Columbia University

Communications and Calendars

Letters to the Faculty:

October 1, 2006

Dear Colleagues:

In anticipation of the first full faculty meeting of the new academic year on October 16th, I’d like to bring you up to date on various developments of concern to you.  There is a real sense of momentum in the Arts and Sciences. We have been able to recruit and retain extraordinary faculty even as we maintain the standards of distinction already present in each of our twenty-nine departments. We are genuinely encouraged by the early success of the capital campaign.  And you have stepped forward in a variety of capacities – from serving on several new committees to participating in fundraising ventures – demonstrating your great commitment to Columbia. With your help, we are engaged in a variety of initiatives that build on our traditions and strengths while promising to enhance – and in some areas transform – the intellectual and academic mission of the University.

I. Financial Health of the Arts and Sciences
First, and perhaps most importantly, we have made significant progress over the past year in stabilizing our budget – the result of close cooperation with the central administration and a major commitment from President Bollinger to provide necessary funds over the next few years – allowing us for the first time the luxury of engaging in serious and responsible planning. For those of you who have followed the budgetary challenges of the Arts and Sciences over the years, I don’t have to remark here how daunting these challenges have been, and how difficult it has been to engage academic and financial planning in the environment they created. 

President Bollinger, Provost Brinkley and I have been meeting regularly to address the structural causes for the pressures on the Arts and Sciences budget, as well as to engage in academic planning that is not driven primarily by budget pressures.  The central administration has been extremely forthcoming in supporting our core educational mission, and the close working relationship we have developed has provided the basis for genuine optimism about the future of the Arts and Sciences at Columbia.

II. Academic News
In large part because of the efforts devoted to our financial health, we had another successful year of recruiting new faculty (and retaining our own), building new programs, and formulating and developing new initiatives. Most of all, we have been working to improve the position of the faculty across the Arts and Sciences, rebuilding departments hard hit by retirements and increased demand for teaching, restoring capacity for research both within and among departments in a wide range of new fields that require new forms of interaction which include both interdisciplinary programs and traditional departmental configurations. We are also trying to increase resources for individual faculty to support research, for example, by increasing FRAP accounts of our untenured faculty in the non-science departments where external grant support is especially scarce.

Among the many departments with which we worked closely last year were Chemistry, French, and Political Science. In Chemistry, we hired two superb organic chemists while fending off a major effort to recruit two of our most promising researchers in this field from another university. The French Department has had to deal with four retirements and one departure in the span of two years. By collaborating with an interdepartmental hiring committee, the department was able to make three excellent appointments that will significantly broaden the character of the department. And in Political Science, one of our most successful departments and popular majors, we made major progress with a hiring initiative, which resulted in the recruitment of two senior and four junior faculty. We have continued working with the Economics Department to ensure the continued success of the economics initiative. And, speaking of economics, we join you all in celebrating the Nobel Prize just awarded to our colleague Ned Phelps. He is the fourth Columbia economist to receive the award in the last ten years, an extraordinary tribute to a great department. 

Last year was also the first year we were able to recognize ten of our faculty with the Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award, made possible by a generous endowment gift from trustee Gerry Lenfest – a great benefactor of the Arts and Sciences in this and in other efforts. We will announce the next round of awardees this fall.

We have also made dramatic progress in the science initiative, especially in planning for the Northwest Building. The building, linked to the adjacent Chandler and Pupin halls, will provide high-quality research space for molecular level exploration of two interlinking themes: biological phenomena, chemical biology and biophysics, the one, and nanoscience and the creation of nanodevices, the other.  The lower floors of the building will house an integrated modern electronic science library, with a significant amount of high-quality study space, classrooms, and a café. The building, designed by Rafael Moneo, has now gone through the majority of the steps necessary for public approval. Ann McDermott has been working closely with others across campus in planning the Northwest Building; and while working energetically on science initiatives across Columbia, was elected for her own scientific work to the National Academy of Sciences, of which we are all very proud.

