Columbia University

Communications and Calendars

Letters to the Faculty:

May 20, 2009

Dear Colleagues:

This has been an extraordinarily difficult year for all of us.  As the campus is now taken over by the rituals of commencement, I would like to provide a final update on the state of the Arts and Sciences for the current year.  In late April, we presented our 2009-10 budget to the Provost and the Executive Vice President for Finance.  It was based on the plan I outlined in March, closing $27 million of the $31 million in shortfalls estimated for next year, through a balanced combination of $9 million in new revenue and $18 million in reduced expenses.  Although we are still short of reaching the bottom-line target that we set in January -- after we had begun to account for the changed projections necessitated by the economic crisis of the autumn – we have responded to the economic crisis on every strategic and policy front available to us in the short term, while taking some longer term measures as well.  We were able to reduce the gap by an additional $3 million that we will achieve in 2008-09, mainly due to above-budget enrollment in several programs and schools. 

This plan balances the urgent need to restore financial equilibrium as quickly as possible while sustaining the extraordinary progress Arts and Sciences has made in recent years.  I am especially grateful to our Faculty Budget Group, augmented by some of Arts and Sciences’ most senior faculty, for meeting with me frequently this winter and spring to help decide what could be done to balance the budget while protecting our highest academic priorities and principals.  There is still a (relatively small) gap that we will need to close, but at this point we are quite sure that we will not have to alter the basic principles we have used to meet the final goals for the FY 10 budget. 

In order to increase our revenue, we set slightly higher enrollment targets for the College and for General Studies.  These increases were modeled carefully to ensure that both student quality and educational experience will not decline.  Columbia College has admitted a first-year entering class that is about 5% larger than last year’s, chosen from an applicant pool that increased by about 11%. We included a similar increase in the number of General Studies’ students in the budget as well.  Preliminary application results for GS are encouraging; early applications for fall 2009 admissions were up by 40% compared to last year, and total applications to date are up by 15%.  Enhancements to tuition scholarships in the new G.I. Bill (part of the economic stimulus package) will provide especially dramatic increases in support to both new and continuing veterans in General Studies.

As you know, we deferred some of the faculty hiring authorized last summer to future years, but were able to continue significant hiring efforts, to ensure that we would cover important instructional needs, and to continue momentum across many departments and programs.  In the end, we only cancelled a small number of searches.  Many departments came forward with innovative financing ideas that allowed us to continue with some hiring plans that otherwise would have been deferred.  As a result, we have recruited wonderful new faculty, in both junior and senior ranks.  We can already announce important hiring successes in math, political science, chemistry, classics, German, English and Comparative Literature, the Center for Ethnicity and Race in collaboration with English and anthropology, and the Institute for African American Studies in collaboration with religion, and there are a number of other pending searches.  Nevertheless, the overall faculty size will decline by a percentage point or so from the cumulative growth since 2004 of slightly more than 11 percent.  Other faculty appointments (visitors, lecturers and adjuncts) have been allocated with great care and will decline by about 10% compared to the current year. At the same time, we decided to reduce the size of the entering PhD class by 10%, while increasing stipend levels by half of the amount originally planned, from $22,000 to $22,500.  We will honor all multi-year funding commitments to PhD students. 

Although we announced this earlier, it is with great reluctance and regret that I must confirm that neither faculty nor administrators will receive merit-based salary increases or bonuses in 2009-10.  However, salary increases for faculty promoted to new ranks will continue at the usual rates, and research support such as TFRP and FRAP will be sustained at established levels.  We are working with the central administration to constrain the level of rent increases in University housing, especially for junior faculty. 

We are grateful to the many faculty and staff who are working harder because of the current crisis.  Schools and departments have had to hold some administrative positions open for longer periods than usual, while considering some forms of reorganization in the way we staff departments and programs.  However, we have worked hard to prevent the need for budget-related layoffs, and anticipate no change in this policy at this point. 

