Meeting of the Faculty of the Arts & Sciences

November 13, 2007



President Bollinger opened the meeting at 12:05 p.m. The faculty approved the minutes of the preceding meeting.


Bob Friedman, chair of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, began with a welcome from ECFAS, and outlined the major issues to be discussed at this meeting: the possible expansion of the College (a Faculty Forum in December will also be devoted to this issue), and the questions of academic freedom and governance. A future event will likely be needed to discuss these issues more fully. Last year’s two faculty forums led to new initiatives from Arts & Sciences, on facilities and on fund-raising. A successful faculty forum for untenured faculty was held earlier in this semester. All those who wish to raise issues are encouraged to contact members of ECFAS.


Vice President Nick Dirks reported on A&S affairs; a detailed letter was distributed to the meeting, which will allow discussion to focus on the most pressing current issues. The letter includes as an addendum the new ECFAS statement affirming the critical importance of academic freedom. The administration is closely engaged with trying to resolve the issues raised with the ongoing hunger strike on the South Lawn. Nick and Austin Quigley have circulated to the students a detailed report on the various initiatives already under way in the areas of their concern, and enhanced efforts are planned. In point of fact, support has been steadily increased for the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, and it will be further strengthened, as shown by the recent allocation of new senior lines. The Office of Multicultural Affairs is also being reviewed and strengthened. The expansion of Columbia into Manhattanville is also being discussed; A&S welcomes the students’ participation within the processes available.


A more comprehensive and transparent process of teaching evaluations is being instituted. The Task Force on Undergraduate Education is exploring initiatives on such issues as space allocation, and relations between the College and General Studies (no outright merger is contemplated, as wrongly reported in the Spectator).


The activity of A&S proceeds at a heavy pace, with new programs across A&S, the new program to supply computers to faculty, and many other initiatives. The costs of these changes have required greater care in hiring plans, following significant faculty growth: a 9% increase in just the past three years (from 595 to 648), targeted especially in areas of greatest teaching needs; similarly a 10% increase in SIPA. The capital campaign under way plans a billion dollars for undergraduate education. $248 million is already committed for undergraduate financial aid, and substantial progress has been made in raising new faculty chairs. A&S is the centerpiece of any great university; the President and Provost have been strongly supportive of the continued strength of A&S.


Provost Alan Brinkley then spoke. He is asking a group of faculty to engage in a broad review of the sciences at Columbia, building on the major report of 2002, but now taking into account the prospect of major new space coming available in Manhattanville, starting probably five years from now. What kind of science should we be doing? This review will be modeled on the ARC review process, though it will be university-wide.


The task force on undergraduate education is developing a proposal for an increase in the size of the College on the order of 500 students, and is also exploring closer linkage between the C.C. and the G.S. student bodies. Expansion would require a great deal of explanation and planning – much more than seems to have been done prior to the last expansion. The Task Force is gathering a great deal of information; a full presentation of the current state of plans will be given at the faculty forum on December 3, beginning the process for the faculty to consider and debate these proposals.


Finally, on the thorny issue of housing: a mortgage and housing subsidy program has been developed; eligibility for this program will be in the hands of the deans, who will determine the priorities for eligibility. It is hoped that the program will lead to the opening up of more of the University’s own apartments. The University is also beginning the leasing of apartments in the open market. The Faculty Housing Committee will reconvene, and will solicit input and suggestions from all faculty members.


President Lee Bollinger then spoke about Manhattanville plans, academic freedom, and consultation with faculty on issues such as the setting up of branch offices.


The $4 billion capital campaign is in its second year, now ahead of schedule with commitments up to about $2.5 billion, a substantial amount in actual cash. Columbia is building a broad base of donors who will help sustain the institution over time. Annual contributions have gone from $270 million per year a few years ago to $424 million this year – third in the Ivy League and peer group. Still, Harvard raised $600 million and Stanford raised $800 million. The Lenfest matching gift of $47.5 million for 50 new professorships has yielded 15 to date, with another two dozen under discussion. The Kluge gift of $400 million is half for College scholarships and another $200 for financial aid around the University. Over the summer, Lee proposed to John Kluge that $180 million of that amount be applied in A&S, and he has agreed.


On Manhattanville, the University is in the middle of the critically important rezoning process, involving the entire 17 acres, which should yield 6 million square feet of space over the next three decades. The rezoning process follows two years of working with the City on planning and documentation. It begins in the Community Board, which resulted in a vote of 33 to 1 against Columbia, actually a success in that the 33 votes were asking for ten conditions, all of which are more or less part of the negotiating process with the community. A “Community Benefits Agreement” will be negotiated with a special Local Development Corporation. Columbia is restricted in dealing with this group, limiting the degree of outside discussion possible at this stage. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has indicated his support for Columbia’s plans, including a $20 million fund for housing for displaced residents. All the indications are good for successful completion of the process, which will conclude later this year with a vote by the City Council and a state proceeding for eminent domain. This could be a historic moment for the institution to be able to grow in future.


