In the final plenary meeting of the year, University senators summarized committee progress, passed a resolution in honor of Provost John Coatsworth’s upcoming departure, and questioned the reputation and academic quality of the School of Professional Studies—a school that, amid its rapid expansion in enrollment, now accounts for nearly 50 percent of all the graduate degrees awarded by Columbia.
In light of John Coatsworth’s decision to step down as provost, a position that oversees all academic decisions made by the University, the senate passed a resolution to honor him for his service. University President Lee Bollinger thanked Coatsworth for his transparent and forthright engagement with the senate and his commitment to addressing faculty concerns, both in and out of the senate.
“On the many occasions where this provost had to explain something to the senate audience, in a plenary, a committee, or just a conversation, he deployed a special synoptic gift, conveying complex imbroglios or policy nuances quickly in short words, with humor,” Bollinger said.
The meeting also saw contention over the role and quality of the School of Professional Studies, which will award more than half of all graduate degrees offered by Columbia over the next five years. SPS is a major source of revenue for the University and the Arts and Sciences, a governing unit including Columbia College and School of General Studies. In order to alleviate perennial budget constraints, Arts and Sciences has increased enrollment at SPS by 30 percent in nine years, drawing concerns from faculty that the increase of student population was not supplemented by an increase in academic resources, resulting in a “proliferation of graduate degrees without academic oversight [that] can threaten Columbia’s external brand and reputation.”
“More than half the graduate degrees that this university offers will be offered by SPS in the next five years. This begins to raise the question of what kind of institution are we and what kind we want to become,” June Cross, School of Journalism professor and member of the joint committee on the School of Professional Studies, said.
In April 2017, SPS Dean Jason Wingard and the Education Committee first proposed establishing a master of science in wealth management, drawing criticism from the Business School and the Engineering School that had already established programs involving wealth management and operations. The meeting also raised concerns about the reputation of SPS based on comments from a Chinese social media site that questioned Columbia’s brand based on the inflation of SPS programs.
Senator Howard Worman also presented a statement unanimously endorsed by the External Relations Committee concerning the School of Professional Studies, which criticized SPS’s swell in graduate degrees without adequate academic oversight. However, at its conclusion, the meeting passed a new Masters of Science program on wealth management.
The committee on the School of Professional Studies, formed in 2017 in response to these concerns, has two main areas of inquiry: the reputational and academic impact of SPS’ rapid growth in enrollment, and Arts and Sciences’ financial dependency on the school.
During her presentation, Cross addressed concerns raised by colleges from other schools, such as the School of Social Work, about MS programs offered in SPS that seemed to overlap with programs in their own. In particular, she cited an inability to distinguish between courses regarding negotiations in conflict resolution and international conflict resolution that overlapped with those in the School of International and Public Affairs.
“It’s unclear to us how these programs can be distinguished if I’m coming in from outside. Which one am I applying to and which one am I going to?” Cross said.
She particularly highlighted the committee’s desire to distinguish between Master of Science degrees and SPS degrees given the school’s increasing presence in the University, and called upon the education committee to become more involved in the oversight of this process.
In response, Co-chair of the University Senate Education Committee James Applegate said that, in terms of the concerns presented, there was not much that his committee was not aware of already and that there is already procedure in place for oversight of programs.
Later in the meeting, the Senate Executive Committee also passed its annual resolution on summer powers, allowing the committee to authorize revisions of policies independently in the summer, even after those policies have been presented and put to a vote in the monthly senate plenaries.
In light of the resolution, James Piacentini, GSAPP graduate student and vice-chair of the Student Affairs Committee, brought up concerns about the transparency around the graduate student-faculty relationships policy. Currently, New York State’s new sexual assault prevention policy requires employers to provide employees with sexual harassment training starting April 2019, meaning that administrators may be legally required to oversee the language in the new relationships policy.
However, Piacentini cited the fact that administrators within the Office of the General Counsel said that the policy may be published during the summer, and raised concerns regarding the fact that the Senate may not even have access to that language beforehand.
“We are uncomfortable with the prolonged delay in receiving the language and the truncated timeline in providing feedback for the administration seeks to post this policy over the summer,” Piacentini said. “We believe that the senate and all of its constituencies should be involved in the crafting of this and further policies regarding sexual and romantic relationships.”
Administrators at the meeting did not respond directly to the concern, but said that after summer powers were implemented, the Executive Committee would discuss the involvement of the newly elected chairs of committees who would deal with the new policy.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the meeting in April 2017 passed two MS programs, when in reality, it only passed one. Spectator regrets this error.