This month has EVERYTHING: meaningless fights over procedure, new childcare policies and employee benefits, the exposure of a massive years-long elections scandal, and, importantly, the long-overdue recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day by the university.
From the moment your humble correspondent took his seat in Schermerhorn 614, shit started going down.
1. PHARMACOLOGY PHIGHT
Senator Andrew Hsu, GSAS ’19, took issue with the first issue on the agenda, a vote on changing the name of the Department of Pharmacology to the “Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics,” to reflect the changing direction of research in the department over the past several years. Apparently no one had bothered to reach out to any faculty or students in GSAS about the planned name change, and Senator Hsu cited a description of the department in a university statue that wasn’t being changed as part of the motion (and would therefore be out of date) as a reason to put forward a motion tabling the vote. (If it sounds confusing it’s because it was.)
Nobody else was really on board, since GSAS’s representatives in the department had unanimously approved the name change, and no one seemed too bent out of shape over the lack of courtesy calls to inform GSAS, but there was a vote anyways on the motion to table the matter (which failed), and then a second vote to pass it (which succeeded overwhelmingly).
Procedural nonsense out of the way, there was then a quick explanation of and vote on a new policy to update childcare policies for tenure-track faculty. Basically, it codifies giving tenure-track faculty an extra year of preparation for… whatever the endgame of being on a tenure track is called… every time they have a kid. Previously the language meant so their benefits only applied to the first two kids, and didn’t include adopted children who were older than 1, which was obviously dumb. This passed quickly and overwhelmingly, and the Senate broadly agreed to begin working on a new policy to specifically address the issue for non-tenure-track faculty, who are currently just on the same child leave policy as all other university employees.
2. RECOGNIZING INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ DAY
The Senate then moved onto different business: a resolution, spearheaded by Columbia’s Native American Council in conjunction with senators on the Student Affairs Committee and Commission on Diversity, for the university to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This went roughly how you probably think it went.
First, after being introduced by the senators, several leaders of the Native American Council spoke on behalf of the proposal, emphasizing its importance in showing that the university respects and celebrates its indigenous students and acknowledges the oppression faced by indigenous people.
The resolution was then opened for comment, and Senator Daniel Savin, a senior scientist in Columbia’s astrophysics laboratory, got us off to a predictable start by snidely saying that the resolution was “written with a lack of clarity as to exactly what landmass the word indigenous is referring to.” NAC’s leaders responded that it was indeed intended to be ambiguous, acknowledging the global experience of indigenous struggle at a global institution. Senator Andrzej Rapaczynski of the law school then said, while he supported Indigenous Peoples’ Day, that it was a problem to celebrate it on the same day as Columbus Day, constituting an erasure of Columbus (which he implied constituted erasing recognition of Italian-Americans).
His solution was to propose an amendment that stated Columbia would also recognize Columbus Day on the second Monday of October. NAC’s leaders pointed out that Columbia doesn’t currently recognize Columbus Day and that including him in the resolution would undercut the whole point of it, to which Senator Rapaczynski responded that that suggested it was a condemnation of Columbus and therefore “uncalled for” since it’s “not neutral,” citing the UN’s celebration of the two events on different days.
Several responses soon followed before the vote on this amendment and on the resolution were carried out. Senator Heven Haile, CC ’21, pointed out that there is no real way to recognize the history of indigenous people without also recognizing the violence unleashed on them by Columbus and successive waves of colonizers, and that it seems ridiculous to force them to water down their statement in such a way (receiving applause from the whole room, which Senators Rapaczynski and Savin had distinctly not gotten). Several others also offered support for the resolution, praising NAC’s hard work in finally getting the resolution to the Senate and the sentiment of the resolution.
Six voted in favor (including Savin and Rapaczynski), four abstained, and 64 voted against the amendment, overwhelmingly shooting it down, and a vote on the resolution was then called. It passed overwhelmingly, without any votes against (though there were a few abstentions), meaning Columbia now recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day!
