Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,
As President Bollinger observed in his letter to our community last week, we are exceptionally proud of how nimble our institution has shown itself to be in the face of unanticipated threats to its core missions. The resilience of our students, the creativity of our faculty, the ingenuity of our researchers, and the determination of our staff have been inspiring. Indeed, we are in awe of our colleagues who have worked and continue to work unbelievably hard—with gallantry and valor—at the medical center, to care for our patients and support our city on the front lines of this public health battle.
As the COVID-19 pandemic hopefully approaches its peak, its most terrible phase may soon pass. Notwithstanding how many questions about the pace and degree of recovery and return to a new normal are still unanswerable, the task forces that have helped to steer Columbia in the current storm together with new working groups will begin to engage in intensive planning, informed by our public health experts, regarding a range of scenarios for the resumption of campus life.
We are impatient. All the more reason as we work to renew Columbia to be prudent, especially in fiscal matters. The challenge, quite daunting, will be to match our nearly unlimited ambitions to our constrained financial means, and to do so responsibly, ethically, and decisively. As we move steadily to restore activities throughout the University, we will assess and select policies based on clear priorities: make safety and well-being paramount, advance vital intellectual activity, secure standards of excellence, and maintain responsive operations.
In proceeding, we have no choice but to plan for disruptions, many of which are already evident, across all our sources of income: tuition and fees, research, patient care revenue, and fundraising. And our endowment is not immune to broader financial market performance. We also must recognize the immense economic pressures, including large-scale unemployment and small business closure, generated by the pandemic. These factors affect our geographic community, our student community, our faculty, and our staff, and we wish Columbia to be strong for all.
In this context, as the spring unfolds, and as new information becomes available, the University will continue to evaluate its economic choices. For now, we have taken a series of initial steps. The most notable, and painful, include an academic and administrative hiring freeze with only rare exceptions. Detailed guidance on the freeze can be found on Columbia’s Human Resources website here.
In addition, we have asked all deans, heads of institutes, and central administrative leaders to plan for a salary freeze for the coming academic year. We have requested every unit to curtail non-personnel spending significantly in the remaining quarter of this fiscal year, and each school and administrative unit is preparing a budget for FY21 that reflects spending reductions. While capital project work is currently halted, we are evaluating every project to determine which will resume and which can be deferred.
None of these matters is simple; none is without human as well as intellectual and practical cost. As the University moves ahead, we will actively consult and report, hoping to gain advice and understanding. We continue to post resources and information on the University’s COVID-19 Resources site and welcome your comments and ideas. A number of areas have generated inquiries for which we have developed policies to respond to the current crisis, and we also list certain of these below.
Anne and Ira
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History
Executive Vice President for Finance and Information Technology