Columbia administrators, including President Lee C. Bollinger, are deliberating on increasing student enrollment in CC and SEAS. The undergraduate student body has not been informed nor asked for input regarding these considerations.
“I personally do not know anybody who is 100% happy with the direction [Bollinger] is taking the University,” said a faculty member, who chose to remain anonymous, in conversation with Bwog.
Under the guidance of President Bollinger, Columbia administrators are considering expanding the undergraduate populations in Columbia College (CC) and the School of Engineering (SEAS).
The University planned to expand the undergraduate population in 2009 following three years of deliberation, but all 2006 through 2009 student body presidents for CC, SEAS, and GS were included in the Membership of the Task Force on Undergraduate Education, ensuring that student voices were considered. Columbia’s current student body has not been notified by the administration that the current discussions are underway.
These discussions have been held in private Zoom meetings since February 2021. The minutes taken during these meetings were not made available to the public; however, the dates of these meetings can be viewed on an Arts & Sciences Faculty webpage. Bwog retrieved the meeting minutes from an anonymous source with knowledge of the meetings.
This possible expansion of Columbia’s undergraduate enrollment raises questions of transparency and preparation regarding the administration. In a 2012 discussion with Bwog, Dean James Valentini expressed support for including student voices in important University matters. But students have been excluded from expansion discussions, and only a few faculty have been included in them.
Expansion by even a small percentage would have implications for the quality of housing, academics, and student life, yet the administration has not committed to obtaining new buildings or professors in these discussions if this expansion were to come to fruition.
The Current Expansion Discussion
Recent discussions of expansion began on February 16, 2021, when Interim Provost Ira Katznelson emailed the Department Chairs of the Faculties of Arts and Sciences and of Engineering, and copied the Executive Vice President (EVP) for Arts and Sciences Amy Hungerford, SEAS Dean and Incoming Provost Mary Boyce, GS Dean Lisa Rosen-Metsch, and CC Dean James Valentini. The email, obtained by Bwog, announced the creation of a study group “concerning potential undergraduate enrollment expansion in Columbia College and Columbia Engineering.” In the email, Katznelson outlined the goal of the study group: to research the potential effects of undergraduate student population expansion.
Katznelson also explained that the CC and SEAS applicant pools have produced a greater number of prospective students in recent years, and therefore Columbia wants to “expand [their] mission to educate the next generation of leaders,” increasing access to an elite higher education. Katznelson announced that EVP Hungerford would spearhead the study.
On April 16, 2021, Katznelson and Boyce emailed Arts & Sciences—consisting of CC, GSAS, GS, the School of the Arts, and SIPA professors—and SEAS faculty to provide updates on the expansion study. In this email shared with Bwog, Katznelson and Boyce clarified the timeline of expansion discussions, with Katznelson explicitly stating that the study aims to “produce recommendations to the President and Trustees not later than the middle of the coming fall semester.” He also announced the creation of one Steering Committee and three working groups, anticipating “broad faculty participation in these working groups and in the discussions they will convene.” These committees were designed to consider the effects of expansion on faculty resources, teaching assistants, the budgets of Arts & Sciences and SEAS, student life, physical space and capacity for housing, dining, IT, advising, and other student support. The findings of these committees will result in a report with a “range of options” to be sent to the Provost in the fall. The Provost will then work with the President and Trustees to decide how to proceed.
On April 19, 2021, EVP Hungerford announced the dates for open faculty discussions: April 28, May 3, May 6, and June 15. Two sources closely involved with these meetings, who chose to remain anonymous, shared with Bwog that an additional faculty discussion was held this past Thursday, June 3 to address faculty concerns over the planning process. Roughly 160 individuals were present at this meeting according to a faculty member who was present.