Because of our need to respond to Instructional Budget requests for new faculty hiring during the next two months, we have already begun to plan for 2010-11.  We are doing this within a context of continued uncertainty, and the expectation that we will have to continue to reduce our use of endowment income to adjust as gradually as possible to this year’s steep decline in market values.  Some of the faculty lines authorized this year, as well as some of the positions funded by the diversity initiative, will begin to fall onto our core instructional budget beginning in FY 11.  As a result, we can anticipate that new faculty hiring for 2010-11 will be significantly limited. 

The expanded Faculty Budget Group will assist me in monitoring the progress of our 2009-10 plans, recalibrating our forecasts for 2010-11, and weighing the difficult choices we must continue to make.  The Arts and Sciences department chairs and school deans have been extremely agile and responsive to the current financial challenges.  I have been gratified by the inventiveness, flexibility, and understanding of many colleagues as we have worked together to continue high levels of excellence with fewer resources.  I am acutely aware of the increased demands on many faculty entailed by the decisions we have made.  Above all else, however, I would like to thank the administrative staff who are working hard in order to maintain the quality and reputation of this great institution.  I can assure you that we will do everything possible to restore a merit salary raise pool for faculty and staff in subsequent years.

As we contemplate our difficult financial situation, it is reassuring to know that our fundraising efforts continue to be robust.  Our annual funds are holding their own, while we have raised over $91 million this year towards our capital campaign goal of $1 billion (so far we have raised $723,315,227).  We completed the Lenfest professorship match, which over time will provide support for 25 endowed professorships in the Arts and Sciences.  We have raised $26.5 million in gifts and pledges for the Austin Quigley Endowment for Student Success, which will enhance undergraduate student advising and placement.  We have also announced two Kluge matches to support gifts to current use financial aid in the College, and a GS Scholars match, which is a $3 million endowed scholarship fund for General Studies’ students.

We can also announce success in our first stimulus grant – congratulations to Louis Brus, Tony Heinz, Jim Yardley and other nanoscientists for their award of an energy frontier research center grant from the Department of Energy.  This last week, our Research Administration office processed 47 NIH challenge grants from A & S (out of 236 University wide).  David Hirsh and Ann McDermott have been working with faculty groups on construction grants, including one for badly needed Fairchild central facilities renovations, and one for outfitting the 10th floor of the NWC, originally to have been shelved.

Meanwhile, we are in the final stages of the renovation of Knox Hall where two departments and several institutes will move over the summer.  In addition to opening up some much needed space in the IAB, Fayerweather, and Kent, it will bring a number of new classrooms on line in September.  Work is also proceeding apace on the Northwest Corner Building; the first visible metallic outer skin is now installed on the north side.  I would like to thank those faculty and administrators who have served this year on the new Space Planning Committee; we had six productive and informative meetings, and look forward to meeting in an expanded capacity, with faculty and relevant administrators from outside Arts and Sciences joining, beginning in early fall.

I would also like to thank all those who have served on A & S committees during the year:  especially Katharina Volk, who has served as chair of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences during an especially busy and productive year, Christopher Peacock, for serving as chair of the Faculty Development Committee; Jacqueline van Gorkum for her work as chair of the Academic Review Committee; Janet Currie, who has served as chair of the Steers for the last two years; Richard Korb, for chairing the Standing Committee on Language Lecturers; Carlos Alonso, for chairing a faculty advisory committee on the status of language lecturers; and Jean Howard, for chairing an advisory committee for the Undergraduate Writing Program.  And I would like to thank all those who have been involved in our extensive review of faculty governance in the Arts and Sciences, especially Mark Mazower, Stuart Firestein, and Cathy Popkin. 

And I would like once again to thank Alan Brinkley and Austin Quigley for their extraordinary service to the Arts and Sciences.  Alan has been a source of constant support for the last six years; he has collaborated with us on multiple projects and worked steadfastly to provide additional resources for the Arts and Sciences while maintaining the highest academic standards and goals.  Austin has posted an extraordinary record of accomplishment and excellence for the College, while working to meld his office and mine in unprecedented ways.  We are grateful to them both, and wish them very well indeed as they return to the faculty.

I deeply appreciate your perseverance and continued support during these difficult economic times.  Have a wonderful and productive summer.

My best,


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