ECFAS Faculty Forum on undergraduate education


Lerner Hall, Broadway Room, December 3, 2007




ECFAS Chair Bob Friedman opened the meeting at 11:30a.m., and turned the microphone over to Provost Alan Brinkley for a discussion of a proposal for the expansion of the College, illustrated with a slide presentation of graphs and key issues and assumptions.


Alan Brinkley began by recalling a meeting of 15 years ago, the last time an expansion was discussed; it proceeded successfully, but did not significantly enhance the size of the faculty, an emphasis in the current proposal. These plans attempt to include all of the elements that need to be considered to make expansion work for everyone.


The idea began at a Trustees retreat in 2006, followed by creation of the Task Force on Undergraduate Education in September 2006 – discussing expansion among many other issues. The management consultants McKinsey & Co were then asked to gather data on Columbia’s size and on the requirements and financial impact of expansion. A model was developed, shared with the Task Force last February and with the Trustees in March, and discussed with chairs in September 2007 and ECFAS last month, leading to the present meeting. No decisions or commitments have been made, or will be made without much more thorough consultation; this meeting is a beginning.


Reasons in favor include: increasing access to Columbia, including for international students; strengthening the College in our undergraduate enrollments; funding an increase in faculty; over time, building a larger donor base and increased resources for A&S. Columbia College remains the smallest in the Ivy League.


“Challenges” to expansion include the need for a new dorm (a $60 million gift would be needed), and expanded social spaces and athletic facilities; potential erosion of value of small scale; pressure to use new revenues for other ends than resources necessary for expansion (e.g. close budget gap); an eight-year lag between enhancement and first net positive financial impact. An athletic facility might be built in Manhattanville a decade or more from now.


Including GS and SEAS, we actually have about 6500 undergraduates now, with another 2000 at Barnard, so we’re not exactly small-scale now. Even so, we currently only have 30% of our enrollments in the College, versus c. 48% at Yale, Penn, and Stanford; Harvard has 33%, but all of them are in Harvard College.


The financial model developed to assess expansion included all anticipated incremental costs directly related to expansion (and so not including items such as the already planned Northwest Corner Science Building, the Kluge gift, etc). A “Model structure schematic of key links and drivers of the model” has been developed and was shown.


Current model anticipates a 15% expansion in the current entering class size of 1013 students, i.e. c. 150 per class or 600 all told. Basic costs include a new dorm at a cost of $126 million (half supported by gifts), at a site available on 115th St between Amsterdam and Morningside, leaving GS and SEAS enrollments unchanged. No change in financial aid policy. College’s percentage of undergraduate enrollments (including Barnard enrollments at Columbia) would rise from 56.7% to 59.7%


Increased instructional demand would be a major issue, especially as new students will likely distribute themselves comparably to present students. Salaries, housing and office costs, new research and teaching assistants would all be needed; all to be increased in proportion to current size of existing departments and programs. Faculty of all ranks would be added in proportion to current distribution (not through increasing proportion of adjuncts). A large part of the cost during expansion would be adding in new faculty as soon as new students begin to be admitted. The present model gives guidance on total added faculty needed, while actual distribution of faculty would need much more detailed analysis.


Expansion would add graduate courses as an indirect consequence, since new faculty would teach graduate as well as undergraduate students.


Questions were raised to clarify points of faculty distribution, salaries, and housing.


Alan Brinkley: At present, the only model for housing are rental and leasing of apartments; perhaps in a decade we’ll be encouraging or even assisting more faculty to buy in the area; we would clearly have to come up with methods to give faculty viable housing options.


Christia Mercer: Before options on housing are decided, there should be open discussion with faculty as to choices and priorities for buying versus neighborhood residence.


Alan Brinkley: With or without expansion, it’s absolutely clear that we need to increase our ability to house faculty.


Andrew Delbanco: The plan seems to significantly underestimate the full cost of expansion, for example in maintaining current financial aid policy. There’s been virtually no substantive consultation with faculty to date on what this will cost to do right. On aid, our peer institutions are moving toward a no-loan policy for all students (Princeton, Amherst, also Davidson), likely the wave of the future. If aid cost does rise, then expansion will cost more than a direct scaling up of current costs.  And is not the Kluge “gift” actually a bequest of uncertain date? How much new fundraising will be needed just to keep up current levels?


Eric Foner: Added cost of new graduate students needs to be considered. What level of increase in graduate students is contemplated?


Alan Brinkley replied that he is not personally advocating expansion, and is in fact very ambivalent about it; but this is an idea everyone needs to consider.  An increase in graduate students would certainly be part of the expansion, though the actual number is not yet estimated. It is clear from the questions posed that much more detailed analysis is needed. This expansion is not a plan but a possibility, one that has plusses and minuses.


Gil Anidjar: What motivation is there for expansion other than “bigger is better” and a perhaps illusory long-term financial gain? Wouldn’t expansion dilute our selectivity and the quality of the student body?


Alan Brinkley: It is generally agreed that we could expand by 15% with no loss of quality. Financial benefits to expansion, or the lack of them, will be a major factor pro or con.


Nick Dirks: There is constant pressure to expand the faculty, and we have been doing so, but further growth will be very difficult to achieve without further enrollments.


Thomas Katz: Given the need to increase the graduate cohort along with undergraduate population, isn’t this really an expansion of A&S overall against the professional schools?


