Category: Administration

Last night President Lee C. Bollinger held his Fireside Chat in his home for the undergraduate students who were fortunate enough to win the lottery for this event. Also in attendance were Tom Harford, Dean of Students in the School of General Studies; Cristen Kromm, Dean of Undergraduate Student Life for Columbia College and SEAS; Suzanne Goldberg, Executive Vice President for University Life and Professor of Law; Jewelnel Davis, University Chaplain and Associate Provost; and Caroline Adelman, Director of Media Relations with the Columbia University Office of Communications and Public Affairs.

The night focused on addressing the concerns of the university in an informal Q&A manner with President Bollinger, and occasionally the other faculty and administration members in attendance,  answering students’ questions and responding to their comments and concerns. A wide variety of subjects were brought up, some easier to address than others.

While Columbia University does pride themselves on having global connections, the University has “no immediate plans to establish relationships” with academic institutions in Iran. While it is something that President Bollinger “would like to see” happening soon, as Iran and their relations with the international community have undergone “very significant changes”, it is something that Columbia wishes to wait on institutionally initiating until they see how things unfold. Bollinger, however, does think it is “great” for  individual faculty members to engage with intellectual colleagues in Iran.

The ever-present problem of finding community at Columbia came up next. Bollinger did admit that this is an issue, specifically one that “higher power”  learning institutions tend to face, and stated that “anytime you’re in a really high-power intellectual environment… inevitably you end up spending a lot of time alone because a huge amount of learning is you and the book.” The isolation and stress studying can cause, coupled with the fact that Columbia’s New York location can “pull you away from the campus”, are the two main factors that affect community here in Bollinger’s eyes. He does believe, however, that the spirit of community has improved since he first arrived at Columbia fifteen years ago. With the founding of the Office of University Life, the establishment of university content and events (such as the World Leaders Forum), the building of Lerner, the creation of the Arts Initiative, and the improvement of Athletics, Bollinger claims that measures to build community have been succeeding. He did emphasize, however,  that any suggestions or ideas students might have are welcomed. Goldberg added that by creating community and intellectual events, such as the “Awakening Our Democracy” speaker series and Yoga Tuesdays, and establishing the Race, Ethnicity and Inclusion task force, as well as the Gender Based Misconduct Prevention task force, Columbia has made strides towards bringing the community together. Chaplain Davis also mentioned students can take initiative to get involved by attending open lectures and events at the Law and Medical Schools. Lastly, Kromm reminded everyone that one of the primary issues of building community is having adequate spaces in which to do so and that there are creative solutions to this space problem, such as holding events on the lawns and in the plazas.

Addressing another aspect of the university, its responsibility to prepare us for the outside world, Bollinger commented that he is “extremely interested in, and working on all the time, how to to make it more possible for students and faculty and the university to engage with the world.”  Believing “that your time here, especially as undergraduates, is utterly unique in your lives”, Bollinger claimed now is the time to “think about fundamental ideas and fundamental knowledge” as later when we “go into the world” there will be “a premium on narrowing down what it is that you know and do.” Columbia provides a liberal arts education, not a pre-professional one, and so they try to provide ways to prepare us for a world that the university “will not change fast enough for”, due to “the interconnection of the global economy”, the Internet, and “the mobility of people.” They have tried to do so by opening global centers to help students who are abroad and hope efforts such as these will “fill in opportunities for you to learn about your world because we can’t fully teach you about it.”

Bollinger’s mention of “the mobility of people” led to the discussion of the complex problem of the student refugees and how the university plans to cope with it. Acknowledging that it is an issue that the university cannot influence as much as they would like, Bollinger does hope that it is something faculty and students can focus on and understand better and would like to find ways for Columbia to “have a bigger impact on significant world problems, of which the refugees are a prime example.” Bollinger does not know how the university will handle refugee students exactly, as there is no system in place, but thinks we might be able to get ideas of how to cope with it by looking at Canada’s programs, which are already in use.

The topic of discussion switched gears as a student asked Bollinger if he, as a scholar of the First Amendment, was worried about free speech in the context of universities. Bollinger responded that he was “not deeply worried” as there is “a huge amount of debate and discussion on campuses.” He rejected “the view that American campuses are just liberal bastions who are politically correct and won’t allow other points of view.” Acknowledging that issues do exist with this, Bollinger went on to say “that if somebody is offended by something they should be protected by the institution … [but] that is not the principle that this university lives by.” Columbia, instead, has a tradition of “openness”. Recognizing that some types of speech are not protected, such as threats and harassments based on race, ethnicity, or gender, Bollinger conceded that there should be places where people can “escape the debate … [such as] the home,” but maintained that “even highly, highly offensive and ridiculous words and hurtful words” are allowed to “be expressed.” To Bollinger, the problem is not “one of safe spaces” as that “oversimplifies the matters”; it is the matter of “how you conduct that free speech, how you interact with each other, [that] is enormously important.”

