Meeting of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences

April 21, 2005


President Bollinger called the meeting to order at 12:13 p.m.


The President gave an update on some of the foundations being laid for the institution to improve over the next ten years.  This starts with space.  The components are some properties uptown, and in the Morningside area the northwest corner building, the north side of the Cathedral Close (where we have obtained an option), and Manhattanville.  Knox is now ready for us, rented from Union Theological Seminary.  If all this comes together, we could almost double our space over a few decades.  The mayor supports putting the Manhattanville project through the ULUR [Uniform Land Use Review] process, creating a master plan for the whole 18 acres.  We now own about 55% of the space, the city owns about 20%, and we are negotiating with the other property owners.  The total buildable space is 6 million sq. ft.  We are in close discussions with the community over a community benefits package.  There is bound to be controversy, but it is possible that the ULUR process may conclude in a year to a year and a half.  If that were to be unsuccessful, we could still build on the properties we own.

            Planning for the northwest corner building is continuing.  We are working with a lab planning expert and are near to hiring an architect. 

            The capital campaign is developing.  We have $25 to $30 million in commitments from trustees for College financial aid.  We have a new gift of $12 million from Gerry Lenfest for awards to A&S faculty.  Total gifts as of the end of March were 27% higher than through the same period last year.  Gifts to A&S were up 17% over last year.

            Fundraising builds excitement over what can happen in a time of growth.  This raises the question of what kind of intellectual growth we want.  Our A&S departments are one quarter to one third smaller than they should be.  Space and resources are inadequate to allow the requisite level of growth for now.  The growth of the College would be good for the growth of the university.

            This foundation of space and financial resources takes about five years from now to begin concretely to affect our conditions of work.  Manhattanville would begin construction at the earliest in two years and have some space to move into three years after that.  The cathedral close project will take longer, the northwest corner building we hope can happen a little sooner.

The President called for a motion to approve the minutes of the last meeting.  This motion was moved, seconded, and approved.


Professor Walter Frisch thanked the members of ECFAS for their hard work.  John Morgan will be chair next year.  Professor Frisch pointed out how hard Nick Dirks has worked on behalf of the A&S faculty this year.  He has worked closely with ECFAS.  ECFAS’s role has evolved.  The issues of academic freedom and governance took up a lot of our time.  This has been constructive.  We drafted the academic freedom statement, helped form the new grievance procedures and appoint the grievance committee.  We worked closely with Lee and Alan.  Faculty governance works well and is growing stronger, including such bodies as ARC and the Faculty Budget Group.

            Professor Frisch introduced the proposed amendments to the faculty’s bylaws and stated that ECFAS hopes the faculty will vote on the amendments at its meeting next October.

            Four members of ECFAS are going off and need to be replaced.  A slate of nominees will soon be circulated.           


Vice President Nicholas Dirks thanked Professor Frisch and ECFAS for working productively on a complex set of agendas.

This has been an unusually tumultuous year, with an unusual degree of press attention.  We have felt vulnerable to outside scrutiny that often challenges our academic freedom.  The outside world often misunderstands the university’s practices.  The convening of an ad hoc committee was unusual, and to make its report public was even more unusual.  But we did so because the charges had become public and we needed a public document to make clear that these issues are part of faculty governance.

            We must reaffirm the principles of academic freedom, faculty governance, and faculty evaluation of faculty.  Vice President Dirks has therefore worked closely with ECFAS to frame the statement on academic freedom.  He expressed his thanks to the members of the ad hoc committee for their service to the principle of academic self-governance.

            Our grievance procedures have been inadequate.  They tilted too much to informality and to resolution of issues through dialogue.  This is how it should be, but we need enhanced clarity and formality at a new upper level of grievance procedures.  Thus we have created a standing committee with clear guidelines and easy access.  The process is faculty driven and faculty managed and is loyal to the principle of faculty governance.  The grievance committee will not deal with faculty review, which goes on in existing channels. 

            The ad hoc committee also recommended control over the ill effects of unauthorized auditors.

            Some have questioned whether establishing an outside faculty advisory committee to advise the MEALAC chair was bowing to outside pressure.  In fact this was completely unrelated to the controversy, but grew out of processes set in place by Acting Vice President Ira Katznelson the year before to assist MEALAC to realize the recommendations of its ARC review and help it deploy new resources.  Such practices are not uncommon to help departments grow.

            We are confronting an increasingly competitive marketplace in all fields, but Columbia remains attractive because of its institutional features and location.  It has been an active year for recruitment and retention.  ARC completed reviews of Reid Hall and Political Science and has other reviews under way.

