Meeting of the Columbia University Faculty of Arts & Sciences, May 8, 2007





The meeting was called to order at 12:10 p.m. by President Lee Bollinger.  Christia Mercer, Chair of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, began by discussing ECFAS’s work during the year on three main areas of concern: facilities; faculty support; and questions about information on faculty work and life – issues raised at the first Faculty Forum.  She noted that at the February A&S meeting, Alan Brinkley and Nick Dirks made important announcements on work/life issues.


New Associate Provost and Director of Work-Life Carol Hoffman will speak to these issues at the fall meeting.  Enormous progress is being made on child care and back-up care, the latter giving doctoral students, postdocs and faculty 100 hours of subsidized care a year.  Carol Hoffman is also working to expand the range of affiliated day care centers in and around Columbia.  Thanks to her and to Jean Howard’s important work, there will be day care for infants and young children.  With these programs, Columbia has jumped ahead of most of our peers in care for family matters.  A new website will also provide all sorts of information.


Besides quality of life issues, ECFAS has been active on fundraising front, with a new fundraising committee inaugurating last year to build faculty participation.  Six weeks ago, ECFAS decided to divide the fundraising labor into three committees. One will work on major gifts (David Helfand, Stuart Firestein, and Teo Barolini); second is a Department/UDAR group (Bob Hymes, Pamela Smith, Shahid Naeem, and Patricia Dailey) to facilitate communication and development strategies between departments and UDAR.  A pilot program has begun with English.  Third, a committee will be created that will work with UDAR and College alumni staff.


Vice President Nick Dirks then reported on the year in A&S.  He began by noting that Christia Mercer has been a particularly energetic and successful chair of ECFAS.  (Applause.)


Spectacular progress has been made over the past three years, as can be seen in faculty growth.  In 2004 there were 595 professorial rank faculty, a number that increased 5% to 625 by 2006, and is expected to grow another 3% by fall 2007. The focus has been especially on junior hiring and internal tenuring.  The proportion of tenured faculty has increased somewhat as a result over the desired 2/3 ratio.  Faculty growth has been in all three divisions, including 6% in sciences.  Hiring has been aided by central funds for the Diversity Initiative – eighteen faculty successfully recruited, thanks to the exceptional leadership of Jean Howard.  (Applause.)


Several departments have been rebuilt or strengthened, including Economics, Political Sciences, Spanish and Portuguese, French, Sociology, Art History, Religion, Math, EEB, and Physics.


In the Capital Campaign, A&S has raised about $466,000,000 so far.  John Kluge’s monumental generosity has been widely noted; further work is needed on financial aid especially for GS, the School of the Arts, and elsewhere.


The budget has been causing major worries, requiring an increase in central support to make up for the budget shortfall, in part because of elimination of loan obligation for families with income below $50,000.


New investments are being made in lives of current faculty – with computer upgrades, departmental refreshes, added resources for salaries and department administration.  For the first time in years, the cost of all retentions will be fully socialized, with a base line of 3% plus added funds for retentions and equity adjustments.  All these changes will require moderation in new hiring for the coming year.  The hope is to reduce the deficit gradually over the next few years.


Searches are under way for new deans of SIPA and the School of the Arts.  The “Northwest corner” science building is under first stage of construction.  Knox Hall is under renovation – this will give the first real decompression of space for A&S.


Much is being done on undergraduate education, as Dean Austin Quigley will report.


Nick Dirks then introduced Vicky Prince, expressing profound regret for her retirement.  (Sustained applause.)  In October, there will be a formal retirement party, which will also serve as a 25th birthday party for the Faculty of A&S.


Vicky Prince then described her plan to retire from her commute but not from giving advice.  She then described two initiatives now under way as a result of the fall Faculty Forum.  First, the Refresh Program focuses on cosmetic improvements for weary spaces, looking to the life cycle of facilities in between major renovations.  The initial phase includes a lot of site visits to departments, assessing needs, with a view to scheduling ongoing work.  Second, an Administrative Advisory Committee is being created, bringing together chairs, DAs, and ECFAS members, to work on improving the administrative environment for teaching and research.  Cathy Popkin has agreed to chair the committee.  Initial DAs will be Joy Hayton of English and Comp Lit and Angela Reid of Economics.


President Bollinger then described successes of the past year – symbolized by the award of two Nobel Prizes to faculty members this past fall.  The key goals revolve around trying to help the institution to get its intellectual work and teaching to the very highest levels, and to move the institution in intellectual directions that are right for the time.  One thing this means is attention to globalization.  Regional studies programs are being built up.  Another idea being pursued is to have research centers in five or six regions of the world, with a small base of support for faculty and students to meet, study, and work on area issues, as Columbia now has with Reid Hall in Paris.  Delhi, Beijing, Amman, Dar es Salaam and other locations are under consideration.


