Tag: prezbo

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.”

If you watched the last presidential debate, you probably noticed that the first topic Chris Wallace pressed the candidates on was the Supreme Court. Control over the Supreme Court is always a contentious issue, but Justice Antonin Scalia’s death and the sudden Supreme Court vacancy has made the tension more much apparent.. Whoever wins this election will be tasked with appointing a new Justice and possibly two others, potentially changing the ideology of the majority of the Court for 25 years as Wallace put it. This has enormous repercussions for a host of issues from gun control to abortion, but I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about affirmative action.

As you might know, the Supreme Court upheld the inclusion of affirmative action in college admissions policies over the summer. In doing so, it said that since educational diversity is a valid goal for administrators, colleges and universities should have wide discretion in considering race in admissions policy. Since administrators cannot explicitly rely on a quota system, they consider race as part of holistic review. First-years probably remember hearing almost every college they applied to admit to using this policy. In short, holistic review means that admissions considers a wide range of factors when considering a student, including academics, extracurriculars, and diversity. It was this policy that was under threat before the Court this summer, and the same policy that current Columbia President, Lee C. Bollinger defended in 2003.

Your choices this election are rather stark. When the Court ruled over the summer, the traditional conservatives dissented, though not for stereotypical ‘Republicans don’t understand black people’ reasons. Justice Samuel Alito who wrote the dissent for the second Fisher v. University of Texas in Austin case articulates that affirmative action as practiced has “gone berserk” and helps affluent African-Americans more than Asian-Americans. This is interesting since the same petitioners behind that case are also advancing with another case against Harvard University centering around Asian-Americans. If Trump appoints two conservatives or centrist Justice Kennedy is persuaded by these arguments with one Trump appointee, affirmative action through holistic review is dead. Hillary Clinton, we can gander, probably will appoint justices that will affirm affirmative action, ensuring that even if Kennedy is swayed by conservative arguments, affirmative action will stay.

Look, we can have long lengthy debates over the value of affirmative action in colleges, but I don’t want to delve too deep into whether we should have affirmative action. What I will say is that throughout the country, one of the most prominent demands from activists has been an increase in diversity within the student body. Holistic review is the only way colleges can do that somewhat directly. Columbia might be able to produce similar effects by focusing on socioeconomic diversity within its large applicant pool. I imagine someone who cares about racial diversity would still want Columbia to be able to prioritize racial diversity instead of hoping the mechanics work out. But I also imagine people who want admissions to be fair and more predictable would prefer Columbia adopt standards that can be measured and scrutinized. Whatever your side, this debate will be decided by who controls the presidency and the Senate.  

Ufon’s mini-series, Columbia and the 2016 Election, will run through the November 8th Presidential Elections.

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