            But we are confronting difficult budgetary times due to the College financial aid crisis, rising space renovation costs, and other reasons.  We are working with the President and Provost and others to come up with a financial plan.  We are committed to rectifying our salary lag.  We are working hard on capital campaign planning.  The Gerry Lenfest gift is an important illustration of support for A&S – it consists of ten faculty awards per year, each lasting three years, carrying supplementary salary.

            We have been working closely with Jean Howard on issues of faculty diversity and are near to launching a plan for the coming year.  Other efforts are underway to consider globalization and internationalization.


Provost Alan Brinkley stated that the task forces on tenure review policies and on the Columbia School are near completion of their work.  Their reports will be made public.  The Tenure Review Committee will recommend some measures to improve the speed and efficiency of the ad hoc process.  The School Committee has recommendations on admission policy and other subjects. 

            We have spent a lot of time this year talking about students, and this was important.  The ad hoc committee report reaffirmed that students have rights, e.g., to be treated courteously in the classroom, and that there should be ways for student complaints to be reviewed.  Will the purview of the new grievance procedures include classroom bias?  The provost stated that his view is that we do not believe that issues of classroom bias are appropriately to be resolved in the grievance committee.  The committee should refer such issues of classroom bias to departments and other faculty governance mechanisms.

            Classroom bias would only come to the attention of any procedure if it were egregiously distorting the mission of the university.  If it does come up, it should be resolved by the faculty.

            We have not yet paid enough attention to protecting the faculty.  We have become aware of a lot of influences affecting how secure faculty feel in the classroom.  We learned from the ad hoc committee report of ways outsiders have tried to disrupt teaching, and of hate mail and death threats.  We have to be ready to protect faculty – from physical danger of course, but also to teach.  Faculty members themselves must know they have a right to exclude people from the classroom who don’t belong there, and they should be able to get help if they need it.

            Many faculty feel insecure as a result of what happened this year and fear a rash of complaints against faculty.  We’ll work as hard to defend the right of faculty to teach freely without fear of intimidation as to protect the rights of students to learn without intimidation.


Professor Frisch introduced the revised academic freedom statement which ECFAS, the vice president, the provost,  and the president all support.  We would like to see it adopted as an A&S statement and eventually as a university statement.


Professor Darcy Kelley stated that the document has a glaring omission.  It covers the responsibilities of faculty and the rights of students, but says too little about the responsibilities of students and the rights of faculty.  Students have a responsibility for civility of discourse in the classroom.  Students have a responsibility to academic integrity, to present only their own work as their own.  Students have a responsibility to learn.


Professor Frisch pointed out that the sentence that begins “The University will protect…” does allude to this.  Plagiarism is covered in other documents.


Professor Kelley said that we do not have a university wide policy on academic integrity.  It is the keystone of a university’s credibility.  More broadly, students must exercise a sense of responsibility to the learning process.


Professor Frisch stated that a concise document cannot cover everything.  This document speaks of “an obligation to meet scholarly standards.”


Professor Kelley suggested adding the phrase “on the part of the students.”


Professor Dan Kleinman stated that ECFAS discussed what to say about students and we decided to focus this statement on rights and obligations of faculty.  It is not intended to cover students.


Professor Kelley said that, in that case, the document should say so.


Professor Frisch said that students and faculty are mentioned equally in many parts.


Professor Norma Graham stated that she agrees with Professor Kelley.  Students do not understand their responsibility to speak civilly.  Scholarly standards are not just footnotes but the whole integrity of the knowledge base.  We have seen a lot of cheating.  It is very disappointing.  Students need to be taught why we view knowledge as sacred.


Professor Rosalind Morris stated that she is gratified to see a strong statement on academic freedom.   Regulations on plagiarism deal with academic integrity.  Her concern is with the fourth paragraph in second section: why is abusive or discriminatory behavior mentioned here?  That is already outlawed.  It does not need to be conflated with the issue of academic freedom.


Professor Lewis Cole said that he is concerned with a passivity in the document.  It says that the university “grants” a right, when we possess this right as citizens.  The university’s role is to protect and expand this right.  And this gives the university a responsibility, which is not developed here.  The professors we remember are not the ones who are accurate but the ones who are passionate in regard to their understanding of their subjects.

            The statement also does not take note of the context, wherein our academic freedom is being attacked and needs to be protected.


Professor Mahmood Mamdani said that he appreciates the strong defense of the academic freedom in the document.  Two issues merit further attention.  The first is the question of faculty harassment in the classroom, that is, the need for protection of faculty from student harassment and the need to specify standards of student civility.  The second is the question of classroom bias.  What does this mean?   Professor Mamdani said that he  understands the language of the academic freedom statement, which says that faculty have freedom of expression constrained only by scholarly standards.  Is classroom bias another term for balance?  If so, it is an attack on academic freedom.