On campus, there’s an ongoing need to plan for space and to build up the resources to sustain this.  Part of the issue is to get to the scale needed for the intellectual work we do. The Northwest Corner building design is very daring – and could be brilliant.  The major development with Manhattanville this year has been the vote of the Business School to move there, freeing up Uris Hall along with Knox for A&S to have the space it needs.  The approval process is a massive undertaking, slowly going forward.  Analyzing everything from shadows to traffic patterns to decades-long construction, there’s a lot to discuss and consider.  The hope is to enter the 200-day rezoning process in early June, with strong support from the Mayor, Charles Rangel, and the Governor.  Property purchases have continued.  It’s critical to have no delay in the timing of construction of the actual buildings, still expected on a five-year horizon.


The Capital Campaign is critical to the resource side of the institution.  Columbia’s endowment is well managed, returning 15-18% a year -- $900,000,000 a year.  Meanwhile, the $4,000,000,000 campaign is among the most ambitious in the country.  This is the first year of the five devoted to the campaign, and already about $2.2 billion has been pledged.  The Kluge gift is spectacular – the fourth largest in the history if higher education, and the largest ever for financial aid.  It’s important as well as a signal to a broad array of people that Columbia is well worth supporting with major gifts, which will be exceedingly important over the coming decade.


Annual giving has climbed steadily, and should exceed $400,000,000 this year – still a way to go to reach the levels of Harvard or Stanford.


Christia Mercer then introduced the focus of the second half of the meeting: Undergraduate education, the subject of last week’s Faculty Forum. She introduced Dean Austin Quigley, who would address three issues raised in the Forum: grading, advising, and curriculum.


Austin Quigley began by noting that at this year’s Senior Dinner, 84% of the entire senior class contributed to the Senior Gift – a record, and a good indication of student satisfaction levels.  Applications continue to be up, with 8.9% admit rate this year the best in the Ivy League – an exceptional change over just a decade ago.  Columbia continues to have the most diverse class among our peers, both by ethnicity and income, typically 1/3 to ½ ahead of most peers on these measures.  Extending the pool of under-$50,000 families is critical.  John Kluge’s astronomically large gift is in no small measure to Lee Bollinger’s credit.  The President’s influence was also critical in seeing that the majority of the gift is directed to A&S.


A faculty error may have compromised the results of the Lit Hum final examination.  A committee is taking this in hand.


On advising: It’s important for faculty to take this seriously, but it’s a complicated issue when you look at it closely.  Advising doesn’t rate highly among our peer schools generally.  Does “advising” mean information, or guidance, or mentoring and a close personal relation?  With 70 majors, 30 concentrations, and hundreds of electives, just who can give good general advice on all this?  Individual faculty members really can’t do that.  We need a plan for general educational advice that deans can often best give, plus specialized advice in the majors that will be a quality use of faculty time.  But how to do the bridging from the general advising to the majors?   This is an issue for ongoing discussion.

Students continue to cluster a few majors, with nearly 60% majoring in just half a dozen majors, at Columbia as at many schools.  Surely this is not ideal for students or faculty, but it’s hard to change; this needs re-examining.


What are students to do with their major?  What should the major do for the student?  The CUE report several years ago emphasized leading students to an ability to do independent research. Should the major also prepare students for graduate school or a specific career, or should our ideas about majors change with the increasing tendency of people to shift not only jobs but even careers over time?  Double- and triple-majors can be one student response, but at the risk of a diffusion of attention, never learning how to learn anything in depth.


Our majors vary widely in credits required, from somewhere in the 30s of credits to something in the 60s.  If we link issues of advising and majors, how would advising work differently in different sizes and structures of majors?  These complex issues aren’t susceptible to simple resolution; the COI can give guidelines but can’t and shouldn’t dictate policy.


Different departments have substantially different cultures and expectations, including as affects grading.


The pattern of student behavior needs to be noted as well.  Ten years ago, 84% of students took one program; now, the number is 69%; ten years ago, 16% double-majored, up now to 29%.


Grade inflation increases here as most places.  70% of grades are now in the range of A+ to B+.  The percent of As given in the Core has risen during the past decade from 47% to 55%.  In the sciences, A’s have increased from 40% to 45%.


Ann McDermott (as chair of working group on science education) and Martha Howell (for the President’s task force on undergraduate education) then joined the President, Provost, Vice President, and Dean of the College for a panel discussion, taking questions from the faculty on undergraduate issues.


Q: Have the task forces seriously considered the question of how many courses students have to take – often 5 or even more a semester?  Four is often the norm elsewhere – which might entail trimming the Core.  Any preliminary comment?


Austin Quigley: Ten years ago, 48% took only the minimum 124 points, now it’s down to around 33%.  A growing number – from 11% a decade ago to 20% now – are taking at least 3 courses above the minimum.  Along with Core issues, smaller departments are concerned that they’d suffer if students took fewer courses.


Ann McDermott: The center of gravity of discussion is whether students or faculty really want to cut back.


Q: A systemic problem is the relation of the Core to the majors.  The core now spreads out beyond first two years; has it lost its foundational status? – If students start majoring as soon as they come in, teachers can no longer build on the Core in upper-level courses.


Martha Howell:  One problem is that many of the students we teach aren’t College students at all – many are SEAS, Barnard, MALS, etc., so teachers really can’t assume the Core, and often not even for CC students in 3000-level courses.


