University Senate                                                                                  May 5, 2006   




This report summarizes the activities of the BR committee for the 2005-06 academic year.  This year, our committee continued its focus on the dual issues of substantive budget policy and governance.   We again met this year with most of the major university administration officials with significant budgetary oversight, including Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin, Executive Vice President for Finance Albert Horvath, Chief Financial Officer and Vice President for Budget and Finance for Health Sciences Alan Dzija, Vice President for University Budget and Financial Planning Scott Norum, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Susan Feagin, and Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nicholas Dirks.   Additionally, as part of our ongoing effort to strengthen our committee's links with the University Trustees, we also met with the chair of the Trustees' Finance Committee, Savio Tung.

In these conversations, we continued to review major issues relating to the University's overall financial picture, including campus expansion and budgetary challenges at Health Sciences and at Arts and Sciences.  We also this year identified a new issue that we believe will be of rising importance in the future: namely the need for fuller contingency planning with regard to possible reductions in government support for scientific research.  Under current
Columbia policies, the  primary responsibility for planning for such contingencies resides at the level of the individual schools, and is not a major focus of central administration oversight.  In our discussions with administration officials, we raised the question of whether more could be done in this regard, and we plan to continue attending to this issue in the upcoming academic year.

With regard to one other issue we have been following for the past few years, we are happy to report that the question of the costs presented by University support of the Columbia School for Children seems to have been adequately addressed, and this issue is no longer on our current list of priorities.  Given the significance of the School for Children in terms of budget, faculty affairs, and community relations, however, we will continue to monitor the situation.

With regard to issues of governance, we made progress in understanding the timing of the process through which the University constructs its budget, and were able to participate in conversations with budgetary officials at an earlier stage than in past years, before as many critical decisions had been made.  We also made progress in developing communication channels with the University Trustees, and in strengthening relationships with administration officials.

We have identified one governance issue, however, that we believe merits additional attention in future years: administration policy with regard to the availability of budgetary information.  As part of its internal reorganization, and in connection with the associated reorganization of the governance structures of the University Trustees, the administration has opted to reduce the level of detail provided in public budgetary documents, particularly with regard to the breakdown of funding flows affecting individual schools and units.  In addition, portions of the administration's budget analysis that previously were shared with the committee and the larger university community are now being restricted in circulation to the Trustees.  We appreciate the value of these adjustments in information policy with regard to open and candid discussion and with regard to enhanced Trustee oversight of budgetary affairs.  At the same time, it is important that appropriate information be provided to the Senate and its committees, so that we can continue to discharge our role in offering feedback on priorities and on best practices of financial governance.   As we have indicated, our committee will continue to follow this issue in the upcoming academic year.

In conclusion, the committee would like to thank all of the above officials, and especially Albert Horvath, Scott Norum, and Alan Dzija, for their cooperation and candor in sharing their insights on the budget with us and in helping us more effectively to discharge our mandate under the By-Laws of the University Senate.

For the committee,
Avery W. Katz, Chair