Updated, 7/24, 7:07 p.m.
A new fundraising campaign is in the works to raise money for Columbia’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences after faculty members appealed to University President Lee Bollinger in May to address growing concerns about financial constraints.
Jack Snyder, the outgoing chair of the Policy and Planning Committee and FAS Humanities Dean Sharon Marcus said that the campaign will fund initiatives determined by Arts and Sciences faculty, who urged Bollinger at a faculty meeting in May—and later in a letter—to take action on long-standing budget concerns within Arts and Sciences.
“The desired result, in the broadest terms, is to strengthen the position of Arts and Sciences so that Columbia can continue to maintain its excellence in undergraduate education, graduate training, and faculty research,” Marcus said in an email.
Marcus and Social Sciences Dean Alondra Nelson, who took their posts on July 1, have been meeting with department chairs to discuss their needs in hopes of developing academic planning initiatives that will be central to the campaign.
“It’s meant to be a sort of grassroots, bottom-up consultative process—talking to people in various departments about what their needs are and what their ideas are for themes,” Snyder said.
Marcus said that the initiatives will not be driven by the deans of the five schools under Arts and Sciences, but rather that they will be “developed from the ground up by ideas provided by the entire faculty.”
The fundraising campaign is still in its earliest developmental stages, according to Bollinger. Administrators are working to develop the specifics of the campaign, including the timeline and the fundraising goal.
“My goal is that, really, by the end of the fall semester, we should have some sufficiently clear goals, that we will actively be engaged in bringing in the donors to meet these goals,” Bollinger said in an interview Wednesday.
Bollinger said he was considering several timeline options, including a three-year and a five-year plan.
Snyder said that he was satisfied with the proposed fundraising campaign as a long-term solution to “enhance the endowment in Arts and Sciences so we would have a firmer financial base for our ongoing budget.”
“President Bollinger’s eagerness to help lead the charge for an Arts and Sciences capital campaign would definitely address that proposal,” Snyder said.
Still, Snyder said he’s still unsure about what will happen to Arts and Sciences’ budget in the short term before the fundraising initiative kicks off.
“It takes some time to fundraise and actually get the money in hand,” Snyder said. “So far, it’s not clear what the response will be for the short- and medium-term budget questions for Arts and Sciences, but we’re looking forward to hearing how those conversations go over the coming weeks.”
Bollinger said that Provost John Coatsworth, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Carlos Alonso, Columbia College Dean James Valentini, and David Madigan, executive vice president and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, are working to develop a financial plan to sustain Arts and Sciences in the short term.
“We’re always working on how to maximize resources for Arts and Sciences—this is something that is very much on our minds all the time,” Bollinger said. “The University is critically dependant first and foremost on the Arts and Sciences.”
The Arts and Sciences funding issues came to a head at a faculty meeting with Bollinger on May 7, which was closed to the press.
According to minutes published online after the meeting, faculty said Bollinger prioritized larger thematic fundraising initiatives—including a personalized medicine task force and the Mind Brain Behavior Institute—over the priorities of Arts and Sciences.
After that meeting, the faculty members of the PPC and every department chair in Arts and Sciences sent a letter to Bollinger, asking him to prioritize increasing the endowment of Arts and Sciences, guarantee that University-wide fundraising initiatives would serve Arts and Sciences, and provide financial support from the central administration so Arts and Sciences can embark on its own fundraising initiatives.
“The Arts and Sciences is the core of the university, and cannot be regarded as a school like any other,” the letter said. “In fact it is not a school, but a faculty responsible for a collection of schools, with a unique mission that places us under unique financial burdens.”
“What the letter was trying to say was, it seems like over the last few years there’s been a change in the rhetoric of the administration in which we are expected to be on our own,” Shahid Naeem, the incoming chair of the PPC, said. “We have gone to him [Bollinger] on occasion and said we need this or that done, and he has tried his best to help, but there are times where people feel—and this is always going to happen—that more needs to be done.”
Naeem emphasized that Arts and Sciences—comprised of 27 departments across five schools—has difficulty fundraising in comparison to some of Columbia’s professional schools where alumni are more likely to have high-paying jobs.
