The Satow Room held more than a few combative viewpoints last night. Bureau Chief Nadra Rahman brings you the deets, piping hot.
CCSC had an unusual number of guests last night—Deantini and Dean Kromm paid their semesterly visit, but their presence also drew protesters from 24/7 Columbia, a group that is demanding around-the-clock, in-person, unrestricted health care for all members of the Columbia community. The questions posed by members of CCSC to the deans were tame in comparison.
The protesters began by citing a re:claim article that reports administrative retaliation against students who seek help for health crises and sexual violence, such as suspension and expulsion. They asked how such retaliation could be justified, to which both deans responded they would need more details about individual circumstances; Kromm clarified, “That’s not my understanding of how things work here.”
This set the tone for the remaining questions, many of which touched on issues from the article. How can Columbia better protect black and brown students who do not want to have to call Public Safety (which can reroute calls to the NYPD if they wish) when they have health emergencies? (Kromm at one point suggested students walk to the hospital.) What do administrators make of high suicide rates at Columbia, compared to peer institutions with 24/7 health care? Are there conflicts of interests in Columbia’s engagement with the JED Foundation, the organization Columbia is consulting with to improve student mental health? Protesters referred to affiliations between Columbia and JED, including the fact that the head of Counseling and Psychological Services serves on JED’s Board of Advisors; they claimed that “Columbia is investigating itself.” Finally, they asked whether the deans would endorse the demands of 24/7.
Throughout this questioning, the deans appeared agitated. Again and again, Deantini made reference to the scope of his role, which does not encompass the oversight of Health Services or other university-wide entities. He replied brusquely to questioning about JED, saying, “I don’t think there is a conflict of interest, that’s why [there’s no issue].” When asked about endorsement, he said he was “not prepared to answer that right now,” suggesting throughout the course of the encounter that 24/7 health care might be one way to achieve higher student wellness, but that there are different ways to achieve the same outcome. Kromm was relatively quiet.
CCSC Follows Up
While many of the questions posed by CCSC focused on relatively fluffier items (2021 President Prem Thakkar obligingly asked about My Columbia College Journey, the platform that Deantini came to plug), members also followed up on concerns about JED, including the confidentiality of the working group meetings. President Nathan Rosin and VP Policy Nicole Allicock confirmed that these meetings did not allow for information to be discussed externally, to which Deantini responded that the administration wanted the resulting policy message to be unified, consistent, and accurate. He stressed the fact that progress reports would be released as recommendations and insights were developed, and that no policy would be enacted without campus input—adding that Columbia had provided JED with more information, including student voices and campus sentiment, than any other institution it had worked with.
The other big concern of the night, brought up by Academic Affairs Rep Dafne Murillo and a visitor, involved the displacement of some undocumented students from Columbia summer housing they thought they had secured; Murillo said these students, who had been replaced by other undocumented students who had been given higher priority, now faced homelessness and potential violence. Deantini was again vague, saying that he had only received news of this yesterday morning via email and was working with administrators to find a solution.
Otherwise, members asked about such CCSC pet topics as mandating seminar-style Global Core classes, the university’s transition to carbon neutrality in light of the recent referendum, and the path to recreating transformative, unifying community events like the annual snowball fight and Surf n’ Turf. At one point, a 24/7 protester frustatedly asked why the deans were more comfortable discussing such frivolities as snowball fights and Surf n’ Turf when confronted with matters of “life and death.”
Before the deans left, members of 24/7 handed them print-outs of the re:claim article.
One Last Change
Rosin put 10 minutes on the clock for members to deliberate over a final constitutional amendment, which would add the following paragraph to the responsibilities of the VP Finance:
Further, the Vice President for Finance is responsible for ensuring that funds distributed to student groups, outside of allocation decisions, are spent effectively. To fulfill this responsibility, the Vice President shall evaluate the inclusivity of student groups. The Vice President shall survey student groups to determine their structure and on- and off-campus activities and review survey results with the Finance Committee. To remain objective in evaluating student group inclusivity, the Vice President and the Finance Committee shall use a transparent set of metrics. The Vice President shall reward groups that demonstrate a strong commitment to building community on campus and engaging a wide-breadth of students. All groups shall be evaluated at the start of the Fall semester. Any group can request a re-evaluation at the start of the Spring semester and can request a meeting with members of the Finance Committee before the Finance Committee’s decision is made. Groups can appeal categorization decisions made by the Finance Committee to an appeals board made up three CCSC members, who shall be appointed by the general body and may not participate in the initial evaluation process.
Though Rosin raised concerns about the idea of CCSC applying a separate set of standards to the external funding it awards to student groups (through JCCC, CIF, etc.) compared to the other councils and the logistical burdens placed upon the Finance Committee, the amendment passed with the required ⅔ majority (19 for, 4 against).
The amendment was meant to be accompanied by changes to the by-laws that would further clarify the process and rubric for evaluating student group openness, but time had already run out by then. Rosin suggested the discussion be tabled until the fall, though VP Finance Adam Resheff seemed dissatisfied.