Why expand now? That’s the question reportedly asked by a faculty member in the June 3 meeting. EVP Hungerford answered that the goals of expansion are to “increase access [to CC and SEAS] and to increase revenue.” This is one of the few times a reason other than increasing access to a Columbia education was mentioned by the administration in discussions of undergraduate expansion. Music Professor Elaine Sisman and three sources who chose to remain anonymous corroborated Hungerford’s answer. One anonymous faculty member confirmed that EVP Hungerford’s reasons for the undergraduate expansion were “Bollinger’s vision of accessibility and the University’s financial difficulties.” Mathematics Professor Michael Thaddeus discussed undergraduate expansion on his website in March, where he states “most prestigious institutions do not use undergraduate growth as a tool to produce revenue.”
Past Expansion Plans
Columbia has had several plans to expand in recent history.
In 1960, a faculty committee examined a possible expansion for Columbia College under the guidance of then Dean John Gorham Palfrey. This proposal was approved, under the condition that Columbia would renovate student facilities to accommodate the larger student body.
In 1996, the University published a report entitled Enhancing the Undergraduate Experience at Columbia. This report described then-President George Rupp’s vision to center the University around undergraduate life and increase enrollment from 3,500 students to 4,000 students over five years.
In October 2006, President Bollinger established the Task Force on Undergraduate Education. Led by former Provost Alan Brinkley, the force reviewed the structure and curricula of the University’s undergraduate schools. The findings of this review were then published in a report called An Agenda for the Future. During this expansion proposal, several working groups were established to focus on the following topics: Curricular Structure, Globalization, Organization and Expansion, Science Education, and Teaching. The Working Group on Organization and Expansion contained six members in 2009—Provost Alan Brinkley, GS Dean Peter Awn, VP for the Arts and Sciences and Dean of the Faculty Nicholas B. Dirks, SEAS Dean Zvi Galil, SEAS Interim Dean Gerald Navratil, and CC Dean Austin E. Quigley—all of whom were deans or part of the higher administration.
This 2006-2009 Task Force spoke with the University Senate, involving student voices in the process. This plan sought to integrate CC and GS more closely, revamp the Major Cultures requirement, and increase the undergraduate population by 10-20%. A new dormitory was included in these proposed plans, to be built on 115 Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. Columbia did not build this new dorm due to a lack of gift funding, and the expansion was not seen to completion partly because of the 2008 financial crisis. However, the University still expanded enrollment by 50 students, and Harmony Hall was converted from graduate to undergraduate housing.
Other Ivy League institutions have recently considered expanding their undergraduate populations. Yale University expanded its undergraduate enrollment by 15% in 2016 due to a $250 million gift from an alumnus. Dartmouth College released a report in 2018 stating that the school researched expansion but decided against it, citing that “the College should address existing student needs” first. Princeton University decided to expand by 10% in fall 2020 after receiving a $25 million gift from alumni. Both Yale and Princeton agreed to expand their facilities to accommodate the larger number of students.
Concerns and Uncertainties
During his tenure, President Bollinger has been a force of change at the university, his most prominent project being the controversial Manhattanville expansion. One administrator described him as “a visionary with a bad process.” Many faculty members, including Professor Sisman, share concerns about the lack of consultation with the majority of faculty and the lack of explicit plans on how the administration intends to allocate resources. Sisman said that the faculty “need to have assurances that resources, space, [and] faculty size” are sufficient to “be able to effectively teach a larger student body” and that “[the] administration can’t simply say they will ‘figure it out.’” According to an April email from EVP Hungerford to Arts and Sciences faculty, the open faculty discussions were limited to 30 Zoom participants each time. This does not include the added meeting EVP Hungerford held on June 3 to address faculty concerns about the proposed expansion planning process. The upcoming June 15 meeting will have no registration limit.
This process also lacks consultation of the undergraduate student body, as no students are on the Steering Committee or the working groups. While Katznelson and Hungerford’s private emails to faculty express the intention to consider all aspects of student life that may be affected by expansion, there have been no publicly available documents explaining how the additional revenue generated by increased undergraduate populations will be reinvested into undergraduate-focused services, facilities, or faculty. According to Professor John Hunt, a committee focused on undergraduate quality of life is expected to be formed, but its members have yet to be announced. Hunt added that “many of us [faculty] feel that [the administration] should have looked into the quality of undergraduate life before announcing or considering expansion, not the other way around.”