“The Faculty of Arts and Sciences has this very unique charge, and it isn’t something that can be treated like the other schools in that we’re expected to somehow raise money to do our job,” Naeem said. “What we do is we have tuition, and we have some payout from the endowment, and we try to raise additional money as we go.”
‘Significant budget challenges’
Faculty have said that the long-standing stringency of the Arts and Sciences budget—which is not made publicly available—has led to issues with retention and recruitment of new faculty, facilities repairs, and central operations of Arts and Sciences.
In an interview with Spectator in October 2013, Madigan said there were “significant budget challenges within Arts and Sciences.”
“Some years ago, there had been a deficit every year in the Arts and Sciences budget and basically, some two to three years ago, the central administration decided to regularize the situation by providing an annual chunk of money to balance the budget,” Madigan said in 2013. “The idea is that going forward we should be able to live within that budget. It’s difficult, though. There are a lot of things that we would like to do that we’re not doing right now in order for us to live within this budget.”
“It’s not like the place is falling apart and it’s a crisis, but in the long run, we have to address these concerns,” Madigan said.
But recent fundraising efforts for Arts and Sciences have been slow to gain traction. One of those efforts was the Columbia Science Initiative, which launched in 2012 to raise money for the traditionally underfunded natural sciences.
That initiative will fund existing projects, including the Earth Institute, the Mind Brain Behavior Institute, and the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering. It will also fund new projects developed by faculty, support faculty research, increase faculty numbers in science departments, and fund graduate students.
Though Executive Vice President for Research G. Michael Purdy said in December 2013 that he had begun contacting donors, faculty have complained that the initiative has struggled to get off the ground.
“It was very creative, a very impressive plan for identifying the opportunity that exists in sciences, but there’s yet to be a public commitment and a full-throated campaign for raising the funds necessary for the science initiative,” said William Zajc, a physics professor who chaired the department from 2009 until earlier this year.
However, Amber Miller, the dean of science in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said the initiative is making progress. This past spring, administrators hired Sylvia Humphrey as the initiative's director of development, Miller said, and David Zielinski was hired as associate dean of science and planning, to help develop the details of the initiative.
“We’ve been working a bunch with President Bollinger—he’s been really supportive and helpful trying to think about strategies to bring in some of the larger gifts,” Miller said. “He’s been really thinking hard about how to articulate the various projects and exciting opportunities we’re working on.”
Miller said that the initiative—currently at the end of the first 18 months—is projected to last 10 years.
“There’s a lot of momentum,” Miller said. “We’re full steam ahead.”
But in the meantime, faculty say their lack of funding has posed serious problems. The PPC began looking at a series of budget issues at the beginning of 2014 concerning the costly recruitment and retention of faculty in the science departments.
“It became clear that the Arts and Sciences budget for these expenses was so constrained that we were having a hard time retaining really excellent faculty and that it was becoming a financial strain on Arts and Sciences to give adequate offers to some of the replacement scientists the University was interested in,” Snyder said.
Naeem also said that the Arts and Sciences budget is making it difficult for Columbia to compete with its peers in financial offers for faculty.
“If these other universities see that as a great opportunity, we should look at that and say, ‘You know what, it’s a great opportunity to do the same because we’re not going to lose that individual,’” Naeem said. “But instead the dean is like, ‘Oh, well that certainly costs too much,’ and we run the risk of losing that person.”
Beyond complaints surrounding the retention and recruitment of professors, faculty also cited a lack of funding to complete construction, as well as ongoing issues with space shortages and maintenance around campus. Notably, the interior of the Northwest Corner Building is still under construction, and rooms in Pupin Hall and Fairchild vacated by those who moved to the Northwest Corner Building need to be renovated.
Snyder said he was satisfied with the fundraising campaign as a long-term solution to address these long-standing issues and stabilize the Arts and Sciences budget.
“We decided that it was just a systematic issue that needed to be addressed in a big-picture way,” Snyder said. “Tackling things piecemeal when crises would come up was not going to be an efficient way to solve the problem.”
Samantha Cooney contributed reporting.