The University Senate meeting ran the gamut of campus hot topics, from the proposed smoking ban to swine flu preparations on Friday.
University President Lee Bollinger was absent, missing his second plenary in a row—Sharyn O’Halloran, chair of the executive committee, said Bollinger was stuck on an airplane coming back from doing University business and that he expected to arrive late, but he never did. The senate proved once again that it could go on without its leader, passing three resolutions.
O’Halloran also took a moment to remember former English professor Karl Kroeber, who recently died from cancer and was a senator leader from 1975 to 1997.
A brief update on the readiness of the H1N1 flu vaccine followed. Andreas Svedin, chair of the Student Caucus, said that he does not know when it will arrive to campus, but said there is a delay in delivery and that supply is not a concern.
Valentine Edgar, a student senator from the Columbia Law School, raised the concern that Health Services has stopped issuing sick notes to students because they are “overwhelmed with sick students” due to the swine flu. O’Halloran said she would write to the provost about this.
Onto another health issue. Michael McNeil, assistant director of Health Services at Columbia, presented on the proposed smoking ban for the Morningside campus. He said that there are currently “significant inconsistencies” in Columbia’s policies on smoking near buildings, and that officials should strive for consistency.
McNeil noted that smoking rates continue to decline among students, and the percentage of the population that smokes daily has decreased to single digits. He also informed the senate that New Yorkers tend to smoke less on average, but the level of nicotine in their blood streams is higher than average because of second-hand smoke.
Michael Adler, a faculty senator from the Columbia Business School, was outraged. Calling himself an “unabashed smoker,” he said, “The minority should not be discriminated against.” He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” though he missed the first two words, prompting another senator to challenge his interpretation.
“I think this situation doesn’t need any remedy,” Adler said. “The ban is so stupid.”
Biology professor Bob Pollack raised the concern that the ban may make the surrounding community “feel that we are dumping our problems onto them.”
Kenneth Crews, director of the University’s Copyright Advisory Office, then discussed the implications of a recent Google settlement. The Google Books initiative scans and distributes texts without permission from the rights-holder. Google calls it fair use because they are only showing snippets of the scanned work. Crews said many rights-holders were displeased and sued Google.
One of the settlement stipulations, he said, was that Google would start showing more of the books but with permission from the rights-holders, who would be compensated. To make back their money, Google would sell access to the books.
Another plan was that “Google would only sell to big buyers, like Columbia University, which could give us access to be able to see all of the books ... estimated to be on the order of 10 million books,” he added.
Crews said this settlement should matter to the University because it is “the provider of many public domain books,” and to individuals because they might be or know an author who needs to make a claim.
Next, the Senate unanimously passed three resolutions: one on a Master of Science degree in sustainable development, cosponsored by the School of Continuing Education and the Earth Institute, and two others involving dual degrees linking School of International and Public Affairs master’s degrees in international affairs or public administration with degrees from Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo, Brazil.
Then Daniel Savin, a member of the Senate’s Structure and Operations Committee, gave a report on a new Senate confidentiality policy, which includes a proposal that committee meeting minutes remain confidential for 50 years.
Andrew Springer, a student senator from the Journalism School, expressed outrage at the proposed policy, saying the senators “owe it to people to remain open and honest and transparent.” He suggested a compromise: “A lot of committee meetings do not need to be confidential. … We propose that as a default, most committees be open to the public … with the exception that they could go into executive session.” He added, though, that “some committees could remain closed.”