New CCSC Bureau Chief Mariah Johnson brings this week’s Columbia College Student Council coverage!

After Executive Board and Task Force updates, this week’s in-person meeting began with a Bwog shoutout, referring to the June 2021 Breaking News post about the University’s consideration of expanding the CC and SEAS populations. (Once again, reporting from Bwog continues to inform campus policy debate, but what else is new?)

President Rads Mehta (CC’22) opened the floor for suggestions on how to best solicit student opinion on this contentious and poorly understood move by the administration to expand the CC and SEAS populations. She emphasized that because this plan would affect so many areas of student life, that student feedback is especially important. During the Class Councils part of the meeting, members Zayba Qamar (CC ’22) and Erick Zent (CC’24) lobbied for the administration to be more transparent with students about the reasons for this expansion, noting that student opinion will likely be pessimistic about the strain on resources that are assumed to result from this proposal. The sentiment about more transparency from the administration was later echoed by Kwolanne Felix (CC ’22) and Joshua Collier (CC’22) during the At-Large Representatives section of the meeting. When asked by Kwolanne why exactly the administration wants to expand the populations of CC and SEAS, President Mehta explained that she cannot comment on specifics right now, as discussions of the plan by a working group of administrators and student leaders are currently confidential. 

The air of mystery on the how and the why of this expansion left members like Disability Services Representative Avi Jonah Adler (CC’24) inquiring about how soon the administration intends on implementing this expansion, to which President Mehta responded that the Provost hopes to make a decision on the matter by January 2022. 

In coming up with ways to gauge student opinion on the expansion, many members encouraged the utilization of student surveys in addition to a town hall meeting hosted by CCSC in which members could field questions and concerns from students. While discussing the idea of surveys, Vice President Krishna Menon (CC ’22) highlighted the fact that students have historically been more responsive and transparent to outreach done by CCSC itself as opposed to the administration, and proposed that CCSC lead the outreach on this issue as a more viable way to solicit authentic student opinion. Jaine Archambeau (CC ’22) emphasized that students should have as many avenues as possible to express their opinions, and that it is the job of CCSC to facilitate that via a survey and/or a town hall. In regard to the town hall proposal, Kathan Reddy (CC ’24) proposed having staff from different areas of student life such as housing and dining come in and field some questions and concerns from students about how an expansion of CC and SEAS may specifically affect these areas of life. According to President Mehta, once student feedback about the expansion is garnered, it will be brought back to the Provost who will make the ultimate decision on the issue. 

While support for the idea of a survey and a town hall for the student body appeared to be unanimous, President Mehta tabled the issue by informing members that she would be sending out a VoteUp poll about the best course of action for gauging student opinion, and CCSC members would have 24 hours to respond. 

Next on the agenda was a discussion of the main areas of undergraduate financial need at the moment. First Generation and Financial Security Representative Jaine Archambeau gave a summary of the findings of the Identity & Diversity, or ID, task force concerning this issue. The task force found that areas of undergraduate financial need at Columbia are mainly concentrated in three areas: winter meals, work exemption/summer grants, and struggles of low-income commuter students. Archambeau explained that during winter break especially—when the dining halls are closed and travel is an additional financial burden—some students have trouble finding meals. VP Menon suggested the institutionalization of winter meals by the University itself rather than by the ID task force, which would ensure that students who need winter meals will always be able to access them without needing to revisit this issue year after year.

As explained by Representative Archambeau, the issue of work exemption/summer grants and the challenges faced by low-income commuter students are largely a result of the COVID-19 crisis. During the pandemic, there were opportunities for students to apply for the Work Exemption Program (WEP) to circumvent the already controversial student contribution and to receive grant funds that would usually be earned through work-study. 

While the pandemic has not stopped in-person instruction, many students are having a hard time finding work, and the most recent Fall 2021 Work Exemption Program announcement was sent so late in August, that many students did not have time to apply and some were not even aware that the program was being offered again. President Mehta noted that the administration likely perceived the lack of applications as there being a lack of need, although it was simply a result of students being left in the dark by the late announcement. In the meantime, University Senator Elliot Hueske (CC ’23) suggested instituting a program through which students who need additional financial assistance may be able to apply for mini-grants or other sources of funding—a suggestion which was well received by President Mehta, who said it could be a feasible solution. 

Concerning the financial challenges faced by low-income commuter students, Representative Archambeau explained that many students who had to take time off last academic year due to COVID-19 effectively lost their housing for this academic year, leaving them with the physical and financial burden of commuting. They lack spaces on campus to rest or to put their belongings, as well as having to finance off-campus living and transportation. The ID task force recommended this burden be alleviated in a few ways, including offering free lockers in Dodge (which are now available for rent at a cost) and providing cookware, among other suggestions.

The meeting wrapped up with President Mehta asking for an At-Large Representative to volunteer to join the Interschool Governing Board (IGB), and ultimately it was University Senator Brandon Shi (CC’22) who so valiantly stepped up to the plate.

See you next week!

Lerner via Bwarchives