There have also been no announcements of planning for new dormitories, classrooms, dining facilities, or faculty that would appear necessary with an increase in enrollment. According to a faculty member who was present at a meeting held on June 3, EVP Hungerford stated that the range of expansion being considered for CC is 5-15% and for SEAS, 10-30%. Such an increase would result in roughly 224 to 669 new CC students and 172 to 516 new SEAS students. Considering Katznelson and Boyce’s aim for a complete report by the end of the upcoming fall semester, a plan for property acquisition and professor hiring must emerge soon.
“There are not enough laboratories for all undergraduates in the biology department to work [on research],” said an anonymous faculty member, commenting on Columbia’s minimal facilities for an already large population. “Many classrooms are not of great quality, and the labs themselves are pretty ratty.” Professor Sisman also disclosed the lack of explicit plans being discussed in the working groups, adding that “right now it is unclear how space needs, including dorms and instructional needs, will be addressed.”
Faculty members are also concerned that the quality of a Columbia education is already decreasing with the currently packed classrooms, believing that a new expansion would hasten this decline. “Students are coming here thinking they will have personal interactions with faculty, and that ends up more limited than it should be,” said Professor Hunt. If the stated goal of expansion is widening access, these changes will disproportionately affect the very people the expansion expects to bring in. As one anonymous faculty member stated, “students who come in from less privileged backgrounds tend to have less preparation and less experience navigating this kind of culture in the real world…as the stresses build, they are disproportionately affected by it.”
Committees and Working Groups Do Not Facilitate Transparency
Even if these resources were to be included in the deliberations thus far, the public would not yet be aware. The Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (ECFAS) was the governing body of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences until 2010 when the new governing body was voted upon to be the Policy and Planning Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (PPC). The PPC consists of nine tenured faculty: six elected from a nominated slate and three chosen by and from the Department Chairs.
ECFAS offers publicly accessible meeting minutes dating from 1999 to 2010. No meeting minutes are publicly accessible past 2010. The new PPC website explains that “this website is no longer being updated as we transition to the new one. If you would like copies of reports or minutes, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.” After one Bwog reporter emailed the PPC directly, PPC Chair Jenny Davidson replied that the minutes are “confidential exclusively to PPC members and EVP [Hungerford]” and even faculty members outside of the process can not read them. A screenshot of this conversation can be seen below. The public is also not privy to the minutes of the meetings of the Steering Committee and working groups as they are password protected. In addition to excluding students from expansion discussions, the PPC furthers their lack of transparency by not having easily accessible minutes.
The conversation between a Bwog Staff Writer and the PPC Chair.
EVP Hungerford’s email from April 19 also announced the preliminary structure of the Steering Committee and the nomination process for faculty who wanted to get involved in the working groups. The Steering Committee was tasked with gathering input from Arts & Sciences and SEAS as well as advancing final options and recommendations to the provost, president, and the Board of Trustees. This committee consists of ten deans, the EVP of Arts & Sciences, the Chair of the PPC, and a professor. Out of the 13 members of the Steering Committee, only one person does not hold any higher position beyond professorship.
Two bodies have been involved in this discussion process: the Steering Committee and the CC/SEAS Expansion Working Group. The Steering Committee focuses on gathering input from SEAS and Arts & Sciences to produce final options and recommendations to the Provost, President, and Trustees. The Working Group focuses on utilizing their knowledge on particular topics pertinent to undergraduate life and the undergraduate mission as it relates to potential expansion plans. The Steering Committee consists of mostly administrators whom the Working Group and subgroups within report to. In other words, the Steering Committee is in charge of the final recommendations regarding expansion which will be presented to those who can implement these recommendations. The Working Group is in charge of looking into factors of expansion that would affect the lives of undergraduates, whether that be their living and learning conditions, or the faculty’s teaching environment and their wellbeing.
As of May 2021, the Working Group includes Arts & Sciences faculty, and the Steering Committee includes faculty both from Arts & Sciences and SEAS.
