Columbia University

Communications and Calendars

Letters to the Faculty:

January 24, 2012

Dear Colleagues:

I am writing to welcome you to a new semester and update you on work we have been doing in the Arts and Sciences over the past few months. I want to start by conveying the good news that after years of financial uncertainty we have established the fiscal conditions for a balanced budget over the next ten years. We have achieved this because we have projected continued increases in some of our newer revenue sources and because the central administration has made substantial commitments for sustained support.

Following a series of meetings over the summer with President Bollinger and the PPC in which we worked together to resolve some of our most pronounced budgetary uncertainties and vulnerabilities, we have made extraordinary progress. After years of budgeting just one year at a time and the uncertainty that is unavoidable in this mode of planning, we have now generated a sustainable ten-year financial model that has been reviewed by our CFO and Provost, presented to the trustees, and accepted as a solid basis for making long term assurances to Arts and Sciences for support of its goals. Including these budget assumptions, as well as continued growth in some areas and fundraising support (notably the $350m that will be received from the estate of John W. Kluge over the next five years), Arts and Sciences can balance its budget and take a firmer grasp of its long range goals and planning processes.

Because this effort began in earnest only in the early fall, the model is still largely “top-down,” and does not yet reflect the benefits of a more organic planning process. We are now testing the adequacy of many of our assumptions and beginning a granular process of planning and prioritizing. We will spend the spring semester both refining the model and engaging schools, departments and other academic units in an iterative long-term planning process. One of the great benefits of this process will be our newfound capacity to make commitments over a longer period of time than the standard IBS cycle – one year at a time – has allowed.

To compensate for reduced levels of hiring over the past few years necessitated by the economic crisis, we authorized a significant number of searches this year. However, to maintain a balanced budget that also enables us to achieve a range of fundamental goals we will need to keep faculty size relatively constant for the foreseeable future. At the same time, a primary goal for the next few years is to address faculty compensation in serious ways. This is something we have not been able to do as well as all of us had wished since the economic downturn of 2008 and the attendant erosion in the growth of our instructional budget. Therefore, we have reserved a five percent instructional raise pool (including raises for promotion and socialized retentions) for all faculty (which translates into average raises for most faculty of more than three percent), and to address the special needs of junior faculty by dedicating a special average raise pool (independent of raises for promotion and retention) of five percent for those faculty earning less than $90,000 for the next year (an approach we arrived at with the support and advice of the faculty of the PPC).

Although not yet fully tested in every way, the base budget also reflects our present commitments to undergraduate financial aid, support for competitive Ph.D. programs, the instructional costs of the core curriculum, and basic research both in the sciences and across other divisions. In addition, the budget also restores funding that has lapsed in recent years for renewal of department office spaces and the upgrade and expansion of classrooms. We are evaluating our capacity to provide better support for faculty when confronting the transition to retirement while working with the Provost’s office to consider the other challenges facing faculty around compensation, housing costs, spousal employment, school options for children, etc. We are dedicating resources to control the rise in rental costs for University apartments. At the same time, we are beginning the process of planning for initiatives – in areas ranging from basic science to quantitative social science, and from enhancements for the core curriculum and humanities to support for global projects across the divisions – that will require resources beyond those we project in our current base budget. These are initiatives that we expect will involve both concerted fundraising efforts as well as proposals to the central administration for possible additional support.

The PPC spent some of the fall discussing the mandate and organization of the newly proposed Educational Planning and Policy Committee and the need for the faculty more generally to engage curricular and educational issues across Arts and Sciences. The EPPC will begin its work this spring. Its mandate is to coordinate educational efforts and make recommendations on matters of educational planning and policy.

In parallel, we as a faculty must confront a variety of collective educational concerns. These range from the balance of teaching needs across departments and schools to the fact that the proportion of senior faculty teaching in the core curriculum has been steadily decreasing over the years. As we receive curricular planning statements from departments in the coming days, we will be especially focused on the need for senior faculty to volunteer to teach in our signature core curriculum in addition to offering departmental courses for majors, concentrators, and graduate students. I have asked the divisional deans to track core participation in departments with special attention as we work to organize the staffing of our curriculum over the coming year.

As you know, we have inaugurated a new promotion and tenure committee in the Arts and Sciences this year, and I am pleased to say it is working very well indeed. I am especially grateful to Geraldine Downey, the Executive Vice Dean of the Arts and Sciences, Christopher Peacocke, chair of the new Promotion and Tenure Committee, and the committee members for the good work they have been doing with Margaret Edsall and our Academic Affairs office and the departments to ensure the smooth and serious functioning of this critical part of our process of faculty review.

I trust this will be a good semester for all our faculty and students, and look forward to working with you in the months ahead.

All best,


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