Cathy Popkin: If there are more graduate students, the length of stay in housing might have to decrease.


Alan Brinkley: No, we’d have to increase graduate student housing as well.


Michael Rosenthal: It all seems to come down to increasing the tuition stream, rather than a principled view of undergraduate education. The last expansion didn’t increase the College’s influence. An increased College would entail many more non-faculty sections of Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization.


Darcy Kelley: The graph on p. 13 of the Powerpoint handout shows too slow a rise in costs, such as the high cost of adding Core instructors; core lectureships cost about $40 plus fringe.


Alan Brinkley: Of course the total cost is greater, but some of it is offset by new revenue.


Scott Norum: Page 14 shows the separate components of cost and revenue.


Bob Jervis: A good deal more detail will help show what’s really involved. A group of knowledgeable faculty should go through the model piece by piece. As to the funding of the new dorm: the Broadway dorm was to have been funded by a gift, and that didn’t happen. We seem to have had trouble getting extra funds for buildings. This looks risky financially. If we do want to grow the faculty, we may need to expand; but we should also have serious discussion of the option of leveling off; we as faculty need to consider both.


Alan Brinkley: It is indeed difficult to raise funds for dormitories; we simply won’t go ahead with expansion if we can’t raise the funds for a dorm.


Madeleine Zelin: The Trustees seem to be looking at a business-growth model; but how about a fundraising drive to keep the College at its present size, with added faculty to help have more small classes, as has long been desired? Faculty chairs can be raised in other ways than via tuition.


Alan Brinkley: It would be at least as difficult to raise money to sustain the present size of the College, but unless there are benefits to expansion aside from fundraising, there’s no point doing it. There are very good arguments against doing this.


Jack Snyder: Bigger-is-better can yield economies of scale, but not in this kind of organization. There might be advantages in critical mass of faculty numbers in some sciences perhaps, but not necessarily elsewhere.


Alan Brinkley: Parts of the faculty could benefit by expansion, though it’s not clear whether the expansion would benefit those departments.


Andrew Nathan: Is Barnard planning any expansion?  Second: Is the Core truly going to be protected in expansion?  Third, on problem of social spaces: What is the impact of 600 more people on things that can’t be expanded?


Alan Brinkley: We can all imagine the strain that 600 added students would put on Lerner, College Walk, and other areas; there will be unexpandable resources that will be strained. The planned move of the Business School to Manhattanville (and potentially also of SIPA) would do a good deal on the faculty side of space needs.  This model assumes the same level of faculty engagement in the Core that now exists. To improve that would require additional resources with or without expansion.


Andrew Delbanco: The Core will be protected if the plan works, but less so if there are significant cost overruns and pressure for cost-cutting. We’re in a chronic deficit situation already in A&S; new costs are hard to contemplate.


Alan Brinkley: If you’re right, we clearly should not do this. But this is a question that needs more quantitative exploration. On the issue of cost-cutting: we shouldn’t do an expansion if it would lead to cost-cutting for academic purposes. The last expansion made many assumptions based on expected tuition increases over time; then came a period of tremendous downward pressure on tuition increases, and this stymied many of the expected benefits of expansion. This could happen again; 5% a year growth in tuition becomes a major problem for families over time.


Patricia Dailey: With undergraduates’ increased tendency to double-major, does the proposed size of the student body take into account the often larger increase in courses taken? Any thought of restraining student coursework? Any consideration of decreasing GS?


Alan Brinkley: GS/CC relations are under ongoing discussion, not directly a function of the expansion issue. Double majors are being discussed by the Task Force; the present model assumes that new students would have similar course-taking pattern as current ones. Other costs planned for are for student services and advising. The necessary next steps include further analysis; exploring the possibility of fundraising for a new dorm; extended deliberation within A&S faculty and with the administration. This is a decision to be made by the Arts & Sciences, and should only be done if the faculty are persuaded that this is a good plan going ahead. There’s no obvious way to consult with faculty at Columbia; even with consulting ECFAS and department chairs and forming ad hoc committees, the administration only reaches a small percentage. Even today’s forum only includes a small percentage of the faculty [some 30 faculty were present at the meeting]. It is not inevitable that this expansion will happen; we all need more information and we will need more feedback going forward.


Theodore de Bary: In earlier times the College faculty met every month to discuss these kinds of problems; in recent years, we have ceased to have an effective College faculty – re-establishing such meetings would be very useful at this point.


Alan Brinkley: Whether we call it a College faculty meeting or an A&S faulty meeting matters less than whether there are more meetings of this kind.


Betsy Blackmar: Is Lee Bollinger aware of faculty reservations on expansion? He has seemed to be advocating expansion strongly.


Alan Brinkley: It’s fairly clear that Lee is more committed to this than I am, but he wouldn’t overrule the views of the faculty and forge ahead. He will certainly read the minutes of this meeting.


Cathy Popkin: On student flows, someone should look in on Butler Library’s reading rooms at 10p.m.; it can take students an hour to find a place to sit even now.


Q: Any estimate of increase in international students?


Alan Brinkley: We continue to anticipate 7% of College enrollments as international; we could increase international numbers if we could raise funding for expanded financial aid, as we hope to do.


Alan Brinkley closed the meeting at 1:10p.m.