Provost Alan Brinkley said that if Professor Mamdani had interpreted his statement to mean that we should set up classroom bias as an issue we should address, he misunderstood him.  The provost was trying to say that he does not know what bias is.  All he was trying to say is that, when students complain about what they call bias, it is important for the available procedures to be able to sort out which of a huge range of possible things they mean.


Professor Mamdani said that his point is not that it is difficult to define classroom bias.  It is that he does not think there is any such thing.  The classroom is a place where you put forward a point of view.


Provost Brinkley said that he does not agree that there is no such thing as unacceptable bias in the classroom.  Sexual harassment and discriminatory behavior are forms of bias.  There will be complaints about classroom bias and we need to separate those that should be addressed [in grievance procedures] and those that need to be addressed by faculty and departments.


Professor Peter Isenberger said that he endorses what Professor Kelley said.  The teaching of values is a key part of the academic process.  The last paragraph avoids the real issue, which is outside pressure.  The document sidesteps it by saying we have rights except when the trustees decide we do not.  The real issue comes up when the university is entangled with society and is a big business.  The question needs more serious thought.


Professor Mark Mazower said that it is a good document but not the end of the matter.  Outside groups have a clear idea of classroom bias and, if we are not clear, they are.  He asked the Provost what further ideas he has for protecting faculty.


Provost Brinkley stated that even his remarks on the subject seem to have alarmed some of the faculty.  We have reaffirmed right of faculty to teach as they wish using standards of accuracy and civility and, if there are concerns, they must be addressed within faculty processes, not by the administration or by grievance procedures.  Supervision of quality of teaching lies within the faculty.  The provost stated further that he agrees that the notion of classroom bias will be an instrument for some to try to monitor and control what is taught.  But he does not think there is any way to define classroom bias.  If it is to be addressed at all, it needs to be addressed by departments and faculty.  But he cannot say that there is no circumstance under which bias might affect classroom teaching.


President Bollinger added that the touchstone is scholarly standards, or professional standards of scholarship.  That standard is implemented by faculty through university procedures.  It is difficult to define scholarly standards in detail just as it is impossible to describe the standards for tenure.  The standards for tenure are very general, e.g., scholarship of the highest excellence.  But what does this mean?  One book?  Two books?  Truly original ideas?  Efforts to specify further collapse of their own weight.  The same is true of defining what we aim for in the classroom.  We have all had the experience of reviewing scholarly work in various contexts and trying to evaluate the work for excellence.  If someone refuses to talk about a set of ideas relevant to a subject because he finds them politically unacceptable, that is unacceptable.  The role of the university is to make sure the faculty have the opportunity to implement these standards.

This works best when it is informal.  It has been made more formal and has the risk of inviting grievances that are inappropriate.  If that happens, the grievance procedures should refuse to deal with them and should channel such matters into appropriate channels.

            We hope for things to settle down so we get back the freedom to raise ideas that some find unacceptable.  We have to show that this is a campus that values debate.

            The Senate has passed a resolution proposing to establish a university-wide grievance procedure.  The president stated that he has told the Senate that he would insist on bringing this to the trustees for approval.  A&S needs to know about this.


Professor Jean Cohen said that she does not think we should talk about bias.  Discriminatory behavior of course is not tolerated.  But the issue is so called intellectual bias.  What is the opposite of this?  Impartiality, comprehensiveness, balance, silence? – none is possible.  It is a myth.  If you come into my class, you’ll get my views.  Let’s get the word bias off the table.


Professor Kleinman pointed out that this statement says nothing about balance or bias.  Second, concerning the role of the trustees, what the statement says is just a fact; however, the statement speaks of deference [of the trustees to faculty governance].  Third, the issue of academic integrity of students belongs in another statement.


Professor Frisch asked for a sense of the meeting as to whether the statement is acceptable in its current form. 


The show of hands indicated divided opinion.


Provost Brinkley said that he feared that the discussion of bias had clouded the issue.  He said that he is not trying to put the issue of bias on the table.  Rather, it is on the table because it is the principal charge against us, and we have to be prepared to respond.  He agrees that the concept is seldom really relevant, except for almost unimaginable discriminatory behavior.  But what do we say when a student comes and says he is disturbed by bias?  We have to say that these issues are dealt with by faculty processes.  The word bias can be used to describe almost anything, and some of those things may be things we want to do something about. 


Professor Paul Anderer stated that we should not vote.  But the fact that Vice President Dirks gave a ringing affirmation of faculty self governance is much appreciated.  Space expansion will not rescue us from this crisis.  We need to know that senior leadership understands the difficulty and is willing to rush to our aid and support.


Professor Frisch adjourned the meeting at 1:58 p.m.


Respectfully submitted,


Andrew J. Nathan