University Senate               

Proposed: March 30, 2001

Adopted: March 30, 2001




WHEREAS,     online learning has become a critical initiative for higher education, and


WHEREAS,     Columbia University and its Schools have been engaged in diverse digital media and online/distance learning and e-commerce initiatives, and


WHEREAS,     the Columbia University Statutes mandate the University Senate to “develop and review plans and policies to strengthen the educational system of the University,” and


WHEREAS,     these issues cut across the mandates of several committees;


THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED        that the University Senate establish an Ad Hoc Committee on Online Learning and Digital Media Initiatives, to consist of 10 members including 4 faculty; 2 students; 1 alumnus/a; 1 library staff or AcIS administrator; 1 research staff; and 1 non-voting administration member from a Columbia online learning enterprise;


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED                        that this committee shall examine all online/distance learning and digital ventures of the University and its Schools, to understand their broad academic implications, and to recommend policy and monitoring procedures;


BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED                         that the committee shall report its activities to the Senate, and make recommendations by February 2003 about its future.



Executive Committee



March 30, 2001


Rationale for the Establishment of an
Ad Hoc Committee on Online Learning and Digital Media Initiatives


Online and new media learning, along with their associated digital ventures, offer enormous opportunities for elite research universities like Columbia. The explosion of new media technologies has enabled faculty and researchers to move beyond the traditional classroom as the primary vehicle for the dissemination of knowledge.


The School of Engineering’s Columbia Video Network offers degrees entirely by distance learning. Columbia Interactive Arts and Sciences has begun offering online courses through Continuing Education, and the Business School is developing online courses in partnership with the commercial vendor Digital Knowledge Ventures, formerly Columbia Media Enterprises, oversees the development of new digital media enterprises and commercial activity based on innovations and intellectual property of faculty and graduate students. And recently the University has invested in a commercial venture,, which markets e-courses from a variety of universities to the general public.


Yet while the new technologies present endless possibilities, they also pose new puzzles. For instance, what is the appropriate balance between the commercial and academic interests of the University? What incentives do these new media technologies create for faculty and research staff? Can Columbia’s brand name for excellence be preserved in face of commercial pressures?


Given the recent explosion of activity and the potential for new media technologies to reshape the nature of research universities, it is proper and vital for the Senate to


            catalogue the various activities currently underway by the university;

evaluate the extent to which these various enterprises enhance the core mission of the

University both academically and financially;

review the status of policies of peer institutions in addressing these concerns;

explore alternative institutional mechanisms to balance the possible tensions between

commercial imperatives and the preservation of an independent research faculty;


make recommendations for University policies and procedures.


To facilitate these activities, the Ad Hoc Senate Committee on Online Learning and Digital Media Initiatives is proposed. A separate committee is needed because these issues cross and mingle the various mandates of existing Senate standing committees and also address areas outside of Senate committees’ current jurisdictions. Furthermore, because many of these issues are evolving, a committee dedicated to this area will be best equipped to monitor and address changing conditions, using representatives from the Senate and the at-large University community. The committee will report periodically to the Senate about its activities.


Executive Committee