Fall 2012 Update from the Provost

September 28, 2012

Dear Colleagues:

Welcome back – to the surge of energy and excitement that comes at the beginning of every academic year at Columbia. The University has come through a five-year period of unusual financial and academic challenges stronger than ever. As President Bollinger reported last spring, our budget continues to be balanced thanks to modest belt tightening and the generosity of alumni and friends; our superb faculty has grown in number and distinction; and we continue to recruit outstanding students from across the country and around the globe.  

In the coming year, President Bollinger has tasked the Provost’s Office with working on a number of the priority concerns we announced last year. These include implementing the new $30 million Faculty and Pipeline Diversity Program, reviewing and revising retirement and housing policies, and helping schools and institutes meet governance, fundraising and financial challenges. We will also explore ways the Provost’s Office can be helpful in supporting cross-school academic collaboration and online education efforts across campus. 

1) Diversity.  While the main focus of Columbia’s diversity initiative is the recruitment of outstanding faculty, the initiative has several other components, including a small-grants program for junior faculty who contribute to the diversity goals of the University, and support for postdoctoral positions. The Provost’s Office has recently made four awards to support two-year postdoctoral appointments in the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the Schools of Law, Nursing, and Social Work. We expect stiff competition for target-of-opportunity faculty recruiting support; the deadline for proposals from schools and faculties is October 1.  The call for proposals for the small-grants program will be issued shortly.  For more information, go to: http://academicplanning.columbia.edu/diversity-program-elements.

2) Online education. This summer, the University appointed its first Chief Digital Officer, Journalism Professor Sree Sreenivasan, who will help to coordinate existing online education programs across campus. Columbia’s top priority in this field is to make optimal use of new technologies to offer the best possible education to our own students. We will be working on the design of new initiatives to enhance excellence in teaching throughout the University. We are also seeking ways to be helpful to schools and departments seeking to expand the number of “hybrid” degree programs that mix short periods of residence with online learning, or to experiment with “MOOCs,” the Massive Open Online Courses that have received so much media attention this year.  We have announced a series of pilot classes for Spring 2013 with Coursera, one of the most prominent MOOC platforms, and will look to do more in this area in the months ahead.

3) Admissions and Financial Aid.  I have appointed a new standing Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid to provide faculty insight and advice on the admissions goals and financial aid policies of Columbia College and the undergraduate program of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The new committee’s charter and membership can be found at: http://www.provost.columbia.edu/node/93.

4) Cross-school academic initiatives. This fall, l will appoint a University-wide faculty committee to provide guidance on how best to foster efforts that bring together Columbia’s various scholarly communities. The goal is to encourage innovation and cross-school collaboration in curricular development and issue-focused research, and to make those efforts more visible within and beyond the Columbia community.  I welcome the University community’s input on how best to realize these objectives.

5) Leadership Development. The Provost’s Office is developing a set of leadership training programs for school and faculty administrative leaders. The Office of the Provost, in collaboration with SIPA’s Picker Center for Executive Education, will launch the first program in this series  with a two-day training institute for new and continuing Morningside department chairs, division directors, and institute directors on November 1-2.  Future programs will bring together academic and administrative leaders from each of Columbia’s campuses.  For more information on this initiative, go to: http://www.provost.columbia.edu/node/94.

6) Retirement Benefits.  Faculty and staff whose appointments begin on or after July 1, 2013 will be covered by a new retirement plan, pending approval of this plan by the Board of Trustees. All current Officers will be grandfathered and retain the existing plan. The University’s Human Resources office will communicate with faculty and staff in the coming weeks about the structure of the new plan. Human Resources has prepared a preliminary overview of the new plan, and a comparison of the new plan’s projected performance with those of Columbia’s peer institutions. These materials can be reviewed at: http://hr.columbia.edu/retirement2012.

7) Retirement Policies. The University’s policies relating to retirement were reviewed by a faculty Task Force that met last spring. The Task Force report will be completed this fall. It will contain recommendations aimed at making it easier for faculty to retire when they wish to do so by modernizing and coordinating Columbia’s approach to the financial, social and psychological aspects of retirement.

8) Housing Policy Review.  Last spring, I appointed a working group to review the University’s policies on faculty housing. Our principal goal is to continue to attract and retain top scholars. Our projections indicate that future demand for Columbia apartments is likely to outstrip supply by as many as 250 apartments over the next decade. To meet our housing goal, the University will need to ensure compliance with existing rules governing who may occupy Columbia apartments, develop additional ways to assist faculty who wish to purchase homes, and consider adding to the stock of faculty apartments as opportunities arise. This fall, we will conduct a survey of Columbia’s over 1,500 faculty housing units to ensure that all are occupied by eligible renters. We also are reviewing University policies related to the eligibility of retirees and their surviving spouses/same-sex domestic partners to remain in Columbia housing, including the opportunity to stay in their current apartments after retirement.  We expect to announce the results of this review during the fall semester.

Best wishes for a happy and productive year.

John H. Coatsworth