Annual Report of the Student Affairs Committee

Presented to the University Senate on April 30, 2004

 

Student Affairs Committee

Co-Chairs: Brian Pompeo (PH) and Nathan Walker (TC). Members: Matan Ariel (GS), Chetan Bagga (CC), Rachel Bell (TC), Omar Blayton (LAW), Alida Bouris (SW), Leni Darrow (SCE), Sangeeta Das (SEAS), Erin Daugherty (SIPA), William Enlow (Nursing), Saleem Josephs (SDOS), Sean Kelly (SEAS), Coilin Parsons (GSAS/H), Noah Raizman (HS), Oliver Ryan (Journalism), Jacqueline Russo (CC), James Schmid (BUS), Jen Schnidman (CC), Lesha Shah (Barnard), Tania Naomi Shinkawa (BUS), Josh Thomas (UTS), Kira von Ostenfeld (GSAS/SS)

Executive Summary

It has been a highly productive year for the Student Affairs Committee mostly because of the professionalism of the student leaders. This dynamic team has maintained an extremely proactive approach to University legislation and continues to develop innovate proposals to address the student concerns. The body of this Annual Report will be dedicated to provide a brief summary of each issue that was addressed in the Student Caucus during the 2003-4 academic year. Overall, the Student Caucus remains deeply committed to attend to the following ongoing issues:

(1)   Racism on campus and the University’s responsibility to distinguish between free speech and hate speech;

(2)   The inconsistency of Senate participation, as seen in the three consecutive Plenary sessions without quorum; and

(3)   Expediency of Senate action as seen with various initiatives which take years to resolve because of the inefficiency of the Senate bylaws.

Agora

In response to a University-wide concern about the decentralized nature of the scholarly community, the Student Affairs Committee (SAC) developed the Agora proposal: an online gathering place for Columbia University faculty, students, and alumni to freely exchange ideas across all academic disciplines. The SAC, in partnership with the Online and the Libraries & AcIS committees, will continue to develop a proposal that would provide a free online-forum to engage in transdisciplinary matching of scholars.

Caucus Leadership

The beginning of the academic year led to a number of changes in the leadership of the Student Affairs Committee. After the resignation of two highly active and respected student leaders, Marni Hall and Jerry Boak, two new co-chairs were elected, Brian Pompeo and Nathan Walker. Traditionally, people in these positions also held seats on the Executive Committee, however because Teachers College was not recognized (at that time) for having a voting seat, Matan Ariel was elected to the Executive Committee along with Sean Kelly and Brain Pompeo.

Commission on the Status of Women

The Student Affairs Committee (SAC) is extremely supportive of the work done by the Commission on the Status of Women. Some of the projects included incorporating the role of women into the new recruiting system (Peoplesoft); examining ways that Columbia’s systems can transform into a more equitable academic culture; and interacting with other campus entities to research Child Care issues. The SAC is grateful for the partnership of the Commission in the resolution on gender inclusive language, which was unanimously passed on March 26th, 2004.

Education Committee

The Student Affairs Committee and, particularly the students of the Nursing School, were extremely pleased when the Doctorate of Nursing Practice finally passed in Senate after three years of deliberations. In addition, dual degree programs remain one of the biggest concerns for students. The Education committee has been following up on the guidelines for dual degree programs, which were formulated at the impetus of students who felt lost in the shuffle among Columbia schools. Progress on implementation seems to be going well, and the Education committee is requiring new dual degree programs to meet the guidelines before approval.

Gender Inclusive Language

After being on the agenda for four consecutive meetings, the Resolution to Establish Gender-Inclusive Language in the By-Laws, Statutes, and Rules of the Senate passed unanimously at the March 26th meeting. This resolution was co-sponsored by the Student Affairs Committee and the Commission on the Status of Women; together they urged the Senate to amend its Charter, Statutes and Bylaws. The SAC hopes that by the fall of 2004 these documents will be newly revised with gender-inclusive language and that this may be a trend for policies throughout the University.

Housing

The Student Affairs Committee worked to pass a resolution on housing for students in the School of General Studies. This resolution was meant to designate long-term space for GS students, without causing disadvantage to other schools' students. It will be reviewed again at the April 30th, 2004 plenary.

International Student Visa Delays

A representative from the student caucus met with Dr. Richard Tudisco, Director of the International Students and Scholars Office to discuss the issue of visa delays. Many returning international students who experienced delays feel that they were not adequately supported by the University--some continued to have to pay housing and tuition costs even while they were unable to attend. Dr. Tudisco promised to look into the matter and continues to research the concerns of these students.

Manhattanville Expansion

This year as the planning effort for possible expansion of the campus into Manhattanville in West Harlem moved forward, members of the Student Caucus actively participated in several ways: 1) The Student Caucus agreed to serve as a test group for the Columbia University Neighbors website that was created to disseminate information about the plan. 2) Student senators communicated with all students to publicize the information open house in late January and ensure that interested students had all relevant information as it became available. 3) Student representatives attended the regular meetings of the Task Force to voice student opinion and provide ongoing feedback on the process. A majority of the student senators remain supportive of the planning effort and look forward to continued involvement going forward; however, the Student Caucus is extremely mindful of the protests of the Morningside Heights and Harlem community about the expansion.

