Communications and Calendars
Letters to the Faculty:
March 9, 2007
This has been another active year for the Arts and Sciences. We have continued an ambitious program of strategic hiring, as we seek to maintain and in some cases dramatically strengthen the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences. Since I took up residence in 208 Low Library in September 2004, we have increased the size of the faculty by over 5 percent, and faculty size will likely increase further next year. Some of this has been the result of major initiatives — e.g., building the Department of Economics or initiating the program of diversity hiring — supported in part by the President and the Provost. Others have been initiatives for departments in need of special attention, e.g. Spanish and Portuguese, French, MEALAC, Political Science, and Sociology. In the sciences we have continued to make key investments, with notable activity and success in Mathematics, Chemistry, Psychology, and Physics, though we have been working with all nine departments in productive ways. We have worked to bring the Department of Environmental, Ecological, and Evolutionary Biology out of its initial hibernation and into a new phase of consolidation and growth, with beautiful new departmental and research facilities on the top of Schermerhorn Extension. And we have of course worked with many other departments and programs to replace departing faculty and on occasion expand the faculty base. We have done this with a strategic mix of junior and senior hiring — shifting most replacement lines to junior and using senior lines only for special initiatives. While junior hiring has moderated some of the costs involved, this has not been inexpensive, and it has only been because of our close working relationship with the central administration that we have been able to sustain these enhancements in the midst of a rising deficit, for which we have also been engaged in serious long-range planning in our office and with the senior administration.
Space has been a central concern throughout. Many departments are in gridlock, with insufficient office space for any faculty expansion. Our budgets for renovation, both of individual offices and public departmental spaces, are inadequate. In the first instance, we have forged ahead with our ambitious plan to put up an innovative and dramatic interdisciplinary science building (NWC) on the northwest comer of the Morningside campus — the last major new building possible on this campus. This is a huge undertaking, with 180,000 square feet of new state-of-the-art facilities for laboratories in nanotechnology, chemical biology, and biophysics, among other fields. We are making significant progress on this and anticipate the beginning of construction this spring. At the same time, we have designed new quarters in Knox Hall for the Departments of Sociology and MEALAC and a number of institutes from the lAB, with the added benefit that this will decompress space for departments such as History, Political Science, and Economics, as well as for SIPA. We have begun plans for renovating the spaces that are to be relieved, and made some preliminary plans for the uses of these new spaces. Despite the relief associated with these moves, in many cases we will need to await the departure of the Business School from Uris for real space relief and sufficient opportunity to regroup units that might better be housed in proximity to each other. And we are still working to finalize plans to decompress other spaces, such as Philosophy Hall. What we have is a complex mix of short and medium-term strategies, but together they promise significant and sustained progress in our lived environment, beginning very soon for a broad cross section of the Arts and Sciences.
Despite significant progress, years of budget constraints in the Arts and Sciences have prevented our office from investing in the regular upkeep and refreshment of departmental spaces, except when it has occurred in the context of a larger capital project. We have been reminded repeatedly of the shabby conditions in which many of us work by a number of candid external visiting committee reviews within the ARC process; several recent visiting committees have been especially eloquent about the sometimes dilapidated spaces of departments and institutes. Many of these issues emerged once again last week in the faculty forum sponsored by ECFAS (and they have been subjects of regular concern to ECFAS well before that as well). We have been working on a variety of plans during the last year to address these issues in meaningful ways, and I would like to share some of these plans here. President Bollinger and Provost Brinkley understand our need to follow through on these plans and will help us find some of the resources necessary to do so. Accordingly, my office will be working with Joe Ienuso and Columbia's Facilities team to review the space of each department, program, institute, and center in the Arts and Sciences. Although this does not promise immediate action in all of these units, we will work to identify opportunities to improve the appearance and functionality of departmental spaces and faculty offices. Examples will include painting, lighting, furniture and flooring. During the next three months, we will create a process to identify the most obvious shortcomings and best short term deployment of funds. And we will set up a schedule with as many units as possible so that even if help is not immediate, we can be clear about when help from our office will be on its way. A standardized review of departmental spaces, with appropriate input from departments on their preferences, will thus lead to a schedule of work that is sensitive to current conditions and planned relocations, major projects and reconfigurations. By way of example, a department that is already slated for renovation or relocation is unlikely to receive attention in this particular program, while those that are expected to remain in their current space and/or for whom the new NWC building or the new facilities in Knox Hall will provide new opportunities are likely to receive attention first (e.g. units in Philosophy, Kent, Hamilton, and Schermerhorn). At the same time, we know that the NWC building hardly solves all of the space issues confronting basic science departments; to that end we have been working during the year to find funding and develop a plan for renovations to our current science buildings, beginning with Pupin. As we engage these commitments, we will attempt to provide better channels of communication both with our office and with the facilities management staff.
