ESC Calls Out Columbia Adminstration
Written by Finn Klauber
Columbia University has been known for exhibiting one of the worst stress cultures at any university in the country. Executive Vice President Sidney Perkins has plans to create change through legos and other de-stress initiatives. It’s up to the Columbia Administration to decide the future of our community.
Engineering Student Council led one of its most intriguing sessions yesterday after Executive Vice President for Policy Sidney Perkins introduced his “Resolution on the Community Dissonance between Student Leaders and Administrators, which Contributes to a Culture of Stress on Columbia’s Campus.” Before explaining this resolution, included below, I believe it important to clarify the context leading up to Perkins’ (theatrical) presentation of his resolution. Last week, Perkins reported on the Columbia Administration’s rejection of his proposal to place legos in Carleton Commons. He expanded upon the parameters of that rejection last night, beginning with the scope of his “lego plan.” During our Fall Break, Perkins gathered some of his childhood legos (and some other non-lego-looking playthings), labelled the box at the MakerSpace, and presented his self-funded “destress station” to what he thought would be enthusiastic and cheery administrators. Instead, the unfeeling cogs of the Columbia Administration shattered his idealism.
In response, the Administration demanded a fully outlined proposal with information regarding who will maintain the lego box, who will set up the “destress stations,” and who will ensure everything is being used correctly. Despite acquiescing to these bureaucratic dictates, Perkins stated that the proposal “was ruminated upon for about a month and then rejected,” with the Administration stating that Perkins’ plan was an “inappropriate use of space.” The Administration’s treatment of Perkins drove him to contextualise the legos conundrum in a theatrical introduction to his “Resolution on Community Dissonance.” While emphatically shaking the box of legos, Perkins stressed that this resolution “addresses more than legos, though [he] thinks legos is the test case.” Without a working projector, Perkins read aloud the resolution, further extending the captivating performance.
The resolution explicitly acknowledges Columbia as struggling “with one of the worst stress cultures among our peer institutions,” citing President Bollinger’s statement that “Columbia has inadequate and subpar community engagement.” In an almost shockingly worded sally at the Administration, the resolution specifically identifies the tragic suicides in the recent past as necessitating a “war on stress culture” while painting the student body as “continuously ignored by administrators, their ideas denied by Columbia’s administrative bureaucracy.” The resolution cites nine separate occasions in the past year where the Columbia Administration stonewalled ESC—referencing, among other things, broader lawn hours, the lego proposal, and the “smoking ban” resolution—, essentially killing the policy initiatives. Furthermore, the document acknowledges how each of these proposals failed with little to no formal response, as well as how “there is a lack of student-facing administrators who seem able and willing to help student representatives accomplish their goals.” Administrators “have a responsibility for the wellness of all members of the community” and a duty “to listen and openly communicate with the student body, and especially elected representatives of that student body.”
With these verbal attacks launched against the Administration, the resolution then outlines three general initiatives. ESC first resolves that $100 will be redirected from the Diversity and Inclusion Fund for a “wellness day,” which will include wellness resources and qualitative feedback on substantive campus changes. The resolution then calls for the Administration to “respect the proposals and suggestions of all students,” requesting transparency specifically in the form of a formal Administrative response to any rejected proposal. ESC finally resolves to compile a list of grievances to present to the Student Affairs Committee of the University Senate.
In the moderated caucus following this presentation, speakers praised Perkins’ effort and determination, but requested that the original language be toned down to more objective rhetoric. A minor hiccup presented itself when questions arose regarding Perkins’ specific citation of the glacial implementation of the Smoking Resolution. After a short discussion, it became clear that the controversy arose from whether ESC passed the Smoking Resolution in support of non-smoking students feeling alienated by campus smoking or whether the resolution was aimed at discouraging current smokers from continuing to smoke. In essence, ESC would be affirming a resolution in the spirt of the Administration stonewalling efforts to alleviate campus stress. Thus, a hostile interpretation of the Smoking Ban would actually backfire upon the council’s argument. Perkins clarified that the Smoking Resolution originated in direct student outreach to ESC, that these students were “not comfortable going to Butler…not welcome in that space.” 2017 Representative Harry Munroe further clarified that the Smoking Resolution only aimed to “create a safe space for non-smokers,” thus not conflicting with the spirit of the Resolution on Community Dissonance.
After the moderated caucus concluded, ESC voted on Perkins’ resolution. Although Bwog believes it to be a journalistic responsibility to criticise elected student leaders, I believe the Resolution on Community Dissonance deserves a degree of praise, if only for symbolic importance of the document. In a single piece of official legislation, which passed with surprisingly little dissent, ESC very consciously repudiated a multi-year effort to act in accordance with the expressed preference of “many members of the administration…[for] open communication [as opposed to resolutions] to affect [sic] change on Columbia’s campus.” If only for the chutzpah of ESC’s resolution, I fully approve of this document—despite its slight emphasis on the teetering smoking ban. Even if conflict arises over the intent or content of ESC initiatives, our criticism is based upon basic faith in Columbia Administration to work with elected student leaders and their initiatives. As Perkins outlines in his resolution, the Columbia Administration has failed in their duty to respect this foundation of student government. Even if ESC receives no response to these statements, the thought that some administrator, somewhere in the upper echelons of the Columbia Administration, will recognize the frustration of the student body presents a future which inspires my support for ESC’s effort.
Although I do praise ESC’s Resolution on Community Dissonance, I feel obligated to comment upon the fulfillment of Perkins’ previous promise to craft a constitutional amendment ensuring the continued support of ESC’s resolutions beyond a single term of office. Perkins outlined how the amendment would take effect immediately with a 2/3 passing vote, or take effect the next term of office with a simple majority. This “continuing resolution clause” would take effect if a future resolution were passed with a 2/3 majority, although it is not clear whether the resolution must be labeled as a “super resolution” before being voted upon. Under the current constitution, resolutions have to be “renewed each year,” whereas “super resolutions” would be assigned to “a person responsible for advocating for the position in the future.” If the “advocate” did not follow up regularly with the effort or did not act in “good faith,” that council member would be impeached. Again, it is unclear how such a judgement would be determined, or whether the impeachment would rely more on the council’s shoulders or instead upon ESC’s untested rule of law.
A brief comment by Executive Vice President for Finance Aida Lu posited that the gulf between the Columbia community and the Administration has widened due to the long tenure of key administrators. Student councils face relatively rapid turnover, according to Lu, which may have contributed to a dismissal of ESC by administrators. As such, it is unclear whether passing these “super resolutions” will actually mean anything to these dismissive administrators. I fully agree with VP Lu’s line of questioning, and further ask how “advocates” for such “super resolutions” would be assigned? How many “super resolutions” does ESC plan on entertaining? Most resolutions pass nigh-unanimously, and ESC would quickly find itself packed with various “advocates.” University Senator Izzet Kebudi later questioned how an “advocate” could act if the Administration were to continually deny ESC’s effort, as well as how ESC would determine “good faith.” Although it may be possible for ESC to handle their internal issues by cultivating a certain atmosphere over a long period of time, the issues with the Administration portray just one facet of a larger issue encompassing students, faculty, and administrators throughout Columbia University.
a creative way for change via Kognitio