Another controversial issue which came up during the Fireside Chat was the stress culture and mental health issues of the Columbia community and how faculty pressure, prescription drug abuse, and insufficient access to resources tie into that. While Bollinger said that he was “not uncomfortable by it [the subject of the question],” he asked the student who posed the question if she “really feel[s] that way” and decided to “take a little survey” of the room to see who felt “that the academic space or zone has too much pressure.” Let it be noted that he did not do the same for the issue of community at Columbia. Bollinger then used his own class and teaching method of calling on two students for the majority of the class as an example of a class that places pressure on students to perform well, claiming that “that’s part of the teaching method.” He continued his survey by asking students to raise their hands if they thought faculty members “should step back and ask themselves, ‘Maybe I’m putting too much pressure?’” When hands were raised, Bollinger mentioned that he heard “that you take too many classes” and pondered why that occurs, if  “that [was] because of faculty or graduation requirements.” A student brought up that at Columbia one cannot take the minimum amount of credits for full-time students (12) and graduate on time, which was an issue this student was personally dealing with as a junior forced to take a heavier courseload in order to graduate on time. A first-year chimed in that she could not take five classes due to her teacher. The student had been sick and missed a few classes (and had gotten the notes from Health services to prove it), and while four of her teachers were supportive, one was not. This teacher told her that she “shouldn’t expect to get a good grade on this test”, refused to give her a one day extension, and said “this is what you should expect going to this type of school.” Her comment was not addressed as Bollinger decided to cover the other two aspects of the topic question instead. He said that “if you have an emergency, you should be able to see somebody right away” and that “if we don’t do that, you should let us know.” Bollinger then moved on to the topic of prescription drugs, saying that they “are terrible.”

Goldberg then also spoke on the topic of stress and stated that “stress comes from many places” and one’s changing relation to stress “is part of growing up.” She mentioned that the Mental Health task force is working to help students as well and that CPS has grown “in response to student need.” Harford mentioned that the school does recognize that GS students do have additional stresses as they pay tuition based on the number of credits they take and can’t necessarily get a refund for a class they paid for and dropped.

A student then asked if Uris would potentially be utilized to provide services such as daycare to GS students who have these additional stressors, but Bollinger said that Uris has already been slated to be given to the College of Arts and Sciences.

The last question posed to Bollinger had to do with the sustainability of restructuring faculty employment so that there are less faculty receiving tenure and a heavier reliance on adjunct professors–a problem which is spreading across the country. Bollinger went on to explain that “Columbia is going through a process of trying to recapture its institutional capacities” and is essentially still trying to make up for lost time when Harvard and other universities continued to grow while Columbia floundered. Columbia has done this, in Bollinger’s opinion, with the expansion of campus, construction of new buildings, successful fundraising, addition of University Life, and improved financial aid practices. To him, “Columbia can be, and in many ways is today, the greatest university in the world.” As “we live in a competitive world,” Columbia must recruit students and faculty and “make do” with the money it has. Bollinger doesn’t think less faculty tenure is a problem at Columbia, or at least not an intentional one; though he does acknowledge that it is a national problem.

Interested in the opinions of the students, Bollinger decided to pose a few of his own questions to the room during the last ten minutes of the talk. He asked students what they thought of the election, if it was a subject that came up often, and how students view America. Students discussed how they do or do not know people with opposing opinions to their own, the role of selection bias and the media in the election, what led to people supporting Trump, and how values have appeared to shift in society.

Ultimately, the Fireside Chat had a lot of material that was good tinder and sparked discussion and interesting responses from President Bollinger, and it will be interesting to see what (if anything) occurs due to the matters discussed.

