The semester will end without a smoking ban decision from the University Senate, leaving the body to continue debating smoking policy for a fourth consecutive calendar year.
Senators decided at Friday’s plenary, the last of 2011, that the question of developing a full smoking ban would be referred to committee for discussion next year.
Also at the plenary, Provost John Coatsworth announced that tuition benefits for Columbia staff members not pursuing degrees will be restored to previous levels. These benefits had been cut over the summer, when the University implemented a package of budget-slashing changes to employee fringe benefits.
Prior to the cuts, staff members not pursuing degrees could take one free course per semester, but the cuts limited them to one free course per year. Coatsworth said he decided to change the policy to two free courses per year—essentially restoring the old benefit—although he added that the change will not be implemented in time for next semester.
“I decided that they [the original cuts] did not take sufficiently into account the significance of these benefits to our capacity to attract first-rate employees to the University,” Coatsworth said.
There was very little discussion on Friday on the smoking policy, an issue the senate has been working on since the spring of 2009. Last December, the senate passed a resolution banning smoking within 20 feet of buildings on the Morningside Heights campus, but many have criticized this policy as unenforceable.
USenator and Business School professor Mark Cohen had indicated for several months that he would seek a senate vote to ban smoking this semester, but on Friday, Cohen changed course. He and Samuel Silverstein, a medical school professor, motioned for a senate committee to develop a resolution banning smoking and to present it to the senate in the spring.
After consulting with senate parliamentarian Howard Jacobson, senate Executive Committee Chair Sharyn O’Halloran accepted Cohen’s motion without a vote, saying that the Executive Committee would refer the issue to the appropriate committee.
Cohen told Spectator that earlier in the semester, he’d been “led to believe” by O’Halloran and Jacobson that he could offer a smoking ban resolution himself. But they ultimately advised him that any resolution would have to go through committee first, he said.
“I had been led to believe that I had the right to do that, but either I was misinformed or I’d misunderstood,” Cohen said. “There’s a due process that’s part of the senate bylaws, and I was ultimately advised that this would have to come back to committee.”
Cohen asked for a vote on his motion on Friday. He said he was surprised when O’Halloran accepted it without a vote.
“If a vote had been taken, a mandate would have been demonstrated that would have directed a committee to come back with a finding, as opposed to requesting a committee to” discuss the issue, Cohen said. “So I’m doing what I can within the confines of the bureaucracy that is the senate process.”
According to O’Halloran, senate rules state that any two senators can introduce a resolution from the floor. That resolution is then referred to the relevant committee.
“This is what happened last Friday,” she said in an email.
Student Affairs Committee Co-Chair Alex Frouman, CC ’12, said after the plenary that he was satisfied with Cohen’s motion. Frouman, who helped develop the 20-foot rule, had criticized Cohen’s push to revisit the policy before the end of its designated two-year trial period.
“I think that this motion fits fine with the preexisting review policy that was explicitly stated within the resolution voted on by the senate last December,” Frouman said.
Senators also discussed a report from the senate’s Ad Hoc Conflict of Interest Review Committee, which recommended changes to the senate’s 2009 conflict of interest policy.
The committee recommended expanding the 2009 policy, which requires faculty members to disclose potential financial and nonfinancial conflicts of interest in University-sponsored research. Under the recommended changes, they would be required to disclose potential conflicts in “white papers, policy briefs, and other similar publications available to the public where the credibility of the work relies upon the faculty member’s affiliation with Columbia University.”
The committee recommended excluding newspaper op-eds from this requirement, though, which Frouman questioned during the plenary.
“Those venues are the most likely interface where the public will receive the opinions of Columbia University professors,” he said.
The Columbia Business School, the Columbia Law School, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have already passed policies with disclosure requirements exceeding those of the 2009 University-wide policy. These policies were passed in the wake of the 2010 documentary “Inside Job,” which criticized Business School Dean R. Glenn Hubbard and Business School professor Frederic Mishkin for alleged conflicts of interest.