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Committee on Education

Mandate

The Committee on Education shall consist of 19 members apportioned as follows: 8 tenured faculty, 3 non-tenured faculty, 4 students at least one of whom will be a graduate student, 2 administrators, 1 alumnus and 1 library staff. The Committee on Education shall review, and may from time to time recommend, plans and policies relating to the educational system of the University. The Committee shall receive ideas, recommendations, and plans for educational innovations from members of the faculty and others. The Committee shall inform itself of conditions in the several schools, faculties and departments, and propose measures needed to make the most effective use of the resources of the University for educational purposes.

The Committee shall examine new online/distance learning and multimedia learning applications to understand their broad academic implications and to recommend policy, procedures, and monitoring in consultation with the committees on Libraries and Digital Resources and on Information and Communications Technology.  It will evaluate the extent to which these enterprises enhance the core mission of the University.

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Academic Calendar reviews

On a regular basis the University Registrar consults with the committee on future academic calendars. This year has been no exception. University registrar John Carter and Associate Registrar Brady Sloan met twice with the committee to discuss the academic calendar. The committee was also given a draft for review of the calendar for the next 10 academic years. While much of the calendar is routine, problems may arise occasionally because of a rather late Labor Day date or a coincidence of religious holidays and key academic dates.

Since the NYSED requires a 14-week term, there are few solutions to the problem of those calendar years with late Labor Days, other than starting the academic year the week before Labor Day during certain years, discontinuing the election break, etc.

In the recent past ad-hoc solutions have been found. In the autumn 1998 semester, for example, the exam period was shifted one day (December 17-24, with the promise to schedule exams on December 24 only as a last resort). This resulted in two study days. A similar solution has been agreed to for the autumn 2009 semester: an extra study day will be scheduled on Wednesday, December 16 for a total of two study days, The last day of examinations will be rescheduled on Thursday, December 17, with other examinations from Friday, December 18, through Wednesday, December 23, with some of that day’s late exams to be scheduled on earlier days.

No generally acceptable solutions have been generated for this problem as yet, but an effort will be made during the next academic year to address this issue.

Occasionally, there is a conflict between a regularly scheduled event in the academic year and a religious holiday. The committee discussed this problem in detail and came to the conclusion that a change in the academic calendar would not be appropriate for this secular institution with its increasingly diverse, multi-religious community. The pending conflict of the dates for commencement 2010 and Shavuot will be followed by a conflict of the dates for commencement 2018 and the first day of Ramadan.

Commencement 2010

The scheduled commencement date for 2010 coincides with a major Jewish holiday, Shavuot. Several requests were received by the Education Committee to change the commencement date in order to accommodate those who cannot attend because of their observance of the holiday.

After considerable discussion, a near-unanimous vote, and a confirmation of that vote during a subsequent meeting, the Education Committee decided not to move the commencement date even though the members of the committee were mindful of the difficulties this would cause to those who would be affected by this decision.

Diversity is not free. Membership in a large, pluralistic, and diverse community like Columbia imposes obligations and responsibilities on its members in addition to granting them rights and privileges. One of the obligations is to relinquish the expectation that major University events be rescheduled because of conflicts with religious holidays. One of the responsibilities of University leadership is to resist the demands for such changes when conflicts inevitably occur.

Religion is a potentially divisive issue. Columbia is a far more diverse institution than it was a generation ago, and far more aware of that diversity. The decision of the Education Committee was based on our own practical experience and a conservative extrapolation of our national experience with the First Amendment. We know that religious expression and the common good of religious tolerance thrive under secular authority. We must take care not to appear to treat members of different faiths differently, preferring one over the other. This will be difficult if events are rescheduled because of some religious holidays and not others.

Columbia University is a secular institution. Increasingly, especially in the last twenty years, the changing demographics of the student body have resulted in the observance of many religions in our academic community. While arrangements are made to allow individual students to meet their academic obligations should conflicts with religious observances prevent them from doing so on scheduled dates, the University's academic calendar should not be adjusted to accommodate the needs of any religious group.

At the May 1 Senate plenary meeting, President Bollinger announced that he had requested and received permission in a unanimous vote by the Trustees to move Commencement 2010 because of the conflict with Shavuot. At this writing, a new date has not been announced.


Starting a New Academic Program

Please visit On-Line Handbook for Creating and Modifying Educational Programs for a detailed procedure guide and description of the steps the University must complete before schools can offer new academic programs.


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