MINUTES OF THE ARTS AND SCIENCES FACULTY:
MEETING OF APRIL 24, 2000
Convene & remarks: President George Rupp, the chairman, began the meeting at 12:10 pm in 207 Low Library. He noted that the agenda focused on core priorities of the Arts and Sciences, most importantly the recruitment and retention of outstanding faculty. This effort requires competitive salaries, good and affordable benefits (including housing, childcare, and schooling), adequate facilities, and effective support services. There has been some progress toward these goals, as shown in the emphasis on faculty salaries in next year's A&S budget, and in efforts to provide more faculty housing, most recently at the site on Broadway and 110th Street, where the city has allowed Columbia to pursue an expedited approval process. A committee on faculty support services chaired by Roger Bagnall has identified desktop support as a priority, particularly for departments without the infrastructure to accommodate these services. A pilot program to improve custodial services has begun for Fayerweather, Havemeyer, and Math. Efforts are also under way to improve the benefits operations in Human Resources, an area of particular weakness.
Especially important to the effort to attract outstanding faculty is the need to attract first-rate graduate and undergraduate students. Columbia has made real progress at the undergraduate level, though even there it could do more to recruit strong students to major in the sciences. In the Ph.D. programs, the University has further to go, though it has weaned itself somewhat from its longstanding dependence on self-funded graduate students. The pressure to improve graduate stipends is particularly acute.
The progress so far on these issues has enabled Columbia to hold its own against all but a few institutions--its most important rivals, which are substantially wealthier. Here the challenge is great, and Columbia has to be highly focused, especially in its efforts to maximize its financial resources, despite a slowing rate of increase in tuition, which has always been a disproportionately important revenue source here. The University needs to continue the current growth in grant revenues, which reached $400 million this year for the first time, and in fund raising. Columbia has more licensing revenues from patents than any other university, though the imminent expiration of one major patent may jeopardize that status. New programs under way in continuing education need to be evaluated before the University decides whether to establish a school for this purpose. The University should seize opportunities in distance learning--such as the new Cognitive Arts initiative--to generate revenues that may compensate for other shortfalls, particularly with the endowment.
The priorities for Arts and Sciences are well articulated in the letters to faculty for this meeting from David Cohen and ECFAS chair Lynn Cooper. But reaching those goals will require contributions from everyone at Columbia, including some that only faculty can make--in designing academic programs that bring in revenue, in generating outside awards and grants, and income from patents and distance-learning ventures.
Approval of minutes: Lynn Cooper, chair of ECFAS, was pleased to report that minutes of the last two meetings, in November and February, were now up on the ECFAS website. She asked only for approval of the minutes of the February meeting, which had been available longer than the November minutes. There was no objection. Prof. Cooper asked colleagues with corrections to the November minutes to e-mail them to David Helfand.
Prof. Helfand added that he expected to post minutes for the April 1999 meeting soon.
Remarks from ECFAS: Prof. Cooper summarized the main points of her letter to the faculty for the present meeting. She praised David Cohen's five-year projection of a balanced budget, but expressed concern about the plan's reliance on contingency funding and also about some of its assumptions, particularly for the current capital campaign.
An issue that took up more of the committee's attention was the proposal to establish a new Arts and Sciences department--Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology. Prof. Cooper said ECFAS was unable to reach consensus on the merits of the proposal. A memo from Prof. Helfand in the packet for the present meeting outlined some arguments pro and con.
A third set of issues on the ECFAS agenda this year involves distance learning and intellectual property rights. Prof. Cooper said ECFAS has not seen a coordinated University effort in the development and marketing of distance learning programs, but a complex mixture of initiatives, including fathom.com, separate efforts in some of the schools, and the Arts and Sciences venture with Cognitive Arts. As for the Provostial faculty committee that has been developing a copyright policy accounting for academic initiatives in new media, Prof. Cooper said public meetings held to explain the proposed policy have been useful, and she hoped to see more of them in the coming year, when a new policy would be implemented. The need for clarification is pressing because a perception is taking hold among faculty that they must surrender all rights to the University over any course material that goes on the internet. Some have even taken basic course materials down from the internet, a development that can only harm current students. Next year ECFAS will need to recommend ways for faculty to oversee developments in distance learning.
Finally, ECFAS has formed a group to study faculty size and composition. The members are Peter Bearman, Martin Meisel, Henry Pinkham, Daniel O'Flaherty, and Profs. Cooper and Helfand. The group hopes to report next year.
Remarks from David Cohen: In deference to the main agenda item--the proposed new department--Dr. Cohen said only that Arts and Sciences has had another strong year, implementing most of the recommendations of the Academic Review Committee for strengthening academic programs. For the first time in many years, A&S will also achieve a balanced operating budget.
