Meeting of the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences


October 28, 2004



The Meeting was called to order by President Lee Bollinger at 12:13 P.M.  A motion to approve the minutes of the previous meeting was moved and adopted.


Professor Walter Frisch, chair of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, introduced the members of ECFAS.  He described ECFAS’s structure and role.  This year, ECFAS is discussing the structural deficit in A&S, the new science building, and the capital campaign, among other topics.  ECFAS has established a good working relationship with the new Vice President, Nick Dirks, and has had a good meeting with President Bollinger.  Professor Frisch commended the faculty’s attention to the report on faculty size and effort on the ECFAS website.


Vice President Dirks stated that this is an exciting time for the Arts and Sciences at Columbia.  The budget is stabilized although still vulnerable.  Much growth and building has occurred under his predecessors.  Colleagues in administration and in the VP’s office have helped in the transition.  Margaret Edsall will become Associate VP for Academic Affairs.  Additional resources have been committed by the university administration both to A&S as a whole and to the office of the VP.  Martha Howell will help think through a plan for restructuring the office.  The key to restructuring is to increase faculty participation the work of the office.  Faculty committees working under the office of the VP will need staff support.  We also hope to make A&S more central to fund-raising.


VP Dirks said that he found the Faculty Size and Effort Report interesting.  The faculty has grown by 8.8% over twelve years.  The tenure ratio remains within a comfortable range.  The VP stated that he intends to emphasize improved support for junior faculty.  The largest net growth in faculty size over this time period was in the natural sciences.  Ann McDermott will work with the office of the VP as Special Advisor for the Science Initiative, and among other tasks will lead in planning the new science building on the northwest corner of the campus.  The VP’s office will work closely with Jean Howard, Associate Provost for Diversity.  Akeel Bilgrami has taken on the directorship of the Heyman Center for the Humanities.


VP Dirks stated his commitment to enhancing our departments, programs, and schools.  He is also committed to enhancing cross-disciplinary work, and to promoting internationalization of our student bodies and our academic work.


The A&S budget continues to present many challenges and has vulnerabilities.  Pressing issues include financial aid for undergraduates and graduate programs, the faculty salary gap, and the development of new space even while planning for Manhattanville.


We must reaffirm our commitment to academic freedom as we face new controversies, while discharging the concomitant obligations laid down in the Faculty Handbook.  A&S will renew procedures for evaluating faculty while protecting faculty from outside interference.


President Bollinger expressed his satisfaction that Nick Dirks has taken on these responsibilities, and provided a brief overview of the university as he sees it today.  The administration’s goal is to work constantly to improve academic quality.  Crucial to realizing this fundamental goal are space and resources.  Space is critical to free our imaginations to realize this university’s enormous potential.  While smaller projects are under way, so too is the Manhattanville project.  At this moment the process is going well, leading into a six or seven month approval process from Community Board 9 through the City Council.  We are in a preliminary phase of negotiating exactly what we will do for the community. 


The second issue is resources.  We have little discretionary money and this leaves us unable to launch major initiatives.  We are trying to increase efficiency, get more income from technology transfer, and obtain more research grants, but the chief measure to address this need is a capital campaign of at least several billion dollars.  We have received high-level gift commitments in recent weeks, especially from trustees, which we hope to announce in the coming weeks.  We have a short-term problem of financial tightness but the middle and long term look wonderful.


We need to begin to think about issues of scale.  Over 50 to 100 years, institutions like Columbia have grown dramatically in size of student body, physical space and programs.  What kind of scale do we want?


The President stated that he views A&S as being at the core of the university.  The capital campaign will reflect that.  It will go after core support – professorships, research support, and financial aid.  An endowment for financial aid will provide fungible dollars.  We have constrained administrative growth.  We want to continue the illustrious history of science here at Columbia.  The northwest corner building is our immediate response to the problem of space for science.  We are going forward with it.  If Manhattanville comes about it will be a site for many large laboratories.  But we need to make it through the short term to get to that time.  The Science Initiative would cost $800 million.  We have not had $800 million to commit, but have tried to make headway by specific recruitments and packages.


In regard to academic freedom, we want faculty to participate in public debate.  The president stated that he has articulated the position that we will not take into account, in university business, statements that faculty make in public debate.  Some alumni, trustees, and others do not support this position but he will defend it.  We deeply believe in the importance of freedom for faculty to pursue research in unconventional ways and to conduct vigorous classroom debate.  At the same time, there are values that we hold about behavior in the classroom that are subject to university oversight.  One criterion is intellectual quality in the classroom.  We are used to assessing this.  We also do not allow intimidation of students, or political indoctrination in the classroom.  The relevant standards are always to some extent ambiguous but the concept is fundamental – we do not permit intimidation or politicization.  We already have procedures in place now.  Chairs and deans deal with these issues all the time.  Are the procedures that we have in place as good as they should be? 


There are bigger issues as well.  One is that while we resist efforts to censor what we say, we must also be sure to live up to our principles.  We must not become the tool of those outside who would try to censor us inside, but neither can we allow the fact that such outside pressures exist prevent us from living up to our own principles.  We need to take ideas seriously and to debate among ourselves things that people say that we may believe are wrong or offensive. 


Provost Alan Brinkley stated that we are committed to the science building.  We will start to interview architects in coming weeks.  This building is only one step in the process of providing adequate space for science at Columbia.  Much work has already been done to prepare for this building in a series of conversations about the future of science at Columbia. 