Christia Mercer: Teaching Art Hum this term, half are seniors, the other half are first- and second-year students.  It’s no longer possible to assume that 2d- and 3rd- year student shave taken Art Hum.


Q:  The current setting of 3- versus 4-point credits seems arbitrary and inconsistent.


Ann McDermott: In natural sciences, curricula are often hierarchical and need to involve students early on.


Alan Brinkley:  We need to step back to consider the context of these changes.  Our curriculum has three elements, not two: the Core, majors, and electives.  The CUE Report of the early 1990s emphasized the pressures of the Core and majors on the opportunity to take electives.  People are now also focusing earlier on their majors – one reason for putting off some of the Core courses, as students try to specialize early on, perhaps partly from sense of marketplace pressures.  The culture of undergraduate life is changing.


Q: The growing popularity of joint majors is one response to the changing nature of the job market.


Martha Howell: Interdisciplinary majors sometimes work well, but sometimes students seem to be struggling to create them.


Q: What of undergraduates wanting to take graduate courses: is this trend also on the rise?


Nick Dirks:  Discussions are under way about opening up some professional school courses for undergraduates – but we want to beware too much early pre-professional interest.


Q: The whole question of Early Decision admissions has never been discussed at a faculty meeting, even though nearly 50% of the College class is now admitted early.  Should we consider pulling back on early decision as some of our peers have?  Are we afraid that if we don’t lock people in, they won’t come?


Austin Quigley: The Early Decision debate is ultimately about access, making sure our classes are inclusive and our doors are open.  We have a highly diverse student body now, with over 50% on financial aid, and an unusually high proportion of students coming from families with incomes under $50,000, and with our median family income $10,000 to $20,000 below Harvard/Princeton.  The reason our figures are as good as they are is because the early admission debate gets framed at the far end of the process.  Our admissions office is really equally our recruitment office.  The best method to strengthen any aspect of the class is to strengthen recruiting in that direction.  Extending the pool is the way to escape the limited pursuit of a few students by several schools, simply stealing from each other.


Q: Are schools just trying to improve their statistics by encouraging early applications, foreshortening high school students’ experience?


Austin Quigley:  On the other hand, Early Decision was introduced precisely in order to get the decision out of the way sooner. And improve the quality of high school students’ senior year


Q:  Is grade inflation linked to the increased number of courses taken?  Stiffer grading might encourage students to take fewer courses and concentrate on them more.  Second:  Has there been a trend in the number of adjuncts teaching non-Core courses?


Alan Brinkley:  In addition to the committees already mentioned, there’s also a committee on globalization and a committee on teaching.  The teaching committee will look closely at who teaches what.


Christia Mercer: These other working groups will report in the fall.


Martha Howell:  Roughly 60% of students are taught by non-ladder faculty, including teaching fellows, and people teaching introductory language classes.  We’re looking into these numbers to see just what they involve.  Further, the category called “Adjuncts” only sometimes includes adjuncts in the classic sense; many are distinguished visitors; others are lectures with benefits and long-term contracts.


Nick Dirks:  There’s a lot of difference across departments in terms of teaching loads, especially of undergraduate courses.  Smaller graduate programs have implications for the proportion of teaching.


Q:  Early Decision students may not actually be performing as well as regular-admit students.  Six years ago, 30-35% of students admitted as prospective science majors actually became science majors. Once faculty got involved, 86% of admitted science students graduated as sciences majors.  More faculty involvement could help improve the class.


Austin Quigley:  Intervention of faculty in science student recruitment has been excellent; this may not be such a general problem outside the sciences.  Furthermore, staying in a projected major may not be such a useful criterion of success in college for 17-year-olds, at least outside of the sciences.


Ann McDermott:  In the initial work of the group on science curriculum, it’s been notable to see innovation in science curricula, which has further increased attractiveness of science majors.


Q:  After all these issues have been pondered by these committees, how will the decisions be made?  What mechanisms will be used?


Lee Bollinger:  A further issue is relationship between GS and CC – should GS be absorbed in the College?  What refinements should there be of relations between SEAS and CC?  And with Barnard?  The size of the undergraduate population also needs ongoing discussion, including planning for potential increase of the size of the College.  Third, it’s important to make room for more international students at the undergraduate level as well as other levels.


The Presidential Task Force explicitly has no power to make decisions.  Once issues are raised and analyzed, it’s important to build a democratic structure of faculty governance.  Some recommendations will need Trustee approval; some are departmental matters; some are faculty issues more generally.  The decision-making process itself will need to be discussed.


Christia Mercer thanked the panelists for making themselves available, and introduced Robert Friedman as incoming ECFAS chair.  Bob Friedman then invited nominations for ECFAS incoming members, and invited faculty to return for next year’s faculty forums and meetings.  Finally, on behalf of ECFAS and the faculty of A&S, he presented Christia Mercer with two bottles of Champagne.


Lee Bollinger then received the faculty’s approval to grant this summer’s degrees, and adjourned the meeting at 2:00p.m.