The membership of the Steering Committee includes Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Carlos Alonso, SEAS Vice Dean Shih-Fu Chang, Dean of Humanities Sarah Cole, Chair of the PPC Jenny Davidson, Dean of Social Sciences Fredrick Harris, Professor Julia Hirschberg; EVP for Arts & Sciences Amy Hungerford, SEAS Vice Dean Soulaymane Kachani, Dean of Science Robert Mawhinney, SEAS Vice Dean Barclay Morrison, Dean of Academic Planning and Governance Rose Razaghian, GS Dean Lisa Rosen-Metsch, and CC Dean James Valentini.
The membership of the Expansion Working Group includes Dean of Humanities Sarah Cole, Professor Michael Cole, VP of Arts & Sciences Margaret Edsall, Professor Susan Elmes, Professor Stuart Firestein, Professor Marcus Folch, Professor Patricia Grieve, Dean of Social Sciences Fredrick Harris, Dean of Academic Affairs Lisa Hollibaugh, EVP for Arts & Sciences Amy Hungerford, Professor Matthew Jones, Director of Academic Affairs and Professor Caroline B. Marvin, Dean of Science Robert Mawhinney, Professor Mary Putman, Dean of Academic Planning and Governance Rose Razaghian, Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor Victoria Rosner, Vice Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Andrea Soloman, CC Dean James Valentini, and Professor Yarhi-Milo.
As these proposed expansion ideas progress over the coming months, it is worth mentioning that the proposal has once again called into question the organizational structure of Arts & Sciences. In 2011, McKinsey & Company produced a report evaluating Columbia’s administrative structure. This report proposed alternative structures to the organization and hierarchy of administration to improve top-level coordination—like rearranging the organization chart to amend who each administrator reports to—and ways to increase the generation of funds, like by expanding enrollment in master’s programs.
The McKinsey Report, summarized in greater detail on WikiCU, led to the exit of Michelle Moody-Adams as the Dean of the College in August 2011 due to her concerns with plans to transform the administrative structure in Arts and Sciences. Moody-Adams is still a professor at the University as well as the head of the Philosophy department.
“I cannot in good conscience carry out a role that I believe to be detrimental to the welfare of the College,” Moody-Adams said in her resignation. She said that the “changes will have the effect of diminishing and in some important instances eliminating the authority of the Dean of the College over crucial policy, fund-raising and budgetary matters.” The McKinsey report, the Moody-Adams’ resignation, and the debates in the aftermath of her resignation came to be known as “Moodygate.”
According to our anonymous sources who work with the administration, a new committee to evaluate the structure and organization of Arts & Sciences is in the process of being created. But the committee has inadvertently heightened tensions, as described by one faculty member when they said “it’s not necessarily faculty vs. administrators but when the EVP seems actively obstructionist and PPC is protecting EVP from faculty, it’s a bit worrying.” In July 2020, EVP Hungerford, on behalf of the administration, pushed for graduate students and faculty to opt to teach in-person rather than solely online for the fall 2020 semester when COVID-19 still posed a significant health risk. When many faculty members opposed the pressure from President Bollinger and EVP Hungerford to return to teaching in person, Professor Sisman said that “Dean Valentini was the only administrator who supported faculty.”
Ultimately, faculty want their voices to be heard, as demonstrated by a resolution constructed and put forth for a motion to vote by a faculty member at the June 3 Arts & Sciences faculty meeting. The resolution passed with only one opposed vote. Below is the part of the resolution shared with Bwog; this text will be updated as we receive the full language of the resolution.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences affirms that it reserves the right to vote on any proposal that deeply affects the faculty, our students, and our institution, such as proposals to increase the size of Columbia College and General Studies or plans to restructure A&S. Specifically, if any such proposals are to come before the Board of Trustees or are to be considered for implementation by the university administration, the faculty will have the opportunity to express its views beforehand.
Although obviously the faculty does not have the final say, equally obviously, appropriate faculty governance not only permits but requires it to have full information and register its views on questions that are central to A&S.
There are also administration-faculty tensions over the University budget, specifically on what the budget is and how it is spent. “By the bylaws, the administration had an obligation to report finances of the faculty of Arts and Sciences,” one source said. “They provided no financial data to the faculty.”
