Columbia University

Communications and Calendars

Letters to the Faculty:

December 8, 2008

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to convey to all of you my remarks at the recent Faculty of Arts and Sciences Autumn Meeting (12/2/08) since the issues we are confronting are urgent and difficult, and they require the broadest possible understanding and participation. We are currently projecting that we will need to find over $20 million in new funds or budget cuts in FY 10 just to stay even with where we are this year. There are several reasons for this. First, we are concerned that student enrollment will fall short of budget in some programs. We expect that some students – among them international students, students wishing to make up courses in the summer when we don’t offer financial aid, and many others who either might not want to incur additional debt or might be unable to obtain credit for debt – will simply be unable to afford some of our strongest revenue sustaining programs. Second, we face the real likelihood that because of extreme market activity the payout on our existing endowments will be frozen at best and possibly reduced, when we had projected a significant increase for the next budget year. Third, we are concerned because new endowment gifts are expected to fall short of targets last spring, at the same time that that the annual fund totals are expected to fall short. Fourth, we anticipate that the economic downturn will translate into greater financial aid needs for Columbia College students. While these concerns are speculative at this point, it is as possible that things might deteriorate further as it is that they will improve.

Additionally, we had already agreed to reduce the level of the central subvention for the next fiscal year, in large part because some of that subvention was provided to allow us to hire new faculty before we had raised funds to support them. While we have been extremely successful in raising endowed chairs, these endowments have been affected along with the rest of our portfolio. These factors may converge to raise our budget shortfall significantly, in a larger context in which much of our budget is made up of fixed costs. As a result, we are engaged in ongoing and serious deliberations about how to make cuts that will not do irreversible damage to the core mission of the Arts and Sciences, namely our capacity to support our faculty and provide the same level and quality of instruction for our students.

We will have to increase enrollment beyond current targets when opportunities arise, both in some of our Post-Bac and Master’s programs, and in our undergraduate schools. We are considering whether we may have to reduce the size of our new class of entering Ph.D. students, and whether we may have to defer some of the projected increase in the graduate stipend planned for next year (we have been increasing stipend levels at a much faster pace than increases in other parts of our budget). We will be reviewing revenue sharing arrangements with schools and departments, with an eye to ensuring adequate support for core activities and, at the same time, leveraging funds that might be redirected for purposes that find broad support. It is possible that we may need to tap some available reserves for existing commitments, since schools and departments have significantly greater reserves than the Arts and Sciences. And, as I noted in the letter I sent to you two weeks ago, we will be asking departments to defer some of the searches that have been authorized for this year, with the intention of resuming these searches for FY 11. We will be reviewing all current searches during the next two weeks to determine which searches may be postponed, and our capacity to continue them will depend not only on our instructional needs but also on financial arrangements that might be made. We have established a hiring review panel for all non academic positions in the Arts and Sciences with the expectation that we will be able to defer a significant number of replacement and new positions to realize savings in both the current fiscal year as well as in FY 10. We are deferring all non essential capital projects not already underway (not including the ISB and Knox Hall, both of which will be completed on time and will provide significant space enhancements for many of our departments, as well as new classroom facilities). Our success in these areas will have direct impact on next year’s raise pool, both for academic and administrative positions.

These are not minor adjustments. But the same set of principles underlies them all: we will do everything in our power not to compromise the basic academic integrity of the Arts and Sciences. We will not alter the way we think about standards for internal promotions to tenure. We will defer rather than cut positions. If we change revenue sharing agreements, we will do so, unless explicitly stated otherwise, in ways that can be reversed when the financial climate eases. We will review all enrollment increases that we incur next year to ensure that we do not put unsustainable pressure on the lives of our faculty and departments. In choosing which faculty searches to postpone, we will take into account whether an endowment for the position exists, whether an offer has been authorized, whether a department is particularly fragile due to unusual losses in faculty size, whether there are particular enrollment pressures, and of course what revenue implications are associated with the position.

In addition to understanding what we are doing, we also ask that you appreciate the need to take the current situation seriously in terms of your commitment and contribution to our institution. We can work together to find new ways to cut costs and increase revenues. We must collectively consider and then enact new measures, such as reducing the number of low enrollment classes that count towards a faculty member’s work load expectation, re-evaluating all course relief for non- instructional activities, collapsing course sections and increasing enrollment caps where possible, re-allocating faculty workload to more undergraduate classes wherever possible, finding additional ways to trim instructional and other costs in programs expected to see enrollment shortfalls, insisting that the relevant committees on instruction confirm the availability of funding before approving new courses, and considering other ways we can focus our efforts to help meet the challenges ahead.

As we identify these strategies and make these decisions, we are consulting widely. I am meeting regularly with the Faculty Budget Group (made up of three members of the steers of the chairs and three members of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences); I have called a special meeting of the chairs next week to go over some of these proposals in greater detail; I am convening meetings with smaller groups of faculty, many of them ex-chairs and faculty who have played significant roles in governance in past years and past crises, to solicit support and participation; and of course I will be meeting individually with chairs in the days ahead. Finally, working with ECFAS, I am prepared to hold additional faculty meetings whenever they might be called for.

In order to get through these trying times, we need to work together more than ever. I look forward to working with all of you to keep the Arts and Sciences at Columbia vital and strong.

My best,


Nicholas B. Dirks
Franz Boas Professor of
Anthropology and History
Vice President for Arts and Sciences