Fall 2013 Update from the Provost

October 3, 2013 

Dear Colleagues:

Welcome back to a new academic year and the fresh energy and new ideas it brings. The good news is that the University has never been more beautiful nor the New York weather more spectacular.  The bad news is that the United States seems to have lost its federal government, a situation we hope is resolved soon and one we continue to monitor closely (see below).

The Provost of the University “has the broad responsibility for ensuring that the University's programs and faculty are of the highest quality.”  Responsibilities of the Office of the Provost are outlined on our website.  The aim of this message is to update the academic community on our priorities, programs and initiatives.

Priorities.  The Office of the Provost continues to focus on the following key tasks, as I have outlined in previous messages:

  • Support the recruitment and retention of brilliant and diverse faculty;
  • Monitor and enhance the quality of academic programs through rigorous academic reviews and by assisting schools, institutes, and other academic units to mobilize and manage their resources effectively;
  • Encourage cross-school collaboration and coordination in research, teaching, and service;
  • Promote study and research on critical global issues and problems; and
  • Make effective use of new technologies to enhance the educational experience of students.

New Deans.  President Bollinger appointed five new deans who took up their posts over the summer after successful searches during the past year. Please join me in welcoming:

Over the summer the Office of the Provost also designed and implemented an orientation program for new deans.

Diversity.  Columbia’s efforts to enhance faculty and pipeline diversity, supported by the $30 million commitment that President Bollinger and I announced in 2012, are yielding results. We authorized 15 faculty recruitments, 8 postdoctoral recruitments, and 22 grants to junior faculty who contribute to the diversity goals of the University.  We will shortly release to deans the third call for proposals for faculty recruitments and junior faculty grants; the next postdoctoral RFP will be issued in the new year. The graduate fellowship program established by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Provost to enhance the diversity of our PhD students resulted in the recruitment this fall of 38 fellows across seven schools. The Provost’s Advisory Council for Faculty Diversity has recommended priority areas for strengthening and broadening the scope of Columbia’s diversity efforts and their work is getting underway.  This summer marked the halfway point in school-led planning processes: each school was asked to report progress made in reaching its three‐year diversity goals. In recent weeks, I have met with each of the deans to discuss what has gone well and what can be improved.

Federal Government Shutdown. Executive Vice President for Research (EVPR) Michael Purdy and Executive Vice President for Government and Community Affairs Maxine Griffith have been monitoring closely the impact of the fiscal “sequestration” and the more recent shutdown.  Information on the shutdown’s effect on academic research grants is available at the EVPR website

Faculty Retirement.  I am pleased to announce the creation of the Office of Faculty Retirement in the Office of the Provost and the appointment of Douglas Chalmers as Special Assistant to the Provost for Faculty Retirement. Doug is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Director of the Society of Senior Scholars. I am also working with deans on the Morningside campus on a new Faculty Retirement Incentive Program, which we expect to announce shortly. Doug will focus on the introduction and operation of the incentive program, and then work on providing ongoing outreach and information about policies related to faculty retirement. He will also work on enhancing our efforts to develop meaningful, productive post-retirement programs for Columbia faculty. 

Housing.  This past year the Office of the Provost, along with key senior administrators, reviewed and modified the faculty housing policy at the recommendation of the Provost’s Faculty Retirement Working Group. The revised policy, which was finalized and distributed to faculty this past May (and posted here), clarifies who is eligible for housing, outlines conditions required to qualify for housing, and most importantly, explains and liberalizes the policy for tenured faculty considering retirement. We are grateful to the University Senate for their careful review of the policy.

The University’s Faculty Housing Assistance Program (HAP), a five-year “pilot program” for professorial-ranked faculty on the Morningside Campus that was set to expire last June, was extended until June 30, 2014 while we work on revisions to the Program. We are focusing on how HAP can be modified to assist faculty who wish to purchase their own homes, but lack the financial resources to do so.

Review of Academic Schools and Units.  The Office of the Provost has initiated a number of academic reviews of schools and units on the Morningside campus. These include reviews of Columbia University Libraries, Columbia University Press, the International Students and Scholars Office, and Community Impact. The aim of these reviews is to assess how these organizations can best meet the diverse set of needs and interests of the Columbia community. We have also re-initiated the regular systematic review of Morningside schools at five-year intervals. We are conducting an academic review of the Business School this fall and providing support to the Arts and Sciences’ review of the School of Continuing Education.

Online Education.  Columbia faculty have taught several highly popular massive open online courses (MOOCs) via Coursera and other organizations; those courses have collectively reached over 100,000 individuals around the globe. The primary focus of our efforts in this field, however, remains Columbia’s own students and faculty. Earlier this year, I appointed the Provost’s Faculty Advisory Committee on Online Learning, which will play a key advisory role in helping to shape the University’s efforts in the areas of online, distance and digital learning. Chaired by David Madigan, Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Committee provides expertise and guidance on a broad range of topics, including credentialing and credits, assessment of learning outcomes, differentiation of CU's online activities, copyright and course ownership, and faculty participation/compensation for online educational activity. The committee expects to issue a report later this fall; a committee of the University Senate has also taken up this topic.

President’s Global Innovation FundThis program is designed to provide support for faculty who wish to use the resources or facilities of one or more of the University’s eight Global Centers for teaching or research activities. The aim is to increase opportunities for research, teaching, and service around the world. Earlier this month I announced the results of the competition for faculty grants from the first round of proposals. With the help of a 15-member faculty review committee, a total of 20 proposals were selected for funding. They range in focus from children’s health to refugees to art history. A new round of proposals will be requested this fall.

Provost Leadership Fellows. The University relies on tenured faculty to play key roles in academic administration and leadership.  A University-wide Task Force on Faculty Development identified leadership training opportunities for senior faculty as a key pathway to enhancing academic governance. To this end, the Office of the Provost has established the Provost Leadership Fellows Program.  We have selected twelve Fellows for the first class from among the large number of nominations from schools across campus. Nominations for a second round of Leadership Fellows will be solicited later this year.

Best wishes for a happy and productive year.

John H. Coatsworth