These tensions inspired a faculty member to put forth a resolution at the March 31 Arts & Sciences faculty meeting. This resolution calls upon the EVP to reveal the Arts & Sciences budgets in detail from the last five years as well as the projected budgets for the next five years in an attempt to increase budgetary transparency. Below is the language of the resolution.
Since the Stated Rules provide that “the Faculty of Arts and Sciences shall have power and it shall be its duty…to discuss and advise on issues affecting the Arts and Sciences relating to…budget”;
Since the Arts and Sciences is facing urgent fiscal challenges requiring us to discuss and advise on our budgetary goals and academic values;
Since the Arts and Sciences General budget was transmitted to all Faculty members in the past;
The Faculty now calls upon the Executive Vice President to transmit to all members of the Faculty detailed Arts and Sciences General budgets and actuals for the last five years, and projected budgets for the next five years, listing principal revenues and expenditures, such as tuition in the various schools, indirect cost recovery, gifts and endowments, on the one hand, and instruction, administration, financial aid, and common costs, on the other, and to make this transmission an annual practice.
In response to this motion to publish budget details, “a draft format is being developed and will be put in front of the Budget Committee shortly,” according to minutes from the May 19 faculty discussion we obtained. The minutes explain that EVP Hungerford asks any interested faculty who wish to participate in the budget publication discussions to contact her. This work to draft and publish the budget will be shared with faculty in the upcoming fall semester.
Other sources have noted the tough position administrators are in given Columbia’s financial situation; according to the minutes we obtained, in the May 19 open faculty meeting, President Bollinger noted that at one point during the pandemic, the institution was losing $100 million a month. “Everything that [I have] done at Columbia, especially over the last year, has been motivated by a deep fear for the institution—that it would repeat that earlier crisis,” said President Bollinger at the May 19 open discussion meeting, according to the meeting minutes we obtained. Bollinger was referring to the severe dip in the endowment in the 1970s that took “decades to recover from.” The minutes state that Bollinger wanted to “avoid laying people off,” implying that expansion would help boost the school’s revenue and balance its checkbooks.
Despite actions taken by the PPC and the administration, Columbia has not officially decided it will expand. As stated in the May 19 minutes, Bollinger “did not say ‘we are expanding,’” although he supports the idea.
Without dedicated student involvement, broad faculty input, and transparent investments in education-enhancing resources, this undergraduate expansion could negatively affect not only student life and education but also the quality of the faculty’s well-being and teaching environment. The complexities of this issue reach beyond numbers and logistics; the decision to prioritize top administration voices, as seen with the disproportionately administrator-heavy Steering Committee, risks further tension and rifts between the administration and faculty.
“One thing I could say is that lots of faculty in the Arts & Sciences have a problem with Bollinger,” said an anonymous source. “They don’t think he’s done a great job and they can’t trust him.”
Bwog has reached out to Columbia University, CCSC, ESC, University Senate, Interim Provost Ira Katznelson, EVP Amy Hungerford, PPC Chair Jenny Davidson, Incoming Provost and SEAS Dean Mary Boyce, and CC Dean James Valentini for comment.
Incoming Provost and SEAS Dean Mary Boyce replied to Bwog’s request with the following statement:
“Expanding access to Columbia’s incredible academic resources and research opportunities has been one of my highest priorities as Dean of SEAS, and as incoming Provost, I am committed to continuing that mission. A reasonable expansion of the undergraduate student body is one potential mechanism for strengthening the University and securing excellence at an even higher level — and it is in that spirit that we are taking a look at the idea. However, while I am excited about this possibility, please recognize that we are just getting started, and as you point out in your story, many important questions must be addressed.
I look forward to sharing more details in the coming months as the assessment takes shape and once I assume my role as Provost.”
This article is a developing story. We will update it with new information as it is discovered.
Update on Wednesday, June 9 at 1:30 pm: This article has been updated to include Dean Boyce’s statement to Bwog.
Reporting contributed by Lauren Kahme, Caroline Mullooly, and Aditi Misra
Columbia from Above via Bwog Archives