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A Letter to Dean Boyce: CSA Time Estimation Concerns

After seeing the Commitment Time Management page on CSA’s website, senior Lesley Cordero sent this email to Dean Boyce to inform her about the issues with it. Here’s what she had to say.

Dear Dean Boyce,

As you probably know, the Center for Student Advising recently released this article on time management. I have some serious concerns about the content of this post that I want to share with you.

To quickly summarize, they essentially recommend/outline ~50 hours of studying and~16 hours of class time, totaling to about 66 hours (mind you, this assumes only 15 credits, which as you know you literally cannot graduate with in SEAS). Ignoring the rest of the content momentarily, this expectation lacks thought or concern for your students. Previously, I believed administration was just unaware or doubted how much time we dedicate to classes and school work. Given this post, it’s evident that they are, in fact, aware, which is actually far more alarming. Why is this outrageous workload not being challenged?

Aside from the ethical concerns of working students to such a high number of hours, compared to our peer institutions, we do not seem to outperform other institutions (two simple but powerful examples: number of Rhode Scholars here, number of Fulbright students here), so why is it that we’re working more? For reference, you can check this article on how Columbia students stay up later than all other universities. It’s also important to note that Columbia, not other Ivy League institutions or other top tier universities, had 7 suicides within a year’s time, likely as a result of some of the factors I review in this email.

Furthermore, overworking isn’t an efficient or healthy strategy for producing good work, whether that be research, projects, or just general knowledge learned. In this publication on worker productivity, you’ll see that an increase in number of hours worked has diminishing returns. Here, you’ll also see research on the effects of chronic stress which include diminished health and psychological capacity.

With all that said, I would also like to speak from own experience here at Columbia. I chose to attend a school like Columbia because I love being challenged. Learning, working on meaningful projects and work, excites me to no end, and I genuinely believed that Columbia would be the perfect place to spend my late teens and early twenties working to become my best young adult self.

Columbia has given me so much — friends I genuinely love, countless academic and professional opportunities. But it has failed to cultivate the excitement I came in with as an ambitious and passionate first year. School and academia no longer carries the same positive, growth-driven mindset it once used to. Instead, I’ve grown to associate school with chronic stress, tiredness, and a culture that never seems to keep its student body at ease.

I think this is particularly true for students of color, first generation/low-income students, and anyone whose identities this institution was not built to serve. As outlined in the post this email is about, those calculations are made with the “typical” student in mind, which tends to not be of color or low-income.

To highlight some of the striking misguided calculations:

1. Medical appointments counting for free time is inconsiderate to students with disabilities, many of whom have to spend a large portion of that “free time” on appointments. I, for one, do as a student with a neurological disability.

2. Even on a very simple level, small things like hygiene and professional development are more time consuming for students of color, women, and FLIP students. As a woman of color, I face unique challenges in how the world perceives me. Other students might be able to get away with being unkept — for women and especially women of color, we’re far more scrutinized.

3. 65+ hours of class and work disregards the limitations students with disabilities might have. For many, working long hours is not plausible and even detrimental to their health. As someone with remaining symptoms from a head injury a few years ago, it’s a sacrifice to spend so much extra time on work. I do it because it’s essentially a requirement, but it’s a sacrifice — a sacrifice I would argue isn’t fair to students like me.

4. I’ve had to take up work-study throughout the majority of my time at Columbia, and 8 hours is often a conservative estimate for low income students. Additionally, when you’re on a budget, getting food cheaply (or through free venues) is time consuming. Underestimating those serious challenges fails to appreciate the hard work low-income students put into being a student at Columbia.

There are countless other ways in which these calculations grossly misrepresent the experiences of many students at Columbia. However, I want to emphasize the danger of these misguided calculations. It’s not a matter of pointing out inaccuracies; rather, consider how this high demand workload affects its students and especially its disabled students and students of color. 9 hours a week of free time is not a number we should condone or be proud of.

Now that this post has been released, however, it’s time to radically reconsider the ways we can improve our culture on campus. This means more than suggesting time management skills or having stress buster events. This means institutional change. This means reduced requirements. This means financial aid for 9 or 10 semesters for low-income students.This means more psychological health services. This means more administrative support and listening to students.

I know you want the best Columbia possible. I do too, which is why I decided to reach out to you and share my thoughts and experiences on such an important challenge we’re facing as a community. Thank you for taking the time to read this email, and I hope to see a better Columbia soon.

Best,
Lesley Cordero

Note: Since this letter was written, Dean Valentini has claimed that this chart was not in fact recent but outdated, as reported by Bwog

As we have these conversations about stress culture and mental health, we think it is important to share some of the resources available on campus to members of the Columbia community:

Counseling and Psychological Services – (212) 854-2878
Columbia Health – (212) 854-7426
Office of the University Chaplain – (212) 854-1493
Advising Deans – (212) 854-6378
Nightline – (212) 854-7777

If you’d like to respond to this piece / submit an op-ed to The Lion, please email submissions@thecolumbialion.com

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