This new building promises to transform not just the way we do science on the Morningside campus but the entire corner of our campus, with a dramatic entry point for those who will now be commuting back and forth from 29 Claremont, Knox, and before long, Manhattanville. In regard to Manhattanville, we are very pleased to be involved in collaborative planning around the major new initiative in neuroscience with Tom Jessell, Eric Kandel, and Richard Axel from uptown along with colleagues here in the Arts and Sciences in departments as various as Psychology, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, and Art History.  The enormous and generous gift from Dawn Green for the new center for Mind, Brain and Behavior has made these plans come alive in a very dramatic way.

Jean Howard and I have worked closely together to increase the diversity of the Arts and Sciences faculty. This work has taken two forms. In the fall, we sponsored a series of dinners with Chairs of departments and search committees within Arts and Sciences and SEAS in order to think collectively about ways to increase the inclusiveness of the candidate pools for every search and about strategies for the successful recruitment of women and minority candidates. We are engaged in these efforts again this fall. It is crucial to the long-term success of the President’s diversity initiative that every search be a diversity search in the sense of actively seeking a broad range of excellent candidates, including those traditionally under-represented on our faculty.

The second part of our diversity work has involved beginning to utilize the $15,000,000 fund granted to the Arts and Sciences by the President and Trustees in June of 2005 to facilitate target-of-opportunity hiring of candidates from groups traditionally under-represented on our faculty or of candidates who by their research, teaching or mentoring efforts contribute to the diversity mission of the Arts and Sciences.

We are pleased that both efforts have been more successful than we had dared to hope and for that we want to thank the many faculty members, search chairs, and departmental leaders who pitched in to help. During the course of the year, twenty-one departments submitted proposals to Jean’s office, with some departments submitting more than one proposal. Of these fifteen proposals survived the vetting process, twelve of which were brought to a conclusion by June of 2006 and three of which have been carried over to this fall. Of the twelve offers we extended for 2005-06, ten faculty accepted. Most of them joined us this fall, though two will join in the fall of 2007.

These new faculty represent a very high level of academic distinction. They have been appointed in about equal numbers in each of the three divisions of the Arts and Sciences faculty. Collectively, they will strengthen many of our core departments as well as the work of key centers and institutes. Also, just as we had hoped, a number of candidates from groups traditionally under-represented on our faculty have been appointed in regular department searches and not through the target-of-opportunity lines. As a result, though our work is by no means done, going forward we hope to see a more robustly diverse faculty in Arts and Sciences, an outcome that will strengthen every aspect of our curriculum from our offerings in Astronomy and African studies to those in Political Science, Psychology, History, English, and Art History.

This year there is again the opportunity to nominate extremely strong candidates for a further round of target-of-opportunity appointments, though last year’s success means that we have already committed somewhat over half of the money allotted to us by the Trustees, so we will have to be very selective in our choices, targeting, as we have done last year, both outstanding candidates, and also those whose appointments will have the greatest long-term impact on key programs and departments.

We have also been working on a set of global and international initiatives. I am in the process of constituting two faculty committees – on the successful model of the diversity initiative – the first to review and identify major needs in global areas while also advising our office on how to adapt the institutional traditions and procedures of the academic world to changing global challenges and opportunities, the second to solicit and review proposals for a number of new faculty positions in global studies. Our first and most urgent task is to develop greater faculty strength in areas of teaching and research concerning Africa, but we also have pressing needs in Middle Eastern Studies, as well as for other world regions, as we continue to strive to make Columbia a genuinely global University.

