A nice fireplace burning wood

The fireplace tonight wasn’t lit like this!

In his first Fireside Chat since October, PrezBo invited lottery winners to 60 Morningside Drive to enjoy some hors d’oeuvres and hostile conversation. The usual suspects from the administration joined him in his not-so-humble abode: Deans Harford & Cromm, Ixchel Rosal playing the Undergraduate Student Life role in place of Suzanne Goldberg, VP of Campus Services Scott Wright, and University Chaplain Jewelnel Davis formed a peanut gallery of experts. Questions over the event tackled mental health and space among other topics, but the night’s most moving event was a plea from an Iranian international student.

In his opening remarks, he started by mentioning the recent deaths of four Columbia students, although he decided to save the detail for the questions. He also brought up the recent executive order on international travel, stating that “many people feel vulnerable,” due either to federal, legal action or private, non-governmental acts of hate. But Prezbo was careful also to throw out a bone to those who “can’t express their views” and who “may have voted for the administration.” Lumping together targeted Muslims and ostracized Republicans was a traditionally PrezBo-ian move of non-commitment, which often defined his responses through the evening. Before he moved on to questions, he highlighted the university’s resources for students struggling with recent events, although he made no effort to actually name any of them. In Prezbo’s opinion, the main problem with the university’s mental health resources “is getting students to use them.” We’ll have to check the wait times and diversity statistics before making a decision on that one.

The first question targeted the big news item of the day. A Chinese student (who wished to remain anonymous) described the “series of hate crimes” which had been performed against Asian students in residence halls. What concrete steps, he asked, would the University take to counteract already 15 reported instances of this behavior? Bollinger noted that this was not a case of free speech, and thought that telling people not to be racist was “what [the university] can do most of all.” Dean Kromm replied that she had not heard complaints from 15 students and only recently knew that the events were happening in multiple residence halls, and she encouraged students to report problems to her or to the EOAA. She made brief mention of using swipe access logs to determine who was in what dorms when to narrow down a perpetrator.

Tamila Alamdari cannot see her 16 year-old son. A junior in GS from Iran, she fled from the nation because she had no right over her son. Due to President Trump’s recent “Muslim Ban” executive order, he can’t come to see her in the United States, and she fears being thrown in jail if she returns to Iran. After she graduates, she wants to attend Teachers College, but due to current policies, she will not be able to extend her visa to stay in the country. President Bollinger called the story the most moving of all the ones he has heard over the last several days on the topic. “We will be working,” he promised, “to change the ‘now’ of the policy.” In the short term, PrezBo has arranged with “a very fine law firm” to secure pro bono legal services for students fearful of deportation or other travel-related issues. As his answer wound down, Dean Harford of GS stood up to make a brief statement, reminding Alamdari that GS was her family, for which she was very grateful.

Ethan Park, CC ’19 and CCSC Student Services Rep, asked about how Columbia would work in the short- and medium-term to give students their necessary space on campus, and how the administration would “get past panel discussion.” VP Wright spoke about how moving the package center helped student groups use Lerner, and that there are plans to move all student mailboxes, an original crowning feature of the ramps, out of Lerner. Additionally, the university is considering keeping John Jay Dining Hall open during the mid-day hours, even when JJ’s Place re-opens, because of the positive social interaction occurring in the space. According to Wright, the challenge for Columbia is not just making space open, but attractive to students.

Mel Gulino, CC ’17, pressed Prezbo on the problematic figures who define campus. Why is Butler Library named after a well-known ally of Mussolini, and what is Columbia doing about its troubled legacy? Bollinger took the opportunity through his answer to throw some veiled shade at several students who pointed to the importance of the #NoBanNoWall protest on Monday. “Well, at the time of the protest outside Low,” he began, before taking some time to congratulate himself on the Columbia and Slavery event, as well as the recently installed Native American plaque. His stance on appropriation mirrors his stance on investments on fossil fuels – he wants to use the unsavory parts of the university to allow for student and faculty research into the topics.

Jonah Hemphill, CC ’18, brought up last semesters graduate student unionization vote. When will Columbia recognize the union, and why the delay? PrezBo stuck close to party lines, claiming, “I’m not at all anti-union… I believe in unions. But not, in my view, for graduate students.” He does not believe that the employee-employer argument is analogous to the student-teacher one. Bollinger staked most of his claim on “the definition of the term ’employee’ in the [National Labor Relations] Act.” Additionally, he repeated the university’s complaints of improper electioneering on the part of the union, although he stopped short of calling the event “rigged.” Their appeals are simultaneously against the definition of employee and the electioneering, and he claims that he can tell us no more about the legal process involved at this time.

The last question PrezBo answered played off of an earlier answer he gave. “You mentioned investment,” the student began, which drew an “uh-oh” from Bollinger and laughs from the crowd. While the student apologized for sounding hostile, Bollinger quipped, “It’s almost impossible to talk to me without being hostile.” He questioned if fossil fuels were as abhorrent as apartheid and private prisons, but did give token support for the importance of environmental conservation. He pushed the burden onto a process which is currently in place for divesting from industries, in which Prezbo has little personal stake or control. In all, he seemed more interested in the expansion of the endowment than the consequences of its investment.

Bollinger also fielded questions on tuition, stress, mental illness, and Butler Library.

A formerly active fireside via Bwog’s file photos