On academic freedom: The president emphasized that he was here to listen, having devoted his professional career to thinking about academic freedom, and having tried consistently to adhere to the principle of strict academic freedom. Yet every new controversy raises new issues. With respect to President Ahmadinejad’s visit, this invitation came through SIPA and was incorporated in the World Leader’s Forum. The question then was how to make this a genuinely academic event with robust debate. Questions and answers were key. Given the seriousness of the ideas on the table, it was important to make a statement sharply challenging his views – a format established in agreement with the Iranian president’s staff. There was extraordinary pressure on the University to cancel Ahmadinejad’s invitation outright. The University should be able to invite virtually anyone for academic purposes; we need to articulate and defend this principle. The intensity of outside pressure in this instance was unprecedented, perhaps fuelled by the controversy over Ahmadinejad’s proposed visit to Ground Zero. The World Leaders’ Forum gives students an exceptional opportunity to hear world leaders and ask them questions. It’s fair to criticize inconsistency in the ways the forum has been set up; with the visit by President Musharraf, for instance, no real debate took place. The Forum should become a venue for substantial campus debate, with more involvement from students and faculty in fashioning better forums.


Lee emphasized that he has scrupulous in resisting any outside pressure whatever on our academic affairs, and it is important to reaffirm this now. Talking to some of the people involved with the current petition, he allowed that there is a dimension that he hadn’t fully understood; he closed this portion of his remarks by welcoming any input on ways to sustain academic freedom, as we all understand it.


Finally, on consultation with faculty on major matters of policy, the other issue emphasized in the faculty “Statement of Concern” circulating in recent days: Taking the example of “satellite campuses,” the idea is simply to set up offices – not campuses – to help us better recruit international students, link up with alumni, and assist faculty and schools doing work abroad, perhaps including research abroad on issues of globalization. We have not been envisioning setting up branch campuses; this is not a good plan for us now, more than we can take on. Yet we should have more presence abroad than we do today, and some of these plans grow directly out of faculty initiative and in consultation with deans and with area faculty.


Bob Friedman then invited Paul Strohm to make a statement on behalf of the Columbia University Faculty Action Committee (CUFACT). Paul began by outlining the background of the Committee’s formation. A small group of faculty got together to discuss concerns about weakening of faculty governance and an apparent willingness of the administration to give in to outside pressures. Circulation of the statement has been informal, as there doesn’t seem to be a ready way to reach the full A&S faculty; even so, it has gained substantial support. Not all the 106 signers agree with all the statements in the statement, e.g. on specifics in the second paragraph concerning consultation on policies. Yet all the signers affirm that the statement speaks to the key issue of the President’s insufficient support for academic freedom and a minimizing of consultation with faculty on the shaping of research and teaching programs. Paul then read the “Statement of Concern.”


Bob Friedman opened the floor for discussion.


Robert Jervis: How does ECFAS regard the question of consultation with faculty? Bob Friedman replied that the issue is very much on the mind of ECFAS, and we’re groping our way toward a model for having more input, looking for ways to open those issues to the faculty. The faculty forums are one such way, but more sustained means are needed. Cathy Popkin remarked that ECFAS is deeply concerned that Columbia doesn’t have a culture of consultation or a mechanism to do so; we seek ideas.


Paul Strohm: Formal structures for faculty ideas and input are needed.


Andrew Delbanco: As a member of the Undergraduate Task Force, he was astonished to read in the Spectator of a report from last spring; what was this? Alan Brinkley replied that was a short memo on General Studies, given to the Task Force last spring, not now a current report or proposal.


Eric Foner: The “Statement of Concern” originated in a growing feeling of administrative unresponsiveness in the face of very severe outside pressures and the vilification of some of the faculty. The president’s speech introducing Ahmadinejad seemed to bring all of these issues together, committing the University to a strong political position with no consultation with any faculty knowledgeable about Iran, apparently only aimed at placating outside critics. Most offensive were such statements to the Iranian president as “your government is now undermining American troops in Iraq,” quoting General Petraeus, and saying that Iran’s actions are endangering Columbia graduates now serving in Iraq; “they rightly see your government as the enemy” – not language the president of a university should use at a time when the Bush Administration is drumming up support for attacking Iran and prolonging the warfare in Iraq. The inclusion of such language is what alarmed many of the faculty into thinking this was a political statement, made without apparent consultation with anyone on the faculty who might have known more about the region. The aim of the statement of concern is to encourage the president to do better in future, with more consultation and more measured responses in future crises.


Christia Mercer: One thing ECFAS has done is to shift A&S meetings toward topics, with less emphasis on administrative reports and more on  hearing from faculty; we need more meetings, more faculty discussion. People from other universities are appalled at how little faculty involvement there is. A monthly faculty meeting would be one way to increase communication.


