University Senate April 24, 1998




The committee has attempted to move from a reactive to a proactive role this year. In doing so, we have tried to seek out those areas where an input from the University Senate might really make a significant constructive contribution, and to exclude those areas where really no opinion of the Senate would make a difference, or where we feel no competence to comment, or where other Senate committees are already working. Thus, we feel comments on the discretionary items in the University’s five-year capital budget are appropriate for the committee, if they relate to issues affecting the University’s academic mission or the welfare of its constituents. Likewise, we feel comment on the University’s development activities relating to commercial and community services in Morningside Heights is appropriate, but will avoid commenting on plans for residential construction for students, because other committees are already working on that.

We have spent the better part of the year attempting to understand the University’s complex physical development decision-making processes and specifying the areas to which we feel we should devote our energies. We now believe we have a constructive agenda into which we can sink our teeth starting promptly at the beginning of next semester, and we have several specific requests of the Senate to help us do so.

This year's activities: We began by reviewing a substantial set of documents prepared by the administration or various university committees, which provided us with a wealth of information (perhaps even an overload!) as to budgets, needs, procedures, plans. These included:

--The current five-year capital plan, soon to be replaced by a new plan

--"Columbia University in Morningside Heights," also called the Planning Framework, as well as commentary on it

--Project documents on a number of initiatives, including the Lerner student center

--Minutes of the Trustee Committee on Buildings and Grounds

--Task force reports on quality of life and physical development for the Provost's Strategic Planning Commission in 1993

This year we have had valuable contributions from Provost Cole and from two senior administrators on our committee, Vice President for Administration Emily Lloyd, and Vice President for Facilities Management Charles Maikish. We have also received valuable guidance from Bernard Haeckel, Director for Planning and Project Development at Facilities Management, and from Sen. Robert Jervis, chairman of the Budget Review Committee and a regular guest at our meetings. We appreciate the cooperation of all of these people.

To some extent we reacted to perceived problems that seemed to demand our attention over the course of the year. These included the construction of the student center and its cost overruns, the impact of special hiring decisions on physical development issues, as in the case of the Department of Anthropology in Schermerhorn Extension. We have, however, come to the realization that, rather than looking over the shoulders of those charged with responsibility in these areas and/or attempting to second-guess isolated individual decisions, we would be in a better position to contribute constructively if we approached such issues systematically and tried to tease out the general policy issues involved in each. To this we hope to devote our full attention next year.

Next year's agenda:

  1. A review of the issues considered discretionary by the University administration in the five-year capital plan now in process of development. We have begun to structure a preliminary analysis of that plan by looking at the past five-year plan, trying to separate out minor (perhaps under $100,000) items, repair items or expenditures considered necessary for physical plan maintenance and repair, earmarked items already firmly committed to, and perhaps "deans’ items" (see item #3).
  2. Items in the proposed five-year plan related to physical development and apparently discretionary but affecting University priorities, to see how Senate-related priorities are reflected in the process (some preliminary analysis of the last five-year plan developed for us by staff is already available for our use).
  3. Policy issues involved in expenditures related to gifts, whether arranged by the Office of University Development and Alumni Relations or by individual deans for individual schools, to see whether the process adequately reflects University-wide priorities, or simply lets rich programs get richer and poor ones languish. To be clear, we are aware of the complexities of the issues and realize we have much more to learn about the pros and cons of present policies. It may be that this is part of the more general issue of the relationship between financial opportunities and academic priorities overall.
  4. Long-term space needs of the University, recognizing that the University’s Planning Framework document sets standards for what should be done without resolving priorities, and taking into account the estimates provided us by staff that the University has grown at the rate of 60,000 square feet a year over the past century, and that thus given a straight-line extension of this trend the University will have exhausted all possibilities for growth suggested in the Planning Framework in fewer than twenty years. Relevant possibilities to be explored include expansion beyond the present Morningside Heights area (to the north as well as south--see next item), new campuses, etc.
  5. Community relations aspects of the physical development activities of the University, ranging from the type of commercial development in the neighborhood supported by the University to the development of the Pharmacy site to possible cooperative activities north of 125th Street or south of 110th.
  6. The relationship between major decisions/expenditures of the University not related to physical development (hiring of faculty, for instance, or creation of research institutes) and physical development issues. The suggestion has been made, for instance, that a "physical impact statement" might be prepared on any such decisions, so that physical planning can inform and be informed by them.
  7. Along similar lines, the preliminary lesson of the Lerner Hall experience might be to call for such a statement to include, when costs are projected, an estimate not only of immediate direct costs but also of "collateral," "off-line," and "contingency" costs, as well as of the impact on ongoing maintenance and operating expenditures and of the burden on other facilities and utilities.

It is likely that other items will come up in the course of the year, but we believe we have already outlined a full agenda for ourselves, and propose to tackle it methodically beginning in the fall.

Requests for help:

  1. Our committee does not have its full complement of members. We would appreciate a push to see that, given the scope of what we have set out for ourselves to do, active members are recruited for the committee for next year.
  2. We are very appreciative of the excellent staff help we have received up to now, both from Tom Mathewson of the Senate office and from the office of Vice President Emily Lloyd. We believe additional staff help may be needed next year, given our agenda. We would appreciate a flexible arrangement that would make such help available as reasonably needed.
  3. Our agenda is related to the concerns of many other committees of the Senate, and we have already had valuable insight from Budget Review in the person of Prof. Jervis. We would like to communicate our agenda and schedule to senators regularly, and invite participation in our deliberations by any members who might be interested in attending specific meetings.

Peter Marcuse