We are also aware that the workload of departmental administrators has changed dramatically over the past ten years: e.g., increasing complexity of processing day-to-day transactions in new computer systems, greater burdens of compliance and oversight required by outside agencies, and the tendency of new systems to distribute data entry responsibilities to the local departments. A Departmental Administrative Task Force was established in March 2005, headed by Joe Harney of the central administration and Deputy Vice President Vicky Prince and including twelve departmental administrators elected by the larger group of all DA's. Based on the recommendations of the task force, a number of actions have been taken: the addition of the new Business Manager position to selected larger departments in the Humanities and Social Sciences; increased salaries and grade levels in selected Arts and Sciences departments; base budget increases to adjust for accumulated imbalances; a new HR staff person in our office to help with PeopleSoft processing tasks and to continue improvements in training programs (central HR is also engaged in a significant investment in administrator training); a new streamlined FRAP reimbursements and purchasing procedure, supported by a new staff member in our office who will relieve department administrators of most of the transactional burden of these processes; a task force of administrators of smaller departments to address the unique challenges of highly technical processes, potentially to include additional central support; all this while the Central Administration is taking an active role in providing better support to the departments through the establishment of an administrative advisory council convened by Al Horvath, Executive Vice President for Finance, focusing especially on the improvement of HR procedures.
We have also been working during the last year to provide a new program for upgrading personal computing systems. While we have instituted procedures so that all new faculty are provided with a new PC upon arrival, budget constraints have prevented the creation of a program for replacing and updating computers (programs that are in place in many other universities). We are well aware, despite our efforts to increase FRAP allocations, especially for junior faculty, that our regular research support program is not sufficient to fund what we all now acknowledge to be a necessary technological tool for our teaching, service, and research. Faculty should not be asked to choose between attending a professional conference and upgrading a computer. We are now committed to announcing a new computer policy by the beginning of the next academic year, with the following key features: faculty without ongoing research support will be entitled to request funding towards a new computer every four years. In order to facilitate enhanced desktop support, as well as security and virus protection, Arts and Sciences will work with CUlT to create standards for new computer configurations. The particulars of the program — including maximum budget for each purchase as well as the procedures for the evaluation of faculty applications — will be established over the next few months.
We are working to incorporate issues of equity and cost of living in salary setting and considering a change in deducting the partial cost of retention from general department salary pools. As we work to provide these extra funds, we must ask for your understanding that we need to be much more careful in the way we make other financial decisions, from routine requests for funding for various initiatives to decisions about retentions and recruitments in relation to overall issues of equity and remuneration. We have begun this discussion on several levels with departmental chairs, and ECFAS has pledged their commitment to working with all of you to help us through this process. It is clear that as we invest new resources in administrative support, facilities renewal, computer support, and salaries, we must ask you to understand that we will often have to make very tough decisions, for a time, perhaps saying no more often to proposals for targets of opportunity and new appointments except in cases where the case is ironclad. And as we make these tough decisions, we are committed to working with you to provide a clearer understanding not just of trade offs but of the budgetary realities of the Arts and Sciences, in the context of the decentralized structure of Columbia's overall budget. While we are committed to continuing the close working relationship we have forged over the last few years with the central administration, we are also aware that we must perforce depend upon more than their good will and support in alleviating our deficit.
I will be writing to you again soon both to update you on progress regarding various initiatives announced here and to report on progress in our capital campaign — the critical means for the securing of a prosperous future for the Arts and Sciences.
My best wishes for a good and relaxing spring break.
Nicholas B. Dirks
Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and History
Vice President for Arts and Sciences
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences