Executive Vice President for Research Michael Purdy and Loftin Flowers, assistant vice president of government affairs, warned the University Senate of the implications that Washington’s “fiscal cliff” negotiations could have on Columbia’s research enterprises at Thursday’s plenary, the final one of the semester.
According to Purdy, if legislators do not take action before the automatic budget cuts take effect on January 2, the University will face an 8.2 percent reduction in federal research grants.
“It’s a pretty stark picture,” Flowers, who gave the initial presentation, said.
The effects of the potential cuts would vary greatly depending on the individual school, with the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University Medical Center, the School of Nursing, the College of Dental Medicine, and the School of Social Work being affected most.
According to Purdy, the University administrators in each of the schools began to think of how to prepare for these changes more than nine months ago by establishing a working group of the lead budget administrators, chaired by the Vice President of Budget and Financial Planning Nancy Johnson.
Purdy noted that the priorities for the administration include not only planning for the potential impacts of the cuts, but also campaigning to avoid the cuts by speaking with government officials.
“We are all working very hard to try to stop this from happening,” Purdy said, adding that University President Lee Bollinger has signed on to many letters over the past few months arguing that research funding should be protected.
The full extent of the potential cuts, according to Purdy, would take approximately one to two years to become apparent, but he noted that some shorter-term programs would be vulnerable immediately.
Flowers also said that while federal Pell Grants would not be affected, funding for other financial aid programs, such as federal work-study, would be affected.
Executive Vice President for Finance Anne Sullivan also gave a presentation on the University’s new financial accounting system, Accounting and Reporting at Columbia, that went live in July.
Since then, many administrators have said that the system is less efficient and more complex than its predecessor.
Despite these criticisms, Sullivan assured the senators that her office has tried to respond adequately to the concerns of administrators and has also noticed increased familiarity with the program over the past few months.
According to Sullivan, anticipated improvements from the new system include a more flexible accounting structure, more transparency for the status of transactions, and improved efficiency for purchasing processes, as well as full integration with the University’s other financial programs, such as the Student Information Systems.
“We are really approaching now a much more stable period,” Sullivan said, noting that her office is in the process of making a few changes to the system as suggested by departmental administrators.
Also at the plenary, Vice President of Global Centers Safwan Masri gave an overview of Columbia’s eight global centers and their role within the University community.
The Senate also passed a resolution to establish a new department of system biology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and a new doctoral program in education policy at Teachers College.