Seminar Chairs

Effective: July 1, 2023
Last Updated: May 23, 2024

The role of the Seminar Chair is central to the academic mission and continuity of The University Seminars at Columbia University. Seminars can have multiple chairs.

Chairs must be members or associate members of the seminar; usually, they are experts on topics closely related to the seminar’s theme. The Seminar Chair ensures that the seminar is a productive, respectful, and engaging space for its participants. Chairs set the tone of the seminar and guide the discussion to promote the exchange of ideas.

Duties and Responsibilities

  • Participation. Seminar Chair participation is voluntary and unpaid. Seminar Chairs are allotted funding for a complimentary meal per seminar meeting. See Group Meals for more information. Seminar meetings are allotted funding based on their meeting schedules, locations, and travel needs. See Resources box above for links to relevant pages.
  • Attending Chair Training. Newly elected Chairs should attend one of the Chair Training Sessions facilitated by the University Seminars office. Topics covered include technology, travel funding, seminar meals, rapporteur hiring, event organization, recording policy, and publishing. Contact Pamela Guardia at [email protected] for more information.
  • Planning and Preparing. The Seminar Chair sets the calendar and agenda for the seminar (in consultation with seminar members), coordinates with presenters and with the rapporteur, communicates with the University Seminars office, disseminates content, and definew the seminar format. 
    • Chairs may invite non-local speakers to present at meetings but this is not required. Travel funds for non-local guests must be secured in advance of the academic year, see Travel Funds for more information.
    • Chairs should review the In-Person Meeting Timeline or Virtual Meeting Timeline pages for more information. 
  • Facilitating: The Seminar Chair introduces speakers and manages the flow of the discussion, keeping track of timing so that the seminar adheres to the planned schedule. 
  • Moderating: The Seminar Chair moderates discussion during the seminar, making sure that all attendees have an opportunity to participate, and ensuring that the discussion remains open, respectful, productive, and balanced. The Chair asks questions to stimulate discussion and encourage participation and manages conflicts or disagreements that may arise during the seminar.
  • Summarizing: At the end of the meeting, the Seminar Chair may choose to summarize key points from the discussion, provide a wrap-up, or set the stage for subsequent meetings or follow-up initiatives. The privacy policy must be acknowledged and recorded for every meeting. (See Public Representation page for more information. Minutes must be recorded and submitted to The University Seminars office for every seminar  meeting. (See Minutes page for details.) 
  • Working with the Rapporteur: The Chair recruits the seminar rapporteur and ensures compliance with guidelines for the work to be performed by the rapporteur (such as the number of hours worked, record keeping, coordination of announcements, and so on). The Chair may review the minutes prepared by the Rapporteur but may not provide extensive edits nor hold onto the minutes for longer than one week.
  • Membership. Seminar groups admit their own Columbia University members and non-CU affiliated associate members by individual invitation. Non-members (which may include graduate students) may be invited to attend meetings as guests. Seminar Chairs are responsible for the maintaining and updating the membership of a seminar.
  • Updates. Any administrative or logistical updates (rapporteurs, chairs, schedules) should be communicated to The University Seminars office ([email protected]) in a timely manner.

Seminars hold annual chair elections and include this information on the New Academic Year Planning Form - see End-Of-Year Planning page. All members including associate members, and long-time attendees may vote. Graduate students are not voting members. In the spirit of The University Seminars, each seminar decides on its own system. The method of voting and results of the election must be noted in the minutes by the rapporteur.

Each fall, Seminar Chairs are invited to The General Meeting. This is the only organized opportunity for all Chairs to meet and hear updates on The University Seminars policies and news.

  • The General Meeting may require voting on issues or nominations.
  • All Seminar Chairs are expected to attend or send another seminar member as proxy.
  • Only Chairs are invited; rapporteurs are not allowed to attend.
  • In advance of the meeting, Chairs are encouraged to email agenda items to The University Seminars Director, Susan Boynton ([email protected]).

In early August, chairs will receive an email from The University Seminars office asking them to review their seminar or workshop's page in the Annual Directory of Seminars, Speakers, and Topics. Since this publication records the previous year's activity, this request goes out to the previous year's Chairs who are asked to respond with corrections, regardless of their current status within the seminar.

The University Seminars publishes an online and email newsletter three times per year: Fall, Winter, and Spring editions. Chairs may submit news items on behalf of themselves and their seminar members by email to Summer Hart ([email protected]). See the Newsletter page for more information.

Rapporteur Hiring Guidelines

  • The office can advertise open positions, but Seminar Chairs interview rapporteurs themselves. Once Chairs have selected a rapporteur candidate, incoming rapporteurs must submit a Rapporteur Registration Form to begin the on-boarding process. Rapporteur candidates are considered officially hired once they receive HR approval. 
  • Rapporteurs are part-time casual student employees of The University Seminars. A Chair may not promise terms of employment or payments to rapporteurs directly. Chairs should refrain from committing to a fixed stipend amount for rapporteur work without prior approval from the University Seminars. Any questions regarding payments or hourly limits should be submitted to Gesenia Alvarez-Lazauskas ([email protected]).
  • Rapporteurs typically report 2.5 hours per week or a total of 10 hours per month. If more than 15 hours of rapporteur hours are reported per month, the Chair will be required to provide a justification for the extra hours. 

  • Columbia University limits work hours for full-time Columbia University graduate students. Students may not work more than 20 hours per week in all CU positions. Some academic departments have additional limitations on work hours. Consult Gesenia Alvarez-Lazauskas ([email protected]) if you have any questions.

  • Please Note: Rapporteurs who also hold student officer appointments (teaching fellows and assistants, research assistants, preceptors, readers, etc.) must disclose their work with the University Seminars with their academic or CUIMC departments. Some academic or CUIMC departments may request additional documentation, others may have further limitations on work hours. If you have any questions, contact Gesenia Alvarez-Lazauskas ([email protected]) for additional guidance.

  • University and academic holidays must be observed.

  • Columbia University Casual Employment and NYS 195 forms are provided to all hired rapporteurs. Upon onboarding, rapporteurs are required to review the information on these forms. For further details regarding rapporteur duties and hourly rates, please refer to the Rapporteurs page.

  • For Conferences Only, Chairs may ask their current rapporteurs to work for a conference. If the rapporteur is not available to work extra hours for a conference, the Chair may request a CU graduate student to help with the conference. Chairs should contact the University Seminars office when selecting any new part-time/temporary assistance for conferences. The University Seminars will pay up to 20 rapporteur hours from the general rapporteur budget. Additional hours will be deducted from the approved conference budget.

Rapporteurs typically report 2.5 hours per week or 10-12 hours per month.  Should the workload exceed 15 hours per month, chairs will be required to provide a justification for the additional hours. A budget is required if the extended workload is anticipated for an extended period of time.

Typical Rapporteur Hours per Meeting

Contact [email protected] with any questions. Include your seminar number and name on the subject line of all correspondences.