
Guy Garty, Research Scientist, Center for Radiological Research
Stefan Mrozewski, Senior Staff Associate, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Angela D. Nelson, Senior Staff Associate, Medicine
Mette Skinbjerg, Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Psychiatry