The University Senate voted nearly unanimously, with one abstention, to pass a resolution mandating the creation of up-to-date bylaws for all academic units across Columbia at Friday’s plenary. The resolution will, for the first time in at least half a century, require that all the University’s campuses formally write and document procedures for the appointment and promotion of faculty, as well as proceedings to address faculty grievances, among other core academic practices outlined in bylaws.
Prior to the plenary vote, the only move to standardize bylaws within academic units—or the organizational units of campuses, such as departments or institutes—came from the bylaws subcommittee of the Policy and Planning Committee of the Arts and Sciences, a governing unit that includes both Columbia College and General Studies. According to PPC’s summary of recommendations released last November, only 12 of 27 departments had bylaws revised within the last 10 years, and the subcommittee could find documented bylaws from two of 39 centers and nine of 16 institutes. The report also noted difficulties in providing specific guidelines given that the governance of different units varies significantly.
“By providing a known structure, bylaws must facilitate the daily working of a department,” the recommendations stated, released in November. “Good bylaws must limit the scope for arbitrary decisions by the most powerful department members without weighing the administration of the department with cumbersome procedures.”
The Senate resolution, pushed forward by the Faculty Affairs Committee, requires that all academic units across Columbia create or update their bylaws—many of which have not been revised in decades—and that the Senate to publish these bylaws in an easily accessible, single document online.
Nicole Wallack, director of the Undergraduate Writing Program and a member of the faculty affairs subcommittee on bylaws, emphasized that the current chaotic state of bylaws impedes University efforts to increase transparency between faculty, administration, and students.
“We found over again, maybe [bylaws do] exist but no one’s read them. They’ve read them but they haven’t outdated or they’re out of custom, or there are procedures in place in departments, or school that continued through lure or custom,” she said. “We’re trying to mitigate against that and increase the amount of transparency both within and across the units and from Columbia to its wider audience. … We feel this matter is of some urgency.”
Currently, units often lack clear guidelines to determine who has the opportunity to participate in forms of governance, how to address internal grievances that arise between and against faculty, and provisions for conflicts of interest in the process of promoting faculty.
Letty Moss-Salentijn, co-chair of the Faculty Affairs Committee, pointed out that lack of former grievance procedures muddles expectations of proper faculty conduct, often engendering complaints that could have been avoided with guidelines.
“When faculty grievances comes up, it is fairly frequently tied to a nonexistence of bylaws or that bylaws are not being observed. When that happens, we really cannot make this public because these grievances are confidential,” Moss-Salentijn said.
The plenary also saw presentations from Student Affairs Committee Senator Jonathan Criswell GS ’21, on issues of food insecurity and accommodations for students with disabilities. In light of a survey by the GS administration finding that 40 percent of non-joint/dual undergraduate students at GS experience very low or low food insecurity, Criswell presented on the progress of the Food Pantry at Columbia, a student-run organization for students in need that is not currently subsidized by the University.
According to Criswell’s survey of GS students, nearly 40 percent of students who experience food insecurity had not used TFP and didn’t even know it existed.
To increase awareness of TFP across all colleges, Criswell suggested that the Office of the Provost or of University Life send information about TFP and other food insecurity resources in a semesterly email to ensure all students in all colleges across all campuses are aware of the help available to them. He suggested that institutional support for TFP could bolster its services through a consistent financial contribution on an annual basis.
Criswell also presented a report by the student affairs subcommittee for students with disabilities, which established a need for increased academic awareness of and administrative support for students with disabilities. The report shared that the number of testing spaces dedicated to ODS-proctored exams grew by a capacity of 93 students with space secured in Chandler and Havemeyer. It also shared updates on the progress by ODS to create an accessible online portal for registered students to make accommodations requests.
“Students with disabilities themselves feel like they are advocating for themselves, and that when they speak with professors and administrators, they oftentimes find [professors and administrators] have very little understanding or literacy on topics related to disabled issues. … It’s some of the most basic obstacles that students with disabilities face, they feel they constantly have to explain them,” Criswell said.
In light of a University-wide shortage of appropriate lab spaces, faculty from the Campus Planning and Physical Development Committee brought up questions about the quality of and student accessibility to space on the medical campus through a report on laboratory maintenance issues at the medical school campus.
At Columbia University Irving Medical Center, departments lease space from the University, and often share buildings with the New York–Presbyterian Hospital. However, because NYP pays for heat, when the temperature in research labs experiences extreme fluctuations and costs researchers grant funding, it is unclear who is responsible, according to Amador Centeno, the senior vice president of facilities management, operations, and planning at CUIMC.
“We lease almost 400,000 square feet of space from the hospital. It’s complicated and the lines are blurred on who owns what,” Centeno said.
Donna Lynne, the senior vice president and chief operating officer at CUIMC, responded by describing the financial pressure put on maximizing the utility of space at the University.
“From a business perspective, we’re growing as a University and as a medical center. … If we’re not using space that we own efficiently, it behooves us to say, are there opportunities for us to not spend more money and increase our costs whether its tuition or otherwise, to utilize existing space we have. With all due respect, if you were running a business, space is not free,” Lynne said.
Student Affairs Committee co-chair Jacqueline de Vegvar questioned why, if departments pay for space at the medical campus, the facilities they receive are not up to par.
“You’d think if [departments] were paying for the space, they’d be getting what they paid for,” de Vegvar said.