III. Capital Campaign 
Much of the past year has been spent in preparing for the capital campaign. Our office has been working especially closely with the central administration to position the Arts and Sciences even more centrally for the upcoming campaign, and to coordinate our own efforts with those of all the Schools within Arts and Sciences, especially Columbia College. As you now know from recent announcements, the goal for the University will be $4 billion, while the goal for Arts and Sciences is an ambitious $1 billion. Campaign priorities are geared toward building our endowment, focusing on professorships to support planned growth and chairs for faculty as well of course as financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students alike. I have already announced the extraordinarily generous gift by Gerry Lenfest of $37.5 million towards matching chairs in the Arts and Sciences. These chairs will be directed both to support recent growth in the faculty and to provide the basis to realize the academic plans we have been formulating in conjunction with departments, institutes, centers, and programs in the Arts and Sciences.

IV. Administrative News
There are also some major administrative transitions in the Arts and Sciences. Lisa Anderson, Dean of SIPA, has announced that she will be stepping down from her position at the end of the current academic year, after ten years of distinguished service. All of us in the Arts and Sciences are indebted to Lisa, and I thank her for the tireless work she has done in making SIPA one of the leading policy schools in the country. During her ten years as Dean, she has expanded the range and scope of programs in the School, and she has begun to build a distinguished faculty of her own. We will have several opportunities during the coming year to celebrate her accomplishments. In the meanwhile, I will soon appoint a committee to conduct the search for a new dean. The search for a new dean of the School of the Arts is already well underway, and we are grateful to Dan Kleinman for serving as Acting Dean of the School for a second year. And, as I announced last spring, Peter Awn, Dean of the School of General Studies, has agreed to become acting Dean of the School of Continuing Education for the coming year as well.

Within our office, I am very pleased to announce that Scott Norum, Vice President for University Budget and Financial Planning, has joined our office as Chief Financial Planning Officer for the next two years. Scott has extensive experience in financial planning and administration; at OMB he was responsible for forecasting and assisting Trustees and other senior managers in the formulation of fiscal policies including revenue and cost allocations, endowment spending and capital financing, and preparing the annual operating plan and capital budget.  Prior to joining OMB, Scott was Director of Financial Planning at the Graduate School of Business where he represented the School in all financial negotiations with the University’s central administration, developed budgeting, reporting and monitoring systems for school divisions and administrative offices, and supported the dean in revenue forecasting and resource allocations. Scott has worked for Columbia University for over nineteen years and is looking forward to celebrating his twentieth anniversary of employment while working in the Arts and Sciences. Scott will be instrumental in developing better planning mechanisms across our office as well as in helping us work towards a more secure financial future. 

As you know from a recent announcement, Paul Anderer – who served with distinction last year as Associate Vice President – has been appointed Vice Provost of International Relations. Nevertheless, we will continue to work closely with Paul on a variety of global initiatives, while his office will provide better channels for communication and collaboration with other Schools outside the Arts and Sciences. During the last year, among the many things he did was to establish a new Office of Global Programs within the Arts and Sciences that for the first time coordinates all of our study abroad programs among other international activities.   

I am also pleased to announce that Rose Razaghian has joined our office as Director of Communications. Rose will be coordinating many of the different activities of the office, facilitating communication both within the office and between us and faculty as well as other Schools and the central administration.  Before returning to Columbia, Rose was on the faculty of Yale’s Political Science Department for four years. Rose received her Ph.D. from Columbia in Political Science and her B.A. from UC Berkeley in Political Science and Economics. 

The Academic Review Committee is up and running again, this year under the able leadership of Peter Bearman. I would like to thank Victoria de Grazia for her work last year as Chair of ARC, which reviewed the Center for Comparative Literature and Society, Classics, the Language Resource Center, Mathematics, Sociology, and Statistics. This year the committee will be reviewing Art History, Astronomy, the Center for the Ancient Mediterranean, the Center for the Study of Human Rights, EALAC, English, IRWAG, ISERP, the regional institutes housed in SIPA, and the Undergraduate Writing Program. 

This letter is already too long, though there is much else to report. To facilitate better communication from our office, we are at work on the development of a new Web site that will allow us to provide far more comprehensive information about the workings of our office, the upcoming capital campaign, as well as news and reports about the Arts and Sciences at Columbia more generally. 

I wish you all a successful and productive new academic year.

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