Mentoring Panel

This year, GSB '05 Senator James Schmid, along with his fellow undergraduate Senators, set up a mentoring and career discussion panel for the undergraduates at Columbia University (those from GS, SEAS, Barnard, and CC). Eight business school students from wide ranging backgrounds spoke about the job search process and what it's like to work in your first job. Students got the chance to interact with panelists and ask candid questions about their careers. This was the second-year in a row that the Student Affairs Committee provided mentorship programming to bridge the graduate/ undergraduate divide.

Racism

The Student Affairs Committee would like to address further the issue of racism on campus. There were three highly publicized incidents of racism on campus within a two month period. One incident included prejudice jokes told at Orgo Night, an undergraduate festivity. Another was the "affirmative action bake sale" held by Columbia College Conservatives Club, where such members were accused of hate speech. Finally, a comic called "Blacky Fun Whitey" written by a Columbia alumnus Ben Schwartz that the Fed published in issue 19.5. The Student Affairs Committee finds these acts to be inherently racist and remain diligent about working with the Executive Committee on developing University-wide policy that will distinguish between free speech and hate speech, as well as potential disciplinary measures for acts that are deemed as hate speech.

Redesigning Diplomas

After numerous complaints about the design of the University diploma, the Student Affairs Committee established a task-force to redesign the University diplomas, under the leadership of Matan Ariel. After months of meeting with the diploma vendor and gathering input from various student governments, the task force chose two possible designs. At this point the Student Affairs Committee directed Columbia’s first University-wide electronic polling of students. The results are as follows: Number of votes counted: 6,045 (30.8%); those in favor of a new design: 5,450 (90%); those in favor of “Old English” design: 3824 (70%); those in favor of Alma Mata etching: 4705 (86%); those in favor of creating a separate doctoral design: 3548 (65%). In summary, the majority of those who voted are in favor of using the “Old English” design with the Alma Mata etching. In addition, the students are in favor of creating a separate design for doctoral degrees from that of the Bachelor and Master designs. The committee recommends that the Administration and Trustees adopt such changes to the diplomas.

ROTC

On May 15, 1969, the trustees of Columbia University accepted the recommendations of a faculty-student committee to discontinue the Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) program at the University's campus. Almost thirty-five years after that event, the Student Caucus leads the charge to form a task-force of six students and five faculty members to review the possibilities of returning ROTC to Columbia's grounds. The benefits of reinstating such a program include providing students with greater accessibility to careers in the uniformed services and further diversifying the matriculation pool of the University's undergraduate schools. Yet there is concern that ROTC's policies may violate some of Columbia's non-discrimination policies. The purpose of the task force, and the objective of the Student Caucus, is to determine, through aggressive research, if the reinstatement of ROTC would be of overall benefit to Columbia’s community.

Student/Alumni Relations

This past fall, on action of the Senate Executive Committee, the Alumni Relations Committee was reactivated, having been inactive since the end of the 1999-2000 academic year. The Student Affairs and the Alumni Relations committees agree that there needs to more mechanisms to strengthening ties between students, faculty and alumni. Possibilities include enlisting retired faculty to speak at alumni events, establishing professional interest groups that bring together alumni practitioners and faculty academicians, and formalizing, possibly with database support, informal student requests of faculty mentors to connect them with alumni mentors, as well as the initiation of Agora. Also, receptivity of alumni to reconnect with Columbia is a function of age, with those roughly 40 and over the most alienated, while those in the most recent classes show strong signs of involvement.

Student-Trustee Interactions

After comparing Columbia's student-trustee interactions with other Ivy League institutions, the Student Affairs Committee saw a need to make efforts to improve their relationship with the Trustees of Columbia University. As a result the SAC will meet with the University Trustees at an informal luncheon in the beginning of the 2004-05 academic year. Members of the Student Caucus are consistently meeting with University administration, including the Office of both the Secretary and Alumni Affairs; it is the goal of the Student Affairs Committee to increase communication between the Student Senators and Trustees.

Unionization of Teaching and Research Assistants

The Student Affairs Committee (SAC) decided not to make a formal statement about whether or not a union should be formed; they believed that it was not the purpose of the caucus to determine if a legal entity should be formed. It was determined that the mission of the SAC is to represent the concerns of the students and those concerns were brought to the Senate floor both in March and April. This was done in the form of a “Petition for Senate Action” (as stated in the Senate bylaws), which was expressed through a resolution asking the Senate to recognize the democratic rights of teaching and research assistants. Unfortunately, the Parliamentarian did not enforce this policy in the April meeting and was not added to “new business”; furthermore, the Executive Committee chose not to permit the “democratic rights” resolution to be on the agenda in the April meeting. The caucus feels strongly that the university should move to resolve this issue, which affects 2,000 graduate students and thousands of undergraduates directly. Consequently, the teaching and research assistants, feeling that they had no democratic alternative, went on an indefinite strike, beginning April 19, 2004.

Voting Rights for Teachers College Students

For the past 35 years the students of Teachers College have been considered "observers" on the University Senate because of the institution’s affiliate status; however, all TC degrees are conferred by the University Trustees, the TC faculty have voting rights, the students of Barnard (also an affiliate) have voting rights. As of March 26th, 2004, the University Senate unanimously approved the 5,000 students of Teachers College to have one voting seat. The University Trustees will review this statutory change in June and again in October. The Student Affairs Committee hopes that in the future there will be more equality in the number of voting seats as it relates to student population; as is, the current distribution of student seats is unequal among schools.