Spring Update from the Provost

February 28, 2014

Dear Colleagues:

With our weather improving and spring break nearly in sight, I write to provide a brief report on the priorities I mentioned in my fall message and on new tasks that have arisen during the course of the year.

Faculty Diversity. Columbia’s effort to enhance faculty and pipeline diversity is supported by the $30 million commitment that President Bollinger and I announced in 2012.  Schools have responded to two requests for proposals released earlier this year. The first set of proposals requested support to recruit outstanding underrepresented minority and female scholars in disciplines where the availability of qualified minorities and women exceeds their representation on our faculty. The second were for research grants for junior faculty from underrepresented groups. Last year, the diversity program resulted in the recruitment of 8 new faculty, with 3 additional recruitments underway; 22 grants to junior faculty; and authorization of 8 postdoctoral recruitments. 

Dean Searches. Two of Columbia’s longest serving deans, David Schizer of the Law School and Mark Wigley of GSAPP, will be stepping down to return to the faculty after many years of invaluable service. In the fall, President Bollinger announced the appointment of a search committee for the Dean of Columbia Law School and a search committee for the Dean of GSAPP. These searches are currently underway.

Faculty Retirement. On January 1, 2014, the new Incentive Plan for Tenured Faculty Retirement went into effect. This is a voluntary plan available to full-time tenured faculty in participating schools: Arts and Sciences (including School of the Arts), GSAPP, Business, Journalism, SEAS, SIPA, and Social Work. In January we also launched the Office of Faculty Retirement (OFR), led by Emeritus Professor Douglas Chalmers as Special Assistant to the Provost. For details on the incentive program, please visit the OFR website. The website also provides a window on the full range of retirement planning resources and information at the University.

Revision of Housing Assistance Program.  I am pleased to report that at its December meeting the Board of Trustees approved changes to the Housing Assistance Program (HAP) for full-time professorial ranked faculty. The revised program, which will take effect on July 1, 2014, provides for income supplements (for up to ten years), forgivable loans, and secured shared appreciation second mortgages. As in the past, the costs associated with the housing program must be covered by operating funds and reserves of the schools. The changes will give deans greater flexibility in recruiting and retaining top faculty by tailoring housing assistance to meet individual needs. The existing housing assistance program will end on June 30, 2014, but current beneficiaries are grandfathered; there will be no change in their benefits. In addition, the existing program of assistance for junior faculty will continue. For additional information, faculty may contact the appropriate dean; guidelines will be available on-line later this spring.

Review of Academic Schools and Units. The Office of the Provost has resumed its practice of conducting regular academic reviews of Morningside schools and other academic units. Reviews of the School of Continuing Education (in collaboration with the Academic Review Committee of Arts and Sciences), and of the University Press have been completed, providing valuable insights as well as analysis of these two important institutions. The review of the Press, which emphasizes the importance of faculty engagement, will be especially helpful in framing the search for a new Press Director.  The reviews of the Business School, the Libraries, and the International Students and Scholars Office (and related immigration services) are nearing completion. 

President’s Global Innovation Fund. The President’s Global Innovation Fund 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 second call for proposals was released in December, and proposals are due March 3, 2014.  The first round of Global Innovation Fund awardees was announced last autumn, with a total of 20 proposals selected for funding. They ranged in focus from Mesopotamian archaeology to regional food security to globalizing undergraduate research. In addition, several Global Centers are working on local sources of support for academic collaborations; the first of these, a program of grants sponsored by the Government of Chile for joint projects between Chilean and Columbia scholars and scientists resulted in an additional eight grants to our faculty.

Registration of Academic Programs. In collaboration with the Registrar, the Office of the Provost has developed a revised web-based system for obtaining University and New York State approvals for new degrees and certificates, as well as changes in existing programs. The new system provides easy on-line access to the materials that should be part of proposals, allows for their electronic submission, and permits users to track the progress of proposals through the steps that must be completed before new or revised programs may be implemented.  Departments and schools should familiarize themselves with the new system since new or modified programs must comply with an expanding set of state and federal requirements after completing internal reviews.  

Office of the Provost. I am delighted to announce the appointment of SEAS Professor Soulaymane Kachani as Special Assistant to the Provost for Online Education. He succeeds Sree Sreenivasan, who served as Chief Digital Officer before leaving the University. Soulaymane leads the successful and top-ranked online education initiatives of the Engineering School. He will devote a portion of his time to the development of our online teaching and learning strategies.

Stephen Rittenberg, Vice Provost for Academic Administration, has decided to retire at the end of the 2014-15 academic year. We will restructure his position into two new positions for which we will seek faculty candidates. A new Vice Provost for Educational Programs will be responsible for inter-school curricular and research initiatives, review and registration of curricular programs, and the University’s re-accreditation, a large and complex effort we are obligated to undertake every ten years.  We will also appoint a Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs to assume responsibilities related to recruitment, retention, promotion, and retirement of faculty and other academic personnel, along with a series of related responsibilities, some of which are now managed by Stephen.

In the coming year, I plan to bring more senior faculty into new or existing leadership roles in the Provost’s Office so that key functions and initiatives have the benefit of faculty experience and perspectives. As in the two positions mentioned above, I hope to recruit Columbia senior faculty, who would have the option to continue to devote a portion of their time to teaching and research in their home departments and schools.  One key focus will be the appointment of a Senior Associate Provost for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion.  The new positions will be posted on the Office of the Provost website.

Best wishes for a happy and productive semester.


John H. Coatsworth