Tag: president bollinger

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.”

In response to pressure from groups on campus, Columbia President Lee Bollinger issued a statement early this morning regarding President Trump’s recent executive order regarding immigration policy. The full statement is below:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

With the executive order issued by President Trump barring admission to the United States of Syrian refugees and imposing a 90-day ban on all immigrant and nonimmigrant entry from seven Muslim-majority nations, the fear so many have had about federal policies being changed in ways that could affect our community has become disturbingly real.

The public controversy and legal debate over the President’s order is intense.  Among the many strong petitions and compelling statements that have been issued is one from the Association of American Universities (AAU), of which Columbia is a member.  We join with many peers in decrying this action as discriminatory, damaging to America’s leadership in higher education, and contrary to our nation’s core values and founding principles.

At a practical level, we are advising community members and visiting scholars from the designated countries to suspend plans for international travel.  At the moment, we do not know of any Columbia students, faculty, or staff from the seven designated countries who are currently abroad.  In the meantime, we urge anyone seeking further guidance to contact our International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO).

At a more fundamental level, this order undermines the nation’s continuing commitment to remain open to the exchange of people and ideas.  We must not underestimate the scale of its impact.  An estimated 17,000 international students in the U.S. are from the seven nations covered by the entry ban.  Scholars planning to travel to the United States for meetings and conferences at our colleges and universities will effectively be barred from attending.  If this order stands, there is the certainty of a profound impact on our University community, which is committed to welcoming students, faculty, and staff from around the world, as well as across the nation.

As I have said on many occasions, it is critically important that the University, as such, not take stands on ideological or political issues.  Yet it is also true that the University, as an institution in the society, must step forward to object when policies and state action conflict with its fundamental values, and especially when they bespeak purposes and a mentality that are at odds with our basic mission.  This is such a case.
   
It is important to remind ourselves that the United States has not, except in episodes of national shame, excluded individuals from elsewhere in the world because of their religious or political beliefs.  We have learned that generalized fears of threats to our security do not justify exceptions to our founding ideals.  There are many powerful and self-evident reasons not to abandon these core values, but among them is the fact that invidious discrimination often adds fuel to deeply harmful stereotypes and hostility affecting our own citizens. 

It is with regret that I have to send this communication. 

Sincerely,

Lee C. Bollinger