Columbia University

Communications and Calendars

Letters to the Faculty:

April 16, 2012

Dear Colleagues:

This has been a very good year for the Arts and Sciences. As I wrote to you earlier this semester, for the first time since I assumed this position in 2004, we have established the fiscal conditions for a balanced budget for the foreseeable future. This achievement reflects both our prudent management of resources since the 2008-09 downturn and the regularization of significant support from the central administration at a level that had previously been provided on a year to year basis. We are extremely grateful to the President and the Provost for this support.

The balanced budget also owes much to our pursuit of new and more substantial revenue sources, especially through our master’s only programs and the programs that are being mounted by the School for Continuing Education. While the Master’s Only programs often strain the teaching resources of departments and institutes or centers, we now rely on these programs both for their revenues and for the position they have achieved in the new educational ecology of the Arts and Sciences here and indeed in many of our peer universities. With smaller Ph.D. programs, training at the level of the Master’s degree is often a necessary step towards acceptance into a Ph.D. program, even as we have all come to realize the extent to which the graduate training we offer has value for a variety of careers and opportunities outside academia. In part because of the strengthening of our Master’s programs, we have been able to enhance our Ph.D. level support to a level on par with the most competitive programs elsewhere.

We are grateful to Kristine Billmyer for her leadership in the School for Continuing Education, where enrollments and revenues have risen significantly over the past few years. This academic year the School has developed a new low residency hybrid model for one of its new Master’s programs in Information and Knowledge Strategies. This innovative model combines the use of one of the most sophisticated online platforms developed by the Pearson Company but managed by SCE faculty and staff who have customized the platform to achieve heightened levels of interaction both between students and teachers and among students. It is providing an important model for developing similar programs at SCE as well as for programs elsewhere, providing more generally an important baseline for engaging larger issues of online education as for example posed by the innovative work of MIT, Cornell, and Stanford. The Provost has recently convened a group to work to evaluate Columbia’s position vis a vis some of these exciting – and not a little daunting – new developments, though we are still at an early stage in these deliberations.

Because of our newly established financial security, we were able to authorize a significant number of searches this year – making up in many cases for the reduction in the size of the faculty as a result of the economic crisis. For the next few years, however, and certainly until we can project a growing surplus resulting from the Kluge bequest, we need to keep faculty size relatively constant once this current season of hiring is complete (though we have made it a priority to ensure that failed searches will be reauthorized in the subsequent year or two). At the same time, we have established as our primary goal the need to address faculty compensation in serious ways over the next three years. Accordingly, we have budgeted for a five percent instructional raise pool (including raises for promotion and retention) for all faculty and have dedicated a special average raise pool (independent of raises for promotion and retention) for all tenure track faculty earning less than 90K for the next year.

We are very pleased that the President and the Provost have announced new support to further Columbia’s efforts to increase the diversity of the faculty. Since 2004, when the diversity initiative began, we have made considerable strides in recruiting and retaining stellar faculty from groups who have been traditionally underrepresented at Columbia. Our goals over the next few years are to focus on increasing faculty diversity in many areas where women and minorities remain underrepresented. At the request of the Provost, we have developed a plan that we have shared with the PPC and chairs for their input.

As we have secured our financial foundation and begun to address in a serious way the needs of our superb faculty, we have also been engaged in a wide ranging discussion concerning the last remaining structural reform in our administration and governance. This concerns the relationship between the constituent schools – and for historical reasons especially Columbia College – and the Arts and Sciences. As you know, the first component of this reform was in our faculty governance. After a thorough review conducted by the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Academic Review Committee, and the chairs, we inaugurated the new Planning and Policy Committee, a committee that has given the faculty unprecedented access to the workings of the office of the Executive Vice President for the Arts and Sciences and provided regular and important advice on almost every major decision we have made over the past two years. This reform was meant to do several things: first, to address a real, and perceived, deficit in faculty governance; second, to better coordinate the work of the multiple committees of the Arts and Sciences (both avoiding overlap and developing a more sustained knowledge base and a central committee with an executive relationship); and third, to provide the basis for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to take on its rightful role as the faculty of record for the constituent schools of the Arts and Sciences in the wake of the disappearance of their faculties (in regard to Columbia College, the School of General Studies, and the Graduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences). We have been manifestly successful in the first two of these goals. The third, however, has awaited some final changes.