Photo Courtesy of Trevor Rukwava
Meet Trevor. Trevor, originally CC’19, has been suspended from Columbia College for the upcoming 2016-2017 academic year. We sat down with him to learn more about his situation and to understand how Columbia works to help students facing adversity and where it needs improvements.
What is your intended major?
I have always wanted to be pre-med. I was planning on doing neuroscience and behavior. I kind of wanted to do engineering but my parents talked me out of it, saying there are no engineering jobs in Africa. I had this dream of making electric cars, and an airplane with an emergency parachute system which deploys out of the top of the plane—the engines will be detached from the plane for weight management. However, my poor performance in the past semester pretty much kills my chances of doing medicine. I was considering switching to political science, or something. Not that I would be able to make a viable career out of it in my home country. I really don’t know at this point, but I’m trying to figure that out. It would be great if I could become a neurosurgeon.
When did Columbia notify you of its intention to suspend you for the upcoming academic year?
On June 8, 2016, Dr. Lavinia Lorch—my academic advisor—emailed me telling me that my case was going to be reviewed the following day. She told me that I was at risk of suspension because of my grades. She asked me if there was any information I wanted the Board to know. I received the notification of my suspension from CSA [Center for Student Advising] on the 9th of June. I read both emails on the 9th, so I did not have time to provide Lavinia with the information she requested. I was also under the impression that she knew my whole story.
Why do you believe Columbia choose to suspend you for the upcoming year?
According to Lavinia, “A suspension is not a punitive measure but actually an opportunity for you to make up credits back home (at an accredited 4 year institution) so as to ensure that you will graduate in a timely manner.” I think Columbia (or Dr. Lorch, I do not really know who made the decision) wanted to “help” me by giving me a forced gap year of sorts, to handle my stuff. After much persuasion, Dr. Lorch convinced me to take a medical leave of absence—which I could return from at any time. I agreed to this because, I was having a rather tough time and wanted a break. I also thought it would be more convenient if I did the paperwork while I was in America, so I would not have to fly to and fro again. The fact that I was expecting a medical leave, made the suspension more confusing, since I could not really differentiate the two.
As for the actual intentions behind the suspension, I can only make assumptions. Perhaps they didn’t want me to fail again and have to be considered for academic suspension, ironically, or expulsion. I had an almost nonexistent work ethic and motivation because of my mental condition, because they probably assumed that allowing me to return would lead to another bad semester. I may not be allowed to progress to the following semester if I don’t complete enough credits. I only completed 3, from one class. I failed 2, and dropped another 2—in order to avoid failing them. It was bad. I guess Columbia doesn’t have room for subpar performance, so I had to go.
How transparent has Columbia been throughout this process?
Well, they gave a day’s heads up. They also told me explicitly that I was suspended, and that I needed to take a year of classes and reapply. They also cancelled my I-20, which made it very clear that I wasn’t coming back.
How will this potential suspension impact your academic and personal goals?
I do not think that I can do medicine anymore. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out for it? My parents won’t hear it however, and have pushed me to apply to other universities in southern Africa. I must become a doctor, they say. Since I cannot do it at Columbia, I should do it back home. They never really liked America, and would call frequently to ensure that I had not been shot by police. The recent news has only made my parents’ resolve stronger. I made my own way to Columbia, and America at large. If I give up on Columbia, then I’m essentially giving up on the United States. However, I told Lavinia this information, which is why she said, “credits back home.” I am pretty sure that if I get into one of the two universities in my country, I will not be permitted to go back to America. Time is of the essence! My parents rejected the notion of a medical leave when I got home, claiming that my mind would rot if I stayed at home. I understand where they are coming from. They don’t want me to become like my older brother who was expelled from university because of drug addiction. He has turned to a lot of antisocial behaviours to feed his habit, including gradually taking everything I own. I doubt that I will still be in possession of the laptop on which I am typing by the end of next month. My parents suspect him every time the house is robbed, and he has been caught red-handed a few times. There is a lot of drama, which I would really rather not be in the middle of.
I do not think I will be allowed to switch to the engineering school, because of the suspension. Perhaps I’m mistaken.
Politics is not really something one can talk about where I’m from, for a number of reasons that I can not talk about because of the reasons themselves. It’s rather cyclic.
Do you think Columbia’s current academic suspension processes are fair? If not, how do you think they should be improved?
I do not think that the suspension policies are fair. I was given a single strike-out opportunity, and I did not even know that that was the case. If getting kicked out of Columbia is that easy, they should at least warn you beforehand. I tried very hard to ask for help, but my depression and history made it difficult. I did not know how to ask for help. I didn’t think that I was worth helping—depression talk. Perhaps, I was suspended because I said that Columbia sucked, I really didn’t want to be there, I was having the worst time of my life, and I felt like nobody cared about me. I said these things because that was how I truly felt, and they were multiple cries for help. I strongly suspect that this depression talk made my advisor think that suspending me was a favor, and I don’t blame her. However, these “issues” started at home and being home triggers a lot of them. I don’t have a therapist here for whatever reason, and I just kind of absorb the things that come my way. My cousin’s sickness and death, for example.
I wish Columbia had given me more support during the semester. I only got disability services help at the end of the second semester. At which point, my grades were so bad that my professors practically told me not to bother writing finals.
Do you have any advice for other students who may be in your position? For those who are also fighting depression?
To other students fighting depression, it is hard. People don’t understand how hard it is. They may tell you to ‘man up’ or fix your issues. They may assume that the illness is just an attitude problem. It doesn’t make sense to them, why someone would want to kill themselves when everything is ‘fine’. They don’t know how much harder it is to get out of bed and get things done when you are questioning the value of your existence. For most of second semester, I told myself not to think. I drowned all of it out with music; some people use other coping mechanisms. But being at an institution like Columbia requires you to think, and learn, and perform; to jump through hoops. I thought people didn’t care even though I didn’t really give them a chance to care. It took too much energy, when all I wanted to accomplish each day was survival. People do care. They may not always show it, but people care. Appreciate every person in your life, and know that you matter. Your life matters.
As for suspension, don’t let it get you down. I don’t really know what to say, because this is a problem that I am yet to overcome.
Have you faced issues at Columbia in regards to mental health and/or threats of suspension? If you would be willing to talk about your story (anonymously or publicly), email us at team@columbialion.com.

