Author: lc2958

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.

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

Photo Courtesy Josh Schenk, CC ’19

I care about grades. I care about grades a lot. I pretend not to because our culture is such that appearing to care about school is a character flaw. But so is not doing well.

Today, I skimmed this article about how the “world is run by C students” — an opinion I’ve heard before, but widely ignored because I know it doesn’t apply to me. But for some reason today, I opened it up and skimmed through it.

Bill Gates, Joe Biden, George W. Bush, the list rattled on. They have “run the world” despite being “mediocre” students.

“So why can’t you?,” The article argues.

It’s an interesting perspective, one meant to be encouraging to the students whose intelligence does not quite correspond with academia, but it’s one I feel uncomfortable thinking about. Maybe it’s because while I’m not the straight-A student this article juxtaposes, I’m also not a C student — but I could be. If I didn’t feverishly overwork myself, in fact, I would be.

But the thing is, I’m not Bill Gates. I’m not Joe Biden. I’m not George W. Bush. And I don’t mean that in a literal sense or even to allude to the fact that I might not be as ‘smart’ as them. I’m not them because I can’t get away with mediocrity the same way they were able to.

Women, People of Color, Low-Income students don’t get to just let school happen to them. We don’t get to be mediocre. If we are, suddenly people question our existence in academic spaces. If we are, suddenly people use us as examples of how systems of affirmative action are flawed. We become reduced to another cog in the supposed unfair system.

But no one ever uses the mediocrity of a white students to condemn white supremacy. No one uses the mediocrity of men to condemn patriarchy. No one uses the mediocrity of rich students to condemn classist education systems.

We don’t have the privilege of individualism — we represent the groups we are a part of, and we must prove our existence over and over again.

That’s a lot of pressure to carry.

So I do care about grades, and I care about grades a lot. And it’s not because I think grades are an accurate representation of my intelligence. It’s not because I get some sort of sadistic pleasure from stressing myself over grades. It’s because I just can’t afford to do poorly. I can’t afford to “waste” my college education because doing so means risking my chance of future financial stability. It means risking all the work my parents and I have put into getting here in the first place.

And that’s just something I can’t play around with.

So when I hear my peers joke about how unimportant an assignment is, I’m reminded that I don’t have the luxury of mediocrity. I’m reminded that for them, getting C’s is a choice and not a result of educational inequality propelled by my class and racial identities.

I don’t have the luxury of shrugging off my sub par academic performance because, for me, the consequences are much higher. And for me, even my hardest work is oftentimes not enough because I didn’t spend thirteen years of primary and secondary school preparing me for the academic intensity of college.

So perhaps it’s true that C students are the ones who “run the world.” Perhaps these articles are right and being a C student is a pre-req for high-level success. But let us not forget the first requisite of all: privilege.

Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg. There’s no doubt they’re brilliant men, but before we rattle on about how C-students and college dropouts are running the world, let’s not forget the position these brilliant men were in to accomplish all that they did. Let us not forget their maleness, their whiteness, their wealth.

The intentions of these articles are good. By reminding college students that “grades aren’t everything,” maybe we can comfort the over-worked and hyper-stressed students struggling to get through college, even if only for a brief moment.

But maybe we can accomplish this without undermining the hard work students put into school — especially those whose existence in college is already revolutionary, and especially for those whose only option for financial stability is struggling through an education system that was never built for them.

So maybe these students aren’t the future tech personality giants, but their presence and work is no less crucial for the future of our society.

Let us never, ever forget that.

This post was originally published on Medium.
Lesley Cordero is a junior in Columbia Engineering studying Computer Science.
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