April 1998

Committee on External Affairs and Research Policy

Report for 1997-98

The committee covered three issues over the year.

1. Local Community--Central Harlem High School. Last year the Committee heard testimony from Reverend Preston Washington who is president of Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement (HCCI). He laid out a plan for obtaining approval from the Board of Education to build a high school in Central Harlem. Currently there is none. He was asking the University for technical advice and a small seed grant. The External Affairs Committee felt his plan was reasonable, consistent with the University's goals to develop its ties to the local community, and encouraged Vice Provost Michael M. Crow to provide seed money. He agreed to consider the proposal if Reverend Washington presented him with a written plan. This information was passed on to Reverend Washington. The Committee awaits his written proposal.

2.The University's Relationships to the Business Community and New York

State Government. The Committee examined the University's relationship to the business community and New York State government. Two of Vice Provost Michael Crow's public statements touched off these concerns. He told the Committee

(1) that Columbia University derives substantial funds from sale of faculty inventions and copyright materials to businesses, and

(2) that the University had dropped in rank from the top three in 1960 to somewhere around 35 in 1997 in the amount of research funding received.

This was a drop in rank only. Absolute funding during this period increased but other universities' funding grew much more quickly.

The Committee invited Vice Provost Crow to attend its meeting on December 5, 1997 and he reported on these two issues.

Relations to Business.

The committee wanted to know what precautions the University had taken to safeguard academic goals that often clash with businesses' needs for secrecy and profits. Vice-Provost Crow explained that a faculty committee had been set up to provide guidance on these issues. A standing committee gives the Vice-Provost the flexibility he needs to operate in a frontier area while protecting academic goals. This "business relationship" is fraught with danger while offering a potential bonanza in funds. It should be closely monitored and revisited when the University has more experience with its business partners. The Committee felt the Vice-Provost should be commended for his energy and ingenuity in tapping into a new source of funding for the University.

Relation to State and Federal Governments.

Columbia's loss of relative standing in research funding has been perceived by some as not significant. They argue it simply reflects that Columbia has a smaller faculty than those Universities that have jumped ahead in the ranking. The real question, they say, is the level of scholarship, not the number of scholars being supported. In that respect, they feel Columbia is still at the top. The counter view is that there are economies of scale that large research funds bring, such as providing substantial financial support for graduate student education, invaluable on the job apprenticeship and research training for graduate students, funding for enough graduate students and faculty so that a department can teach a full range of courses, and, most importantly, a scholarly milieu that increases productivity. Having five people in one specialty in a department provides immediate collegial consultations that make each faculty member far more productive than if they were by themselves. Reflection suggests that there are some fields for which these attributes of large scale would be more important than for others.

Vice Provost Crow indicated that the majority of the universities leap-frogging over Columbia in research funding are state universities. He further speculated that states had far more resources to support major research universities than even the largest endowed private university. For instance, if a private university wanted to compete with a state allocation of forty million dollars for a research building, it would need an endowment of eight hundred million dollars following rules of expenditures from endowments.

Stanford and MIT are two very important exceptions to state universities' dominance of the top ten research funded universities. The Columbia administration and faculty frequently use Stanford as a peer institution when judging comparative standards of excellence. The Committee concluded that several questions deserve more attention. How is it that a private peer institution like Stanford has been able to maintain its standing over the years, and is their path one Columbia could follow? Should Columbia increase its efforts to persuade New York State to provide more research funding? For instance, does the Psychiatric Institute provide a model that could be followed by other units at Columbia?

3.The Relationship of Columbia to Foreign Governments. The third major issue examined by the External Affairs Committee this year was Columbia's involvement in the sale of educational facilities to and acceptance of funds from foreign governments. Some faculty felt that the sale of the Casa Italiana and the procedure for governance of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America constituted a threat to academic integrity. The committee heard testimony from the Provost Jonathan Cole, from the current director of the Italian Academy, Professor Richard Brilliant, from two past directors of the Casa Italiana, and from Pierre Force, director of the recently created Center for the Study of French and Francophone Culture. In addition, the Committee received a letter from one of the former directors of the Casa Italiana and a legal opinion from the Associate University Counsel as to who controls the Italian Academy, which was the recipient of a ten million dollar endowment from the Italian government. As a consequence of these deliberations, the Committee, in collaboration with the Provost, has drawn up a resolution for the Senate's consideration. The resolution asks that, beginning next September, the External Affairs Committee, again working with the Provost's office, be empowered to create University-wide regulations governing the acceptance of funds from foreign governments and the sale of educational facilities to foreign governments.

Eugene Litwak, Chair