Columbia University

Communications and Calendars

Letters to the Faculty:

January 27, 2010

Dear Colleagues

In advance of our first regular faculty meeting on February 11th, 12:00-2:00, Faculty Room, 207 Low Library, I would like to bring you up to date on some of the work we have been doing in the Arts and Sciences over the past few months.

Throughout the fall semester we have been meeting with the Faculty Budget Group to evaluate the current state of our budget and the impact of some of the hard choices we had to make last year. Although we were able to make major cuts in anticipated expenditures with significant effects both on our FY ’09 and FY ’10 budgets, we have major challenges in developing a workable budget for FY ’11. Anticipating that this would be the case, we restricted the number of searches for new faculty during the current year, and we decided to authorize only junior level positions except when the terms, and financial capacity, of vacant endowed chairs allowed us to hire at a more senior level (or, in a very few instances, there were other pre-existing commitments). However, even this reduced level of hiring poses problems for a balanced budget in the year ahead, and it is clear that we will have to restrict hiring next year as well, and continue to hire as much as possible at the junior level when we hire at all. We are also naturally concerned about faculty and administrative salaries, since we held them all flat during the present year. We are working to build some capacity for a salary raise pool, but do not know yet how much this will be. Whatever we do, we will maintain all our commitments for raises associated with promotions at the same levels we have used in prior years.

We have much to celebrate even in these difficult times. We have been delighted to begin working with our new Dean of the College, Michele Moody-Adams, as she has also assumed the new role of Vice President for Undergraduate Education in the Arts and Sciences (a role that means, among other things, a much more extensive, and formal, level of participation in the deliberations and decision making process of the Arts and Sciences across curricular, academic, and faculty concerns than was the case before). As we welcomed Michele, we also welcomed an extraordinary new class of undergraduates, demonstrating the dramatic success of our new financial aid policy, with, among other marks of excellence and diversity, fifteen percent first generation students and thirty-two percent under-represented students of color (with a total percentage of fifty percent), and a selectivity rate of 8.92%. Peter Awn, Dean of the School of General Studies, also welcomed an extraordinary group of new students, including 75 veterans whose attendance at Columbia has been made possible by the Yellow Ribbon Program. This fall, we have also been very pleased to welcome Kristine Billmyer as our new Dean of the School of Continuing Education. Kristine comes to Columbia from a similar role at Penn with great experience and great plans for SCE. We also completed the move to the beautifully renovated Knox Hall, creating new classrooms and new space for departments and institutes not only in Knox, but also in the International Affairs Building, Fayerweather, and Kent Hall. And we feel that we weathered some of the most immediate and dire effects of the economic meltdown of 2008-09 with considerably better success and fortitude than was the case for many of our richer peer institutions.

But there will still be many very difficult choices ahead, especially in the short term, not least because our budget was already significantly challenged before the downturn. Over the past five years, we increased the size of the faculty by more than ten percent, steadily increased graduate student stipends, saw a steep rise in start-up funding for science faculty, and enhanced our financial aid for undergraduates, in addition to dealing with many other budgetary challenges, both internal and external. Despite the relatively small scale of our endowment, the reduction in payout has had major impact on our budget, as has the fact that 52 percent of the new College class is on some form of financial aid, a combined effect of the enhancement and the economic downturn. The Faculty Budget Group has been providing valuable advice as we evaluate the long term causes of our budgetary shortfalls, as well as different options for meeting these shortfalls. These options include a wide range of measures, from finding new revenues and making new cuts, to re-calibrating the entire budget system within the arts and sciences. We are creating a more integrated budget across the myriad units of A & S to make it possible to consider trade-offs among and between these different units. Given the enormity of this task, we have been discussing each aspect of these changes with the FBG as well as with the A & S Deans. And we are meeting regularly with the Provost, Claude Steele, as we develop these plans and refine our projections for next year’s budget, even as we work with Provost Steele and President Bollinger to re-structure our financial relationship with the central administration.

As you know, we also increased the size of the entering class in Columbia College this year, even as we reduced the size of the entering Ph.D. class. Fortunately, we did so in a way that has created few problems during the present year. We were able to create sufficient dormitory space for our additional College students, while providing them with sufficient core sections in courses such as Literature Humanities and Undergraduate Writing. We kept course caps constant in Lit Hum and CC, as well as in Art Hum and Music Hum, though we were able to be more efficient in distributing students across sections (for example, the number of “empty seats” in Lit Hum fell from 113 last year to 65 this year). We did increase course caps in Undergraduate Writing, while reducing “empty seats” from 56 under the cap of 12 in fall 2008 to just 22 under the effective cap of 13 in fall 2009, with only one section of 14 students. As for the size of the Ph.D. class, we made our reduction on a heightened base, since in fact we had increased the Ph.D. class size over the previous three years, with the number of Teaching Fellows, for example, having been increased by 5% in the Humanities and Social Sciences before the current year.

We are aware, however, that we may encounter new problems next year, and we are currently engaged in a planning process designed to allow us to anticipate and then respond as nimbly as possible to the challenges ahead. As you and your colleagues review your own plans for class offerings in the coming year, we would of course ask you to work with us to anticipate potential problems, while making every effort to use our teaching resources as efficiently and economically as possible, while maintaining the same high level of teaching and curricular offerings for undergraduate and graduate students alike. This includes working with us to anticipate class room issues, considering class times that might better utilize our classrooms across the teaching day and week (noting the ready availability of classroom in early mornings, evenings, and Fridays), and also alerting us to needs for larger classrooms especially during peak hours. As we evaluate the effects of reducing the Ph.D. class size this past year, we will work with individual departments and GSAS to ensure that there is sufficient TF coverage, and if not, to arrange for alternate forms of support for instruction.

While working regularly closely with faculty committees and the Chairs, along with the A&S Deans, we have also been working actively with the Academic Review Committee (ARC), chaired this year by Teo Barolini, to design a new faculty governance structure for the Arts and Sciences. ARC has undertaken a thorough review of both the external and internal reports on faculty governance, and, in close consultation with ECFAS, chaired this year by Amber Miller, as well as the Chairs (with its steering committee chaired by Jean Howard), is very close to making and circulating a final report along with specific recommendations for a new structure and process. These recommendations will be brought to the faculty for discussion in our February meeting, and the set of proposed “amendments” that would then enact these recommendations will be voted upon by the faculty on the occasion of the next faculty meeting in March. This timeline is necessary if in fact we will be in a position to inaugurate the new governance proposals for the academic year ’10-’11. This is a very exciting prospect for the Arts and Sciences, in many ways realizing at long last the aspirations of the faculty when it was duly constituted in 1991. And it couldn’t happen at a more critical time, given the difficult choices and challenges ahead.

Before closing, I’d like to congratulate this year’s recipients of the Columbia Distinguished Faculty Awards: Stefan Andriopoulos, Harmon Bussemaker, Julie Crawford, Steve Goldstein, Lydia Goehr, Ruben Gonzales, and David Scott. Once again, we are extremely grateful to Trustee Gerry Lenfest for his generosity in supporting the faculty of the Arts and Sciences, both through this award, and his matching grant for twenty-five new endowed chairs, funding for all of which have now been either raised or pledged.

I look forward to seeing you all at the February meeting.

With warm wishes,


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