Spring 2013 Update from the Provost

February 25, 2013

Dear Colleagues:

As the spring semester races toward its midpoint, notable developments across campus include searches currently underway, five in all, for deans of faculties and schools. Searches are well advanced for the Arts and Sciences, the Journalism School, the School of Dentistry, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of International and Public Affairs. Information on each of the search committees can be found on the Provost’s Office website.

The purpose of this message is to update you on a number of initiatives that the Office of the Provost is currently undertaking: 

1.     Global Columbia. President Bollinger has asked me to announce the creation of the President’s Global Innovation Fund, designed to provide support for individual faculty or groups of faculty (including schools, departments, institutes, and centers), who would like to use the facilities or resources of one or more of the University’s eight Global Centers for teaching or research activities. The Request for Proposals (RFP) will be distributed shortly, and can be previewed here. The deadline for applications is May 1, for projects to be carried out in the coming academic year (that is, beginning July 1, 2013). Additional RFPs will be issued in the fall and next spring.

2.    Diversity Initiatives. Columbia’s current efforts to enhance faculty and pipeline diversity, supported by the $30 million commitment that President Bollinger and I announced last April, are showing progress. We have already issued three RFPs and have made a number of awards—nine faculty recruitments, five postdoctoral recruitments, and 14 grants for junior faculty who contribute to the diversity goals of the University. On February 1, we released to Deans and department chairs the second call for proposals for each of these programs. In addition, last month GSAS and the Provost’s Office initiated a graduate fellowship program to support the recruitment of PhD students from underrepresented groups. The Provost’s Advisory Council for the Enhancement of Faculty Diversity has been formed to recommend approaches to expand the presence, prominence and role of women and underrepresented minorities in campus leadership positions; advise on the design and implementation of programs focused on the career success of junior faculty; and suggest ways to broaden the scope of Columbia’s diversity efforts. 

3.    Online education. I am also pleased to announce the appointment of a University-wide Faculty Advisory Committee on Online Learning to examine online education initiatives currently underway across campus and to consider how the University can best respond to new opportunities in this field. The faculty committee is chaired by Professor of Statistics David Madigan, working closely with Sree Sreenivasan, our Chief Digital Officer. We are making progress on various online learning initiatives and will launch Columbia’s first “MOOCs” (massive open online courses) this month. The Columbia Engineering courses offered via Coursera will help us learn more about this and other open courseware platforms.

4.    Retirement policies. The draft report of the Provost’s Working Group on Faculty Retirement is now available for your review. The report has already been shared with various faculty bodies, and I invite your input on the important issues it raises. Comments received by the end of March will help to shape the final report. Later this spring, the final set of Task Force recommendations will be posted, together with information on a timetable for implementation.

5.    Faculty retiree housing. One of the key recommendations of the Retirement Working Group is that the University consider reversing previous decisions that require retiring faculty either to downsize (those hired between 1989 and 2009) or to move out of Columbia housing within three years of retirement (those hired after June 30, 2009). I am pleased to report that the University has already accepted this recommendation and has reversed these policies for tenured faculty and liberalized the policies for other faculty considering retirement. The new policy on housing is now posted on the Provost’s web site.

6.    Faculty housing policies. The purpose of the 1510 University-owned apartments that are leased primarily to faculty is to enhance
our capacity to recruit and retain top scholars. As I noted last fall, our projections indicate that demand for apartments is likely to exceed supply over the next decade. To make sure that all our apartments are occupied by eligible renters, we undertook a survey of occupants; we are now analyzing the results and following up with tenants. In addition, the current
Faculty Housing Assistance Program, a five-year “pilot program” set to expire on June 30, 2013, has been extended for an additional year while the Working Group I assembled last spring completes work on possible modifications to the Program.

7.    Tracking TRAC. We are now well into the second year of operation of the Tenure Review Advisory Committee. This year, the committee has already completed reviews of 25 cases and anticipates that it will evaluate another 40 candidates by the end of May. On average, TRAC has reached its decisions within four weeks after receiving completed dossiers, in contrast to the 8-12 weeks an ad hoc committee typically required. TRAC has also refined the measures it uses in evaluating nominations, adapted them to take into account the diversity of fields in which the candidates specialize, clarified the types of materials it expects to see in the dossiers and developed stronger communications with the school-based committees that advise the deans and academic vice presidents. The outcome has been an improvement in the quality and consistency of TRAC’s evaluations that gives me a high level of confidence in its recommendations on whether candidates should receive tenure.

8.    Provost’s Leadership Fellows Program. I am pleased to announce the creation of this new program that aims to encourage the development of academic leadership among some of Columbia’s outstanding tenured faculty. Each year, a cohort of eight to ten Fellows will be selected to participate in a range of mentoring and learning opportunities in collaboration with senior university administrators, gaining insight into key academic and planning processes. Deans and chairs will be encouraged to nominate promising colleagues; faculty can self-nominate as well. The Call for Nominations, which will be sent to tenured faculty shortly, can be previewed here.

9.    Senior Staff Appointments in the Provost’s Office.
Taking up the newly-created position of Vice Provost for Administration and Planning is Troy Eggers, who was previously senior associate dean at SIPA. Eggers joins Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan as recent additions to the senior staff of the Office of the Provost. Eggers will provide support for the Provost’s role in the oversight of the operating budget process and capital budget process. He will play a key role in supporting capacity-building, long-term budget planning, and strategic planning efforts within schools, and will be involved in the analysis of academic space and the assessment of effective utilization of campus space. Susan Rieger, Associate Provost for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, has announced her retirement after many years of devoted service to Columbia; I have appointed Melissa Rooker to take up that post starting April 1.


I look forward to continuing to keep you apprised of progress on these fronts, and as always, welcome your input on how the Office of the Provost can best support and enhance the quality of the University’s teaching and research.



John H. Coatsworth