University Senate

April 28, 2000

 

ANNUAL REPORT OF THE STUDENT CAUCUS: 1999-2000

The Senate Student Caucus this year focused on four main efforts: 1) the Sexual Misconduct Policy; 2) the Universityís actions to discourage the use of sweatshops by its licensees; 3) the issue of socially responsible investing by the University; and 4) the Intellectual Property policy. In dealing with these issues, it played an effective role as a bridge between student activists and the rest of the University. It also worked as the only truly University-wide student organization, and thus highlighted the need for greater institutional facilities for interschool contacts among students.

On the first three issues, the student caucus played a similar role: understanding fully the goals of the student activist groups involved, working to facilitate communication between those groups and the Senate and/or Administration, and developing our own opinions and proposals. In each case, we were pleased to find bases of common ground between the Administration and the student groups: shared broad goals if not shared preferred tactics, a willingness to compromise after discussion, and genuine goodwill despite a certain level of mistrust.

The student caucus finds that it can play a useful role as a forum that allows student activists to receive a fair hearing and discussion of their proposals from peers who have a broader perspective on the functioning of the University. At the same time, it must maintain its independence from such groups, arriving at its own preferred solutions; fortunately, the caucusís proposals seem to carry weight with student activists for their being student-developed. As a result, the Caucus hopes to play a similar role in the future.

On the issue of the intellectual property policy, and in its role as the nominating body for student members of the new socially responsible investing committee, the Student Caucus also fulfilled its role as the only University-wide student representative body. As such, it served not only in its deliberative and representative function (as in its discussing and advocating student interests in the IP policy), but also as a coordinator of the various student councils on campus.

Various student senators have also used the Student Caucus and their good offices to promote such interschool contacts on a school-to-school level. For example, as a result of an initiative of the senators from the Business School and SEAS, several events have taken place bringing together MBA and SEAS students to discuss technology entrepreneurship, culminating in an event in which 20 MBAs and 40 undergrads conducted a workshop on writing a business plan. It is hoped that such efforts will continue, and will provide Columbia University with the same benefits as this type of program has provided schools such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where such programs have long been in place and which are well known as incubators of young entrepreneurs.

This, along with our attempts last year to begin the promotion of interschool student events, highlights the drawback to the decentralized structure of the University, that at once provides great freedom for its constituent schools to tailor their offerings to the needs of their students, but also carries the danger of lost potential contacts, syngeries, mentorship, and friendships. It may be that the Provostís Fund, which supports such interschool events on an ad hoc basis, can become the basis for a broader, more structured set of events, but this would require a standing University-wide student organization whose scheduling purposes may or may not conflict with the main deliberative task of the Senate Student Caucus.