Last Wednesday, President Bollinger held one of his semesterly Fireside Chats, during which he invites Columbia students to his home and answers any questions they may have. This fireside chat seemed especially heavy with recent events like the student deaths on campus and the now-defunct presidential executive order banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Students also raised questions about Columbia’s Graduate Student Union, the potential to pay tuition based on number of credit hours taken, the lack of space on Columbia’s campus, and the possibility of divesting from fossil fuels.
While President Bollinger answered every question asked of him respectfully and calmly (in some cases cracking jokes and in others, deferring to more specialized administrators), some of his answers didn’t seem to hold any weight. For example, in light of the recent student deaths on campus, he started the chat by saying that he valued mental health and encouraged students to use the resources available to them. Later, when a student asked about the potential to pay per credit hour (to lighten the financial burden for seniors who need a few more credits to complete their degree), President Bollinger responded that it’s the student’s choice to decide the number of credits to take a semester. This response seemed to ignore the fact that a lot of work and stress comes with an heavy course load, and the student might choose a lighter load because it’s what they can handle. He also shifted the conversation to one about Columbia’s financial aid, effectively dismissing the credit hours idea.
When an Iranian GS student shared her hopes to see her son in Iran after 16 years apart, only for them to be dashed after the president’s executive order, President Bollinger wasn’t able to say what would happen to the student’s student visa after her final year at Columbia. “I wanted to make the United States my home, and I have doubt about that happening now,” she said tearfully. Instead, he focused on the now and said that Columbia was offering lawyers pro bono to anyone who needed legal help.
He also outlined the reasons behind the university contesting the recent Graduate Student Union vote, citing past legal cases involving student unions and “a number of behaviors by the union that were inappropriate [that] could have affected the outcome of the election.”
As for campus space, President Bollinger said that the administration wants to keep spaces inclusive and is “looking for venues to have more space where students can get together and support each other.” He also hinted at making John Jay open for more hours, even after JJ’s Place reopens.
Lastly, President Bollinger answered questions about the endowment and fossil fuels. “In general,” he said, “the policies of all universities in the modern era have been that we’re not going to use the endowment as a means of implementing our social choices. . . Research, expanding knowledge, conveying knowledge to the next generation: that’s what we do and we’re trying to get money to support that. That’s the general view, and I think that’s the right policy.” As a counterexample to this statement, he brought up apartheid in South Africa, but said that using the endowment for social change was otherwise “pretty rare.” He said that the policy was being looked over by a committee of students, faculty, and trustees and that we’d see “decisions in the next three to six months.”