To achieve this next stage of faculty governance, we recognized the need to reform our own administrative capacity within the Arts and Sciences, both with respect to the departments (institutes, centers, and programs) and with respect to the schools. For the first of these goals, and heeding the advice I received from colleagues in some peer universities (especially Penn, Stanford, and Harvard) during the governance review, we introduced divisional deans with the mandate to be more responsive and even proactive in our interactions with the core faculty units of the Arts and Sciences. The work of my office has expanded exponentially over the years, but the same is true within departments and other units. I had been painfully aware of the imperfect connection between our administrative capacity and departmental and other needs. Judging at least from the experience of our peers when they introduced this new system themselves, we have made gratifying progress in just a year’s time (and I am not only grateful to the hard work of Amber Miller and Pierre Force but also to Geraldine Downey for the coordinating role that she has played in this as indeed in so many other arenas). We established this new level of capacity in our office just in time, given the demands of the new tenure system, and I am also grateful for the able leadership of the Promotion and Tenure Committee by Chris Peacocke.

We next turned to the relationship between our office and the schools. In fact, we began to address this issue through increasing the collaboration between the College and the Arts and Sciences, reflected perhaps most significantly in the decision to designate the Dean of Columbia College also as the Vice President for Undergraduate Education (with the plan of also designating the Dean of GSAS as the Vice President for Graduate Education), and, as another example, inviting the Deans of the College and of GSAS to attend ARC meetings in an ex officio capacity. We have now come to realize the need to further institutionalize the especially close working relationship between the Dean of Columbia College, the Dean of the Graduate School, and the Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences, as also the need to base this collaboration in the context of a working group including the full complement of school deans in the Arts and Sciences, while also fully incorporating the advice and governance role of the faculty Planning and Policy Committee. This recognition brought us to re-establish the dormant – but statutory – committee that old timers remember as the P & B: the Planning and Budget Committee of the Arts and Sciences.

The new P & B will work with a similar purpose as the older committee, bringing together all A & S deans and representatives of the faculty governance committee of the PPC in a process leading to a more engaged, participatory, collaborative, and informed executive capacity for the Arts and Sciences. And it will work to support more effective mechanisms of faculty governance across all of the schools and especially with respect to the College and the Graduate School. This and some other associated changes will further work to better coordinate the development priorities and activities of the Arts and Sciences to build broader and deeper alumni support for the departmental majors as well as for the Core, for the faculty who teach our undergraduates across the curriculum as well as guide the research and training mission of A & S overall. The work of the P & B will be facilitated by the creation of an Executive Committee of the Arts and Sciences made up of the Dean of the College, the Dean of the Graduate School, and the Executive Vice President for Arts and Sciences. The Executive Committee will seek to attain consensus in decisions concerning the major budgetary parameters of the Arts and Sciences and the most significant investments we make in areas ranging from capital projects to faculty lines. We are developing a more finely tuned road map for the work both of the P & B and the Executive Committee, and will provide further updates at our May FAS meeting. There is still much to be worked out, but it may suffice to say that none of the statutory reporting relations either within or outside the Arts and Sciences have been altered by these new administrative structures or commitments. All of us who have discussed this new structure are genuinely excited by the prospect that we will have finally achieved a new level of collective commitment to a structure that will realize the full potential of the Arts and Sciences.

One of the central intentions in this last component of our structural reform is to provide the faculty – in the first instance through the enhanced role of the PPC – with a greater voice in matters of greatest concern, from our curriculum to our raise budget, from our development efforts to our financial aid policies. The P & B is intended in part to bring matters relating to each of the schools to the attention of the PPC. The PPC has already called for the establishment of the Educational Planning and Policy Committee, and we will be finalizing the membership and mandate of this committee later this spring so that it will be fully operational in the fall. As part of the discussion concerning structure, the Provost will convene another new faculty committee, namely the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid (CAFA), with ex-officio participation on the part of the Deans of the College and of SEAS and the EVP of Arts and Sciences. Befitting the importance of our general financial aid policies (and the fact that they apply not just to the College but also to SEAS), the Provost, in consultation with the President, will take on primary responsibility for setting our financial aid policies and budgets. We have all agreed to work even more vigilantly to improve the coordination of our development priorities and efforts, insuring among other things that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the College have a common set of goals and targets, formulated in consultation with the P & B, the PPC, and the University Office of Alumni and Development, with a special role here for the new Executive Committee of A & S as well.

This is an exciting moment for the Arts and Sciences, a time when we have finally come to a new level of control in our financial capacity, and when we are poised to establish a completed structure of administration and governance that we hope will realize the aspirations of all those who have worked so hard to craft the structure of A & S over the past thirty years. I look forward to working with all of you to implement this new structure over the next year.

All best,


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