In an email sent out to the Columbia community earlier today, Columbia has announced that starting in a few weeks, Columbia ATMs will be switching from Citibank to a new system supported by Santander Banking.

The full message can be found below.

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Photo Courtesy Daniel Stone (CC ’16)

In a discussion with the University Senate last Friday, President Bollinger responded to comments about the proposed placement of Henry Moore’s “Reclining Woman” in front of Butler Library.  In his response, he emphasized that the University will refrain from installing the sculpture during the summer and will instead seek community feedback in the fall.

Details of his announcement can be found below from an email sent by Daniel Stone (CC ’16), one of the lead organizers to prevent the statue from being placed directly in front of the library. Through petitions, multiple op-eds, and interviews with the BBC, thousands of students and impartial spectators  have commented on what has become quite the controversial woman.

Dear petition signer,

I’m writing to give you an update on the status of the Henry Moore sculpture. Last Friday, President Bollinger publicly acknowledged the sculpture installation fiasco for the first time. At a meeting of the University Senate, he uncharacteristically apologized about how the decision had been handled. If we are to go by what he said, there will be some sort of formal process in the fall that involves community feedback.

I highly recommend reading Bollinger’s statement (below). Even as someone who has done a bit of research about Bollinger and his history, I found it surprising.
(Also, Spec really sucks for failing to cover this news. If you know people on Spec, tell them that.)

Best,

Daniel

President Bollinger’s  Statement (Emphasis Mine)

I want to say something about the Henry Moore sculpture. So this is a mistake. And I don’t mean a mistake in the actual outcome, I mean a mistake in the way the institution has functioned. It’s nobody’s fault except mine because my responsibility is everything, especially those things that don’t go right. I would describe this as a classic – and I don’t mean this to be derogative of anybody – but a classic kind of bureaucratic mistake, that is, everybody around the institution thinking they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, doing it in good faith and with enthusiasm, and we end up in a result where there has not been a sufficient collective thought process here and a decision making process that we are comfortable with.

So we put this on pause. We will have that process more and will figure out the right result. So it’s my responsibility. It is just the institution, one case I know of, tried never to let this happen, but somehow it happened and that’s where we are.

I’ll take questions in just a minute. Let me come back on this rather than take time today. I have to leave at two o’clock, I have a plane and we have a number of things. But I’ll try to give more on this in time. I just want to acknowledge that this is not the way – good faith, again, everybody acted well. A result that wasn’t sufficiently vetted through the University. I promise not to put up the Henry Moore sculpture during the summer while you’re all away. So summer powers does not include resolving this.

So, rest assured as you get through finals that this figure will not be gracing Butler anytime soon (at least not for the next four months).

Daniel Stone is a senior in Columbia College and was a former Managing Editor for the Columbia Lion.

Photo Courtesy CU Now Show

Have you seen the newest CU Now video? The video, released last night, features Shreyas Manohar (CC ’18) covering a gamut of issues alongside the Dean of Columbia College, James Valentini.

To better understand student reactions to the video, our team went out and polled students from a variety of academic years and backgrounds about their reactions to the new video. Check out what students said below.

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