The President invited questions and comments on the remarks of all three of the first speakers. He responded to Prof. Cooper's comment about a lack of coordination or articulation among the University's distance learning initiatives, calling attention to his four-page letter to faculty, dated February 29, 2000,which offered an explanation of these activities. The letter points out that Fathom.com is a spin-off venture, not a central, organizing agency. The University's main link to the outside world on distance-learning issues will be Columbia Media Enterprises. The primary internal organization will be the Center for New Media Teaching and Learning, whose purpose is to develop web-based instructional content.
The President said the anxiety of any faculty who are taking course material down from the web is misplaced, as the draft policy statement makes clear. Prof. Helfand said professors who go to the new media center for help with web-based instruction are anxious because they are automatically asked to sign a form transferring copyright to the University. He understood that this arrangement would be modified.
Provost Jonathan Cole said this current practice is one reason Columbia needs a copyright policy. He said the second draft of the policy, now on the web, explains that the University will only assert copyright if there is an attempt to commercialize instructional content, and only if certain other conditions are met as well. But he acknowledged the problem of perception, and urged those present to read the revised policy.
Prof. Cooper stressed that ECFAS does not feel the anxiety she described, but that a number of faculty do. The Provost agreed, adding that the adoption of a policy, with provisions for a review in three years, and for adjudication of disputes by a standing committee composed mostly of faculty, will allow still more opportunities for discussion.
Lawrence Chasin asked why the university could not retain control over the process of producing, approving, and marketing courses for distance learning. Vice President Cohen responded that the big issue is investment: the costs of developing and marketing a course as a genuine distance-learning product are much higher than Arts and Sciences can afford. One reason for the agreement with Cognitive Arts is that they are paying all those costs. Faculty are still free to try to develop courses in other ways, but the money is simply not available within the university.
Provost Cole spoke to Prof. Chasin's concern about the issue of academic credit for distance-learning courses in Columbia degree programs. He said this issue, involving the question of the nature of Columbia degrees, and the role of deans and COIs in establishing curricula, has not been addressed yet.
Vice President Cohen said most of the curriculum for Cognitive Arts will be resemble current continuing education courses, for example in computer technology applications and the American Language Program. But there will be experimental efforts with a handful of A&S courses.
Elaine Sisman asked who will decide which Arts and Sciences courses are developed by Cognitive Arts. Vice President Cohen said Cognitive Arts has suggested some courses that might be marketable; his office passes on the suggestion to chairs, who then designate one or more members of their department to design the course. Cognitive Arts is interested in hearing other ideas from faculty, through the Vice President's office. He stressed that Cognitive Arts is a for-profit organization, which must make business decisions about what courses will succeed. They would not have signed an agreement with Columbia without such a provision. A&S can effectively veto courses it doesn't like, simply by not participating in their development.
Vice President Cohen said there have been discussions about distance-learning versions of A&S courses in introductory macroeconomics, in developmental and abnormal psychology, and in biology, with Prof. Chasin. None of these have been finally approved.
Robert Jervis asked if faculty could see the contract with Cognitive Arts. Vice President said an executive summary might be more useful. He said the targeted starting date was April 19, 2000.
Discussion of Proposed Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology: Prof. Helfand said one measure of the significance of the proposal is that it is the first in many years to call for the creation of a new department in the Arts and Sciences. He said he hoped for discussion now, and a formal vote--which is required of the Arts and Sciences faculty--in the fall. The proposal, prepared by a committee chaired by Donald Melnick, was discussed at length by the department chairs, by ECFAS and by the Arts and Sciences planning and budgeting committee. He invited Prof. Melnick to begin the discussion.
Prof. Melnick said the purpose of the proposed department is to consolidate and stabilize a number of degree programs that have been created by interdepartmental committees, to provide a base for a small faculty group, and to galvanize a large number of adjunct faculty in a variety of New York institutions.
Ronald Breslow asked why the field of environmental chemistry isn't part of the academic program envisioned for the proposed department. Prof. Melnick said the proposed department is not based in environmental studies or environmental science but is organized under the broad rubric of the biological sciences. He said there is no reason why chemistry, the earth sciences, and other disciplines cannot be integrated further into environmental studies.
Another professor expressed reservations about the size of the proposed department. He said that six full-time faculty--the number called for in the proposal--are not enough to run a department, and adjuncts are unlikely to contribute to this effort. He said a science department now needs at least 10 full-time faculty to be first rate and to be perceived as first rate. He said that comparable departments are a good deal bigger at Harvard (28), Berkeley (43), Yale (15), and Princeton (11). Can a department with only six full-time faculty attract good graduate students?