3. GREAT NIXON’S GHOST, AN ELECTION SCANDAL!
A vote was then taken on a vague resolution affirming Columbia’s support to encouraging members of the community to vote- it passed, but it seemed particularly ironic given what came next. I’m going to have to break this down into a couple parts, because it is hilariously stupid but still complicated to explain and worth understanding.
Part One: You Did It Wrong
After a contested election for the chair of the Executive Committee (an important position that represents the entire school and works closely with the president and the administration), the Election Committee was asked to review a complaint about how the election was handled. It turns out it was done completely wrong, as only tenured faculty senators were allowed to vote in the decision (it’s supposed to be the whole body)- but that wasn’t the worst part.
Part Two: You’ve Always Done It Wrong
It turns out they’ve been running these elections wrong for years, and only recently even expanded them to let more faculty senators vote- it used to just be tenured faculty on the Executive Committee (which, in both cases, the Election Committee pointed out was explicitly forbidden in the Senate’s statutes and bylaws). A former executive chair sitting near Senator Rapaczynski whose name I did not catch and whose face I did not see (so I cannot stalk him on the Internet) said that he also did this for many years, simply assuming the people who were in office before him were doing things right and not bothering to consult the Senate’s own actual rules on how to run elections.
So, basically, a position supposed to represent the entire Columbia community, including the student body, has been under the control of a tiny subsection of the Senate that could be fairly characterized as being cozier with the administration than most. And it gets wilder still!
Part Three: You Knew You Were Doing It Wrong
The only reason this issue even came to the Election Committee’s attention is because Senator Sharyn O’Halloran, the former Executive Committee chair, was the one who filed the complaint that sparked the investigation into election practices that had been taking place (under her watch, as the previous incumbent)… after she lost the latest election to current chair Senator Jeanine D’Armiento. When questioned on this, O’Halloran protested that she and others before her had helped lead the charge to expand the franchise even to include all tenured faculty members, but that the “language wasn’t clear” on whether or not they should include the entire Senate in the process and that’s why it hadn’t happened before.
Apparently it was clear enough for the Election Committee to void the results of the election she lost (based on the complaint she made after losing), though, begging the question of how it was so unclear to her when she was in charge, yet now she knew to file the complaint and the Election Committee delivered a decisive verdict to void and redo the election.
Part Four: You’re Probably Not Going To Stop Doing It Wrong, Long-Term
The Election Committee will be running a special election for the position while D’Armiento stays on in the interim, and Senator Miranda Rehaut, Law ’20, the head of the committee, said it would try to start taking proactive monitoring efforts in elections in the future rather than simply waiting around for complaints to come in. However, she also acknowledged concerns that the Election Committee lacked the bandwidth to do a good job of this, noting it is traditionally led by a full-time law student (why the fuck??) and doesn’t receive much in the way of resources or staffing at the moment (I wonder why that would be?), and that frequent turnover in its ranks would wear down institutional will over time. Rehaut said she hoped the Senate would consider giving the committee more resources in the future so it could carry out its responsibilities more effectively, noting she’d been unusually able to devote time to it as a third-year law student versus previous committee heads.
Long story short- even if they change a few things for a few years, we’ll probably quietly go back to Square One in a few years when everyone forgets and new senators replace the old ones. Enjoy the warm breeze of actual democracy and following the rules while it lasts or whatever.
4. DISMEMBERED & ADJOURNED
Anyways, that was pretty insane, and then some guy came to talk about changes to benefit plans and people started clearing out. They updated a bunch of stuff for faculty benefits, including a change to something called “Accidental Death & Dismemberment” benefits, which I think is a name that is both terrifying and hilarious. I guess you gotta be prepared for anything living in New York, be it election fraud or accidental dismemberment.
Anyways, Happy Belated Indigenous Peoples’ Day from University Senate. No idea why they couldn’t have just passed that shit in September so they could’ve had it done in time for this year (actually I do have an idea, and his name is Andrzej Rapaczynski).
Schermerhorn via Bwog Archives