|Vol.24, No. 04||Sept. 25, 1998|
By Tom Mathewson
At the first meeting of its 1998-99 session on Sept. 18, the University Senate discussed at length two major issues: a Trustee Executive Committee decision to return an amendment of the University Statutes that the Senate had passed in April, and Columbia's contract to sell 50 acres of land along the Palisades to a developer to build luxury homes. Forty-five of 77 senators attended the meeting, which lasted two hours.
AMENDMENT TO THE STATUTES
The Statutes say that most Senate acts become final only with the concurrence of the Trustees, and that if the Trustees do not concur, they "shall return the measure to the Senate with an explanation of the reason for their action."
The Trustees' reason for returning the Senate's April measure-a Statutory amendment formally defining the Tenure Review Advisory Committee, the faculty group that advises the Provost about the composition of the ad hoc committees that conduct tenure reviews-was announced in a July 29 letter from Board chairman Stephen Friedman to President George Rupp. It was stated that the rules for Senate passage of a Statutory amendment are inadequate, allowing a simple majority of the minimum number of members required for quorum-only 22 votes in favor, in this case-to carry the day. The letter asked the Senate to change its rules to raise the level of support required to forward a Statutory amendment to the Trustees, and to address an apparent inconsistency between the requirement of a super majority of three-fifths of incumbent senators to change the chapter of the Statutes about the Senate, and the simple majority of members present required for all other statutory amendments. It asked the Senate to consider whether proposed Statutory amendments should require the approval of the President or, without Presidential approval, a super majority even larger than three-fifths of incumbent senators.
The letter concluded that the Senate might wish to reconsider its resolution under new rules. It said that although such measures were almost unprecedented in the Statutes, the Trustees would then consider the resolution on its merits if there was compelling need and evidence of adequate support.
Sen. Paul Duby, chairman of the Senate Executive Committee, said that committee members hoped to discuss the substance of the resolution soon at a meeting with their Trustee counterparts, and that the Structure and Operations Committee would consider the procedural issues the Trustees had raised. Duby also said it was the responsibility of the Senate to participate more fully in important debates and votes.
In the informal discussion that followed, the President stressed the Trustees' skepticism about the need to make Statutes out of a set of procedures that are already in place and are generally agreed to be working well, as well as the need to codify a small portion of a tenure process that itself is largely absent from the Statutes. But four tenured senators expressed discomfort with the procedural grounds for the Trustee rejection of a resolution adopted according to longstanding Senate procedures, and three of them asked to resubmit the resolution to the Trustees for a judgment on its merits.
ORANGETOWN LAND SALE
Columbia's decision to sell 50 acres of land along the Hudson River Palisades in Orangetown, N.Y. had been brought to the attention of the Senate by a concerned resident, who objected that the sale would mar a pattern of nature preserves and undeveloped land stretching from the northern border of New Jersey to South Nyack, N.Y.
Two nonsenators who are town residents were allowed to make brief presentations: Kate Chipman, a Columbia librarian, warned that final approval by the town planning board of the contract purchaser's plan to build 18 luxury homes on the site might be imminent; Wm. Theodore de Bary, Provost Emeritus and John Mitchell Mason Professor Emeritus, provided historical background, including Columbia's participation in efforts in the 1970s to build the green belt of land that he said was now threatened; he also said the developer has a poor record on environmental issue.
In addition, Sen. William Menke, a tenured professor at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which is only a few miles from the site, called the sale an "ill-considered move" that would damage Lamont's local reputation.
Rupp reviewed relevant facts: the Trustees had authorized the sale in December 1997, and the University had signed a contract to sell the land in June. He pointed out that Columbia had received the 50-acre plot in 1969 in exchange for agreeing, in response to local protests, not to exercise an option to buy and develop an adjacent 500-acre lot. The larger lot had since become town parkland, but the 50-acre lot had always been zoned as residential land, along with some of the surrounding property, and Columbia had paid taxes on it ever since. But he acknowledged that the University had not been entirely aware of the history. He made clear that the University could not withdraw unilaterally from its contract, but said the issue deserved further Senate attention, both to get the facts straight and, through a committee inquiry, to consider alternatives for dealing with the present situation. The Senate agreed to refer the matter to the External Relations Committee.
In a report postponed from the April meeting, Provost Jonathan R. Cole outlined the University's recent increases in budgetary allocations for the Libraries and Academic Computing and Information Systems (ACIS).
Cole touched on stepped-up plans to provide temporary and permanent off-site storage facilities, new library staff to improve access to collections, improvements in salaries and career development plans for the ACIS staff members, the phased unveiling of attractive new facilities in Butler, an upgrade of the network architecture and a doubling of the modem pool to address congestion problems with remote access.
Senate Libraries Committee chairman Jeremy Waldron and Sen. James Shapiro, a critic of University library policy in recent years, both praised the University's strengthened commitment.
"This is tremendous news," Shapiro said of the Libraries improvements, noting that he relies on the resource for his research. "I'm thankful and grateful for it."