Prof. Melnick noted that while there probably is an overall correlation between size and excellence in departments in this field, it doesn’t apply in all cases. Princeton's department, for example, started very small, without the advantage of the surrounding institutions that Columbia has, and still achieved prominence within a decade. Prof. Melnick expressed surprise at the count of 15 faculty listed for Yale. He suggested that the distinct department at Yale akin to Columbia's proposed department was created only very recently and is much smaller. He said the enormous Berkeley operation, with 43 professors, incorporates a number of other subfields.
Prof. Melnick said that if Columbia were in an isolated environment, a small department would be a serious handicap. But the quality of the applicants to Columbia's interdepartmental programs has been extremely high. This year there were 92 applicants for five spots, and the top 20 were highly qualified. One of the main attractions is the abundance of world-class researchers in first-rate institutions in the New York area. Prof. Melnick said he thought it would be possible to create a truly world-class department at Columbia without a very large investment.
Prof. Cooper summarized some objections to the proposal that were raised in ECFAS. While the proposal seemed intellectually worthwhile in the abstract, problems arise in connection with its implementation. The problem of smallness--not only of the proposed department but of a number of existing science departments--was troublesome to ECFAS members, who wondered whether it makes sense to add another little science department to compete for limited resources. If the proposed department grows, where will the additional faculty positions come from?
Another reservation concerned the relation of the proposed program to current departments. Both the Biology and the Earth and Environmental Sciences departments have supported the creation of the proposed department. But why couldn't the new enterprise be part of Earth and Environmental Sciences?
Prof. Melnick responded that experience shows that these programs do not flourish within larger departments, for a variety of reasons. Peer institutions, like Princeton and Yale, have had to spin them off.
About the problem of limited resources, Prof. Melnick said it will arise with any new proposal presented to Arts and Sciences. He said the present proposal was designed to reduce the impact on A&S faculty resources as much as possible.
Harrison White suggested a more ambitious approach--founding not just a department, but a school, on the model of the School of International and Public Affairs, with an array of talented adjuncts, first-rate students who are not focused exclusively on the Ph.D., the possibility of building an endowment.
Prof. Melnick replied that even after SIPA became a school, it still wanted departmental status, which offered the ability to appoint faculty and do other things they could not do as a school. He added that it makes sense for the new initiative to establish itself as a department before considering a more ambitious stage.
Elaine Sisman said that a letter from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (DEES) in support of the proposed department seemed to envision something like an interdisciplinary institute, with joint appointments. She asked why the new enterprise couldn't be an institute.
David Cohen and Prof. Melnick both pointed out that faculty appointments can only be made by departments. Prof. Melnick added that centers and institutes can only appoint research and administrative positions.
Dennis Hayes, chairman of DEES, said he had appointed a committee of Jim Hays, Paul Olsen, Kevin Griffin, and Dave Walker to write a position paper on the proposed new department that was later distributed to the department chairs and to ECFAS. The report endorses the establishment of a new autonomous department, saying it will help to fill a real gap in Columbia's scientific enterprise, in the area of organismal biology. The areas of inquiry are linked with the study of the earth's chemical and physical processes--the specialties of DEES. Students have supported the offerings in the new program, whose opportunity to achieve national and worldwide prominence depends on its elevation to departmental status.
Prof. Hayes said that though there may be competition between the new department and other programs, including DEES, competition for resources is inevitable in some form..
He said that intellectual links between the new department and other departments may develop, perhaps as an outgrowth of related initiatives in the Earth Institute.
Prof. Helfand said he would post the DEES letter on the web.
Roger Bagnall expressed satisfaction that a revised version of the departmental proposal recognized a related program at Barnard College. He asked about the role of Barnard faculty be in the proposed department. Would they be full voting members?
Prof. Melnick noted that the faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences at Barnard have for some time been looking for a base in the Graduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The new proposed department would be an appropriate site for their graduate affiliation. To the extent that they are free from other responsibilities at Barnard, they can participate in the activities of the new department. He said a significant subset of these faculty could be full voting members of the new department.
Robert Jervis asked to have all documents related to this proposal circulated in paper as well as posted on the web. He also asked three questions:
--What is the relation of the proposed department to the Earth Institute?
--He noted that Columbia decided some 25 years ago to focus on molecular and cellular biology, to the exclusion of other subfields, partly because of space constraints. The founding of a new department may lead to a new narrowing of focus. With limited resources, how does the University decide what intellectual activities to cut out or reduce?
--What is the procedure for deciding on the proposal?.
Prof. Helfand said the tentative arrangement is for an ECFAS recommendation, followed by a vote of the full A&S faculty. He noted that there is so far no consensus on ECFAS about the proposal, and that in view of the attendance at the present meeting, voting at a meeting in the fall might need to be supplemented by e-mail voting. If there is a positive vote, the proposal will be presented to the Senate and the Trustees.
Prof. Helfand said the academic programs to be based in the proposed department are already in place, having been approved by COIs and by state regulatory agencies. So the decision about departmental status is more administrative than curricular.