Rashid Khalidi: ECFAS has been helping, but elsewhere these meetings are run by the faculty, not the administration. Good strides have been made on consultation; more is needed on governance.


Ronald Breslow (Chemistry): Other groups than faculty have the right to be listened to. At a meeting with alumni, one strong supporter said he’d considered not coming at all, since Ahmadinejad had been invited to speak there. The administration can’t only represent the faculty, but must mediate with groups whose support we need.


Akeel Bilgrami expressed his appreciation of Lee Bollinger’s expression of awareness that he may have said some inappropriate things. In that spirit, the University can pursue the crucial decisions now coming up on tenure. Review and re-review of cases coming up must follow precedents and continue to truly base tenure decision on academic merit.


Mahmoud Mamdani: The discussion should include note of the administration’s achievements, including in fundraising, but equally in the successful diversity campaign made under Jean Howard’s leadership and with the administration’s support. Having said that, three things remain worrisome. First, our relation to the outside of the university: the administration needs to be responsive to its outside constituencies, yet also must protect the faculty from outside pressure. What brought the CUFACT group together was the administration’s unwillingness and inability to protect faculty and strongly uphold academic freedom, starting with the David Project and most recently with the Admadinejad visit. The problem wasn’t that a similar debate should have been promoted with Musharraf; it would be most unfortunate if the treatment of Ahmadinejad’s treatment became the standard for our university. A letter signed by the majority of SIPA students protested the “disparaging and invidious language” addressed to Iran’s president. The students requested a forum with Bollinger at SIPA; this never came about. Third: the upsurge in hate speech, and the hunger strike, indicate a move toward a more confrontational situation, a tone set by the president. There is no room for the university president to usurp the terms of debate.


John Coatsworth, acting dean of SIPA: SIPA got this all started, and as pressure mounted, Lee Bollinger steadfastly supported the principle of academic freedom and the importance of keeping the invitation ahead. Lee’s challenges to Ahmadinejad did raise concerns, by going into partisan political views. Be that as it may, Lee has responded constructively, including meeting this morning with a dozen representatives of the SIPA students, and work is ongoing on plans for more informed discussion and debate.


Lee Bollinger then thanked the faculty for their candid comments. He had said what he felt at the Admadinejad event, not to appease outsiders or represent the university; he thinks almost daily about the question of whether he went too far. Many people think the ideas on the table demanded exactly the response he made; when someone on the world stage denies the Holocaust, it is important to speak to that. This is something that has created enormous controversy and passions on many sides. The students have been magnificent in all of this. The president emphasized that in other controversies he has denounced and totally rejected outside efforts at pressure, and will continue to do that. He raised the general question: What positions can a university president take? He gives hundreds of speeches each year, speaking on many issues, such as the inequalities of public financing of education. What is appropriate? He does not support the war in Iraq, and regrets that the comments came across in that way. Yet suppose a president did want to speak in support of the Iraq war in a public forum. Should the president not take a position on any politicized issue, or speak only personally? There is a reasonable view that a university president should not get involved in public debate; Lee takes issue with this, and wants a world in which everyone can take passionate part in public debate. There is a cost; it may stir up the institution unproductively. But everyone at the university is in a similar position: faculty and deans too should be able to make their views known, even if they are criticized for using their platform as Columbia faculty members to advance their views.


Pamela Smith then made a brief report on the ECFAS fundraising committee. Three development groups have been formed by ECFAS, working with UDAR. One works on events to raise $1,000,000 and more, most successfully working with Cookie Neal on sciences, now needing a UDAR liaison for humanities and social sciences. The second committee works with Linda Nelson of UDAR to support departmental fundraising (for amounts up to $100,000). Pilot programs are in place in History and English, including boards of visitors for each department to advise on outreach and fundraising. The third committee focuses on alumni affairs and help strengthen lines of communication between alumni and faculty in intellectually driven events.


Ann Mc Dermott gave an update on the new course evaluations. This new set of semi-standardized evaluations grew out of conversations with students and in close consultation with faculty. Different versions suit different kinds of courses, a medium ground between standardization and flexibility. Going forward, a committee should include representatives of the departmental administrators and the graduate students.


In discussion, questioners asked about the value of numerical ratings versus narrative comments; Ann replied that in response to feedback, more written comments have been added. Another question concerned the use of these evaluations; Ann replied that the chairs will always have the role to contextualize rankings (e.g. by explaining that a course is needed but difficult); evaluations will be seen by the Vice President as well as the department chair and the faculty member in question. Faculty are welcome to develop a more detailed and useful evaluation of their own, perhaps sent out early in the term, when feedback can actually be used to help shape the course. Another questioner asked whether students can be urged to give substantive feedback when they mark a low grade? Ann welcomed the suggestion.


President Bollinger adjourned the meeting at 1:55 p.m.