Executive Vice President for Research David Hirsh spoke of the importance of interdisciplinary research — or science at the interface of disciplines — for the planning of the new science building.  The traditional departments remain central, but the new building will try to place people from different departments in proximity to one another.  One goal is to maximize wet lab space.  Another is to provide ample facilities for interaction — conference rooms, lounges.  There is a move towards more quantitative treatment of subjects that used to be treated more descriptively. 


Alan Brinkley returned to the podium.  He expressed his satisfaction that Nick Dirks has become the new VP.  He reminded the faculty of three communications he sent recently.  The Academic Quality Fund competition has been suspended due to shortage of funds.  The School at Columbia is not big enough to accommodate all the officers’ families who want to attend, so we need to work out a process for choosing.  The tenure process is being reviewed, by a committee headed by Rosalind Morris.


About academic freedom, the film screened yesterday raised a lot of questions.  The Spectator today ran a story saying that the university is investigating charges of bias.  We have not used the word investigate.  The President has asked the Provost to look into the implications of these charges and into charges that there is a climate of intimidation on campus.  No individual and no department is under investigation, and the provost would never investigate an individual or department.  We are reviewing our procedures.  We will not allow our faculty to be tried and convicted in the press, we will not launch a witch-hunt, but we will deal responsibly with accusations as they arise.


Professor Alice Kessler-Harris asked whether, given the under-representation of women on the faculty and the need to hire junior faculty, thought has been given to placing a child care center in the new science building?


David Hirsh replied that we are looking into it in terms of space needs, insurance considerations, and so on.


Professor Stuart Firestein asked whether renovation of existing space is part of our planning for science space.


Alan Brinkley responded that a lot of space in existing buildings is not efficiently used.  One possibility is to create a consolidated science library, which would free up space.  But our resources are limited, so building a new building will make it financially challenging to do wholesale rehabilitation of existing buildings.


Professor Susan Peterson asked for clarification about the need for short-term belt tightening and how this affects our ability to make competitive junior offers.


Nick Dirks responded that not just salaries, but research support, such as the non-adjustment of FRAP for 15 years, are issues.  But it makes sense to get the best junior faculty we can.  President Bollinger has committed that we will not lose momentum, and will continue to move forward at all levels.


President Bollinger said that he did not mean to say that we are in for a period of belt-tightening.  Rather, the pace of meeting the aspirations of the institution in terms of space, salaries, research support, faculty expansion, and so on, will not be as fast in the next year or two as people wish.  In that short term we will continue as we are.  We’ve had some new financial stresses, especially in financial aid.  The fundraising will be spectacular, he believes.  We have only just started international fundraising.  We are building up our relations with alums.  We also need to generate peer expectations among the small number of people with the resources to make a difference.


Professor Andrew Nathan thanked President Bollinger for clarifying the time frame within which faculty should expect results from fund-raising.  With regard to academic freedom, Nathan suggested that only registered students in classes should have the right to complain about alleged intimidation in class; that the university should not attempt to regulate the conduct of public debate on campus beyond the regulation that is provided for by the law; and that we should use, and if necessary strengthen, routine procedures rather than employ non-routine procedures to deal with complaints about faculty conduct.


President Bollinger stated that the First Amendment does not apply to the university, because it is a private institution.  It can choose its policies for how to treat faculty utterances.  He stated that he has tried to articulate our choice, and the position he has taken seems to have support on campus.  But this position is not uncontested, and it could be changed.  Second, there are separate issues of student complaints in classes, and how we conduct internal debate over ideas that are raised in campus discussion.  He worries that fear of censorship might lead us to fail to conduct full internal debate over our ideas and standards.


Alan Brinkley commented on the question of why we are reviewing grievance procedures at a moment when we are under pressure instead of when we are not.  Last year during the work of the Blasi Commission we left ourselves vulnerable by saying that we would review discourse in the classroom but not outside the classroom.  We are concerned that issues will arise that chairs and deans cannot handle, the handling of which needs the validation of trusted bodies of faculty, especially in order to protect the faculty.


President Bollinger added that part of being a fine teacher is to be able to take points of view that are not popular in a class, and give them a fullness or richness, in order to challenge the students.  There are many ways to do this.  If faculty members behave in ways that cut off this experience, it is a matter of grave concern, especially if it is systematic.  Treating students in ways that they perceive as anti-Semitic, racist, or sexist is unacceptable. 


Professor Nathan agreed that we should take ideas seriously on campus, but perhaps the task of joining issue with wrong ideas expressed by faculty is one that should not be undertaken in the first instance by persons in authority, such as administrators, but by other members of the faculty.  If the faculty is silent or complacent, then the administrators may be forced to speak out.


President Bollinger agreed that statements of the president, provost, and other officials must be carefully weighed.  But on the other hand these officials must occasionally publicly articulate the values of the institution.  Also, we need to be aware that there is a big gap between the values inside and outside the institution, not only on the part of those who seek to suppress freedom of speech but others as well.  As president, he lives on this cusp every day.  Many people outside see the university as irresponsible in the face of serious issues.  Then there is a second, clashing view that we have to protect the university as a place of freedom of speech.  The only way to navigate through these issues is to stick to principles.


The meeting was adjourned at 1:54 p.m.


Respectfully submitted,


Andrew J. Nathan