In response to Prof. Jervis's point about the decision to focus on molecular biology, Prof. Melnick noted that students in the new programs already have access to abundant lab space in a variety of New York research institutions. He said he couldn't stress strongly enough the range of resources that are available free of charge to the new venture.
Henry Pinkham said the curriculum for the new programs did not seem to be coordinated with Barnard. Prof. Melnick said that many Barnard courses are available, and the undergraduate major was developed by a committee that included Barnard faculty.
David Cohen's remarks on the A&S budget: Dr. Cohen said that last year, for the first time in many years, Arts and Sciences presented a five-year plan with balanced budgets for all five years. A&S expects to finish this year with its budget in balance. There has been restructuring of the budget to limit certain exposures, while important investments have been made, in graduate student support, the academic stature of departments, and faculty salaries. Other gains include a budget for faculty startup costs that is now worth $2 million, a computer replacement program, and contributions to classroom upgrades and to providing new housing for students and faculty.
Some external challenges--particularly the need to moderate tuition increases--have complicated the job of restructuring the budget. Five years ago, when Dr. Cohen arrived, the annual tuition increase was 6 percent, which served as the guideline rate for the plan to enlarge and enhance Columbia College. For next year, and until 2005, the guideline tuition increase is 3.7 percent. The foregone revenue from that curtailment of tuition growth amounts to $20 million of the FY '05 budget. For comparison, a 1 percent increase in faculty salaries costs about $500,000; a $1000 increase in graduate stipends costs $800,000.
Other external challenges during the same period have been changes in the funding of graduate tuition exemption, an anticipated reduction in the indirect cost recovery rate for next year, and an NIH cap on graduate tuition charged to research grants. These changes, taken together, amount to another $2-3 million lost from the FY '05 budget.
If Columbia still had a third of all this foregone revenue, it could fund the entire revised Graduate School enhancement plan right now, and build a 5 percent increase into the faculty salary pool for each of the next five years. The good news is that the Arts and Sciences will project five years of balanced budgets despite these setbacks.
But the opportunity costs will take a toll, as Columbia's richer rivals become more aggressive in their student aid, faculty salaries, and building programs. Columbia is the most tuition-dependent school in its cohort, drawing 88 percent of its revenue budget from tuition revenues. The growing challenge for Columbia is to find new revenue sources to meets its very high aspirations. The main initiative one now is the venture with Cognitive Arts. But more are needed.
Prof. Jervis asked what enrollments are expected for GS. Dr. Cohen said the goal is 1000 FTE. The current level is about 900. Prof. Jervis asked if pressure is building to bring in extra bodies. Dr. Cohen said GS has achieved gains in student retention, as well as increased enrollments, with some increase in selectivity.
On the question of contingency funding raised earlier by Prof. Cooper, Dr. Cohen acknowledged that this year's contingency fund was indeed spent, on GSAS enhancement and faculty salaries, but there was no contingency fund at all in his first years at Columbia, because the budget was in deficit.
Fund-raising campaign goals built into the budget may not all be met--particularly in endowed substitutional chairs--but the dislocation from such shortfalls is diffused over time. The President said fund-raising goals will be achieved, though there may be some time lag in the case of faculty chairs.
Prof. Chasin said a balanced budget was achieved at the cost of decreases in funding for the biology department, and in the productivity of faculty research. These are serious costs, he said.
Update on School for Children and daycare efforts: Provost Jonathan Cole said that the Trustees at their March meeting unanimously approved plans to build a K-8 school to be run by Columbia. The main reason for this initiative is the need to recruit excellent young faculty in the century to come. This effort will require the ability to offer affordable housing and schooling. The Provost hoped for active faculty participation in the development of the school. He will address issues of location, tuition, and admissions in a letter to faculty within a couple of weeks.
Other business: Prof. Helfand moved that the faculty fulfill the requirement in its by-laws for a secretary by appointing Associate Vice President Roxie Smith to that position. Those present unanimously approved the motion.
Prof. Dennis Hayes raised the question of how to achieve a faculty vote on the proposal to create a new department if attendance is so poor. Dr. Cohen said there is no quorum requirement in the faculty's by-laws. He said one approach would be to make a vigorous effort to get faculty to attend the first meeting of the fall, and then to accept whatever vote results, as many organizations do. Another possibility is an e-mail referendum, which has the pitfall that some will vote without reading the proposal or hearing the discussion.
The President said it is acceptable parliamentary procedure, in the absence of a quorum requirement, to rely on a vote of those present. He said he realized that such a group would not be fully representative group, but that's the group that has already been making ther decisions in the name of the faculty. He looked forward to hearing the further deliberations of ECFAS on this point. He shared Dr. Cohen's reservations about e-mail voting without the benefit of discussion or documents.
He adjourned the meeting at about 1:45 pm.