Continuing last week’s discussion about the impacts of the Student Workers of Columbia strike on undergraduate students, CCSC sends an official statement on the strike to the administration. 

As usual, this week’s CCSC meeting began with E-board updates, in which VP Krishna Menon (CC ’22) shared that he has recently handed off leadership of AAC (Alumni, Academics, Career) to Class of 2024 President Erick Zent and Class of 2025 President Mariam Hayat Jallow. Menon will continue to handle administrative tasks such as space booking.

The most pressing item on this week’s agenda was CCSC’s plan to craft a statement on the SWC strike to send to President Lee Bollinger and Provost Mary Boyce. President Mehta (CC ’22) introduced the discussion by sharing that as the strike is entering its fifth week, it has clearly hindered academics and student well-being. CCSC has allegedly received numerous complaints from students about possibly having to make up the missed material. President Mehta then explained that CCSC’s goal is to write to University leadership and make it clear that the body does not feel they have lived up to their contractual obligation to students to facilitate an environment that promotes learning and provides the resources necessary to do so. Students are left unsure of what and when they will receive grades, and in some cases, if they will even receive credit—for graduating seniors, this issue is particularly urgent. Race and Ethnicity Representative Kwolanne Felix (CC ‘22) put forth a motion to discuss, and VP Menon was the first to offer his thoughts, saying that a fundamental issue is that higher-ups in the university simply do not understand the impact the strike is having on undergraduate life. Menon continued that this must be made clear to them so they can negotiate and resolve the issue. Menon went on to say that as undergraduate students, there is a contract that we all make with the University when we pay tuition; that contract promises that we will come to this institution expecting a rigorous education, a service that has not been rendered during the strike. Menon reminded members that the goal is not to place any burden on the graduate student workers on strike but to ask the University what justifiable actions they have taken to come to an agreement and to prevent the need for a similar strike in the future. 

Rep. Felix made note of the “intergenerational” nature of the strike and how the message to the administration should emphasize that many undergrads have not known a university experience without their graduate peers striking, ultimately affecting their overall college experience. Felix echoed VP Menon’s earlier point that the issue at stake here is not the actions of the graduate students, but rather that the University is not fairly negotiating with them or trying hard enough to meet their demands to end the strike. She ended by saying that it’s the graduate students’ right to strike, and it is Columbia’s job to negotiate with them. There were moments during the discussion in which CCSC members struggled to find the right wording for their statement to the administration that would capture the intended goal of the student council—to put the onus on the University and not the graduate students. Specifically, there seemed to be some confusion about conversations between SWC and student performance groups before the tree-lighting ceremony on Thursday, December 2, where SWC was actively picketing. Gender and Sexuality Representative Adam Kluge (CC ‘22), a member of a student performance group, clarified that he spoke to the organizers of the strike and they confirmed that they would not be disrupting the performances. Furthermore, the strikers assured that they were still supporting their peers and would appreciate statements that were made by performers of their own volition. Kluge was eager to clear up that performance groups were not forced to “negotiate” with SWC, per se, since the strikers were cooperative, but that there was still some tension present because of the nature of the situation. 

In trying to address the problems among members concerning the wording of the document, Transfer Students Representative Shelly Michael (CC ‘22) asked if CCSC has ever spoken to SWC before thinking about writing this statement. President Mehta responded that in the past, SWC has reached out to E-board, but they have not this semester, and there has been no formal conversation between the two parties this year. The reason for not discussing the proposal with them this semester is to make clear to the University how undergrads are suffering because of the strike while still recognizing its demands. Rep. Michael responded that she believes that to truly show solidarity, CCSC needs to meet with SWC because if they only meet with administrators the document is at risk for bias. To this, VP Menon and President Mehta responded that while they do indeed want the strike to end, this statement from CCSC is more about impact than solidarity because administrators do not seem cognizant of the strike’s impact on the undergraduate experience. Menon and Mehta also noted that by explicitly stating solidarity, the University may be less likely to listen to the impact on undergrads. Ultimately, while noting that there is widespread undergraduate support of the strike and that this is indeed important, it was decided to not include a line about whether or not CCSC as a body objectively supports the strike. The body determined that an expression of solidarity makes the statement less objective, and the statement intends to put a lens on the relationship between university and undergraduates, as explained by VP Communications Tejasri Vijayakumar (CC ‘24) and echoed by Disability Services Rep. Avi Adler (CC ‘24) and Class of 2024 Vice President Kathan Reddy. 

Mariam Hayat Jollow (CC ‘25) noted that if CCSC is to make a statement about the strike in the future, it should be in a separate document and that it is indeed important to allocate space for a statement about actually supporting the strike. President Mehta agreed with this statement and shared that she believes CCSC should bring in SWC members to the G-body meetings so that members can fully understand the demands of the strike, ensuring that any statements made by CCSC regarding the nature of the strike are fully supportive. After a few final comments, Class of 2023 President Charlie Wallace presented a motion to vote which was seconded by Erick Zent (CC ‘24). CCSC members voted via the VoteUp App answering ‘Are you in favor of CCSC’S statement on the SWC strike?’, which ultimately passed with 25 yeses and 2 abstentions. 

The last part of the meeting was spent discussing the FLI Network coat proposal for students in need which passed unanimously for those in favor of it, as well as a review of CCSC’s task force structure.

See you next week!

Statement from Columbia College Student Council on the SWC Strike: 

To President Lee Bollinger and Provost Mary Boyce: 

For the past five weeks, Columbia College undergraduates have been deprived of our academic experience. The University has failed to meet its contractual obligations to the Columbia College student body. Students make the choice to attend Columbia. We pay tuition with the expectation of a quality education and a robust campus life. We have received neither. Our grievance here is not with SWC, as it is the sole responsibility of the University to provide this experience for undergraduates. We therefore call on the University to immediately address the following issues: 

Undergraduate students have not received the education that they were promised. 

  • The Core Curriculum is the hallmark of the Columbia College academic experience, but it has not been provided. The majority of Core sections have not met since November 3rd. 
  • In addition, many non-Core courses have not been meeting since November 3rd. 
  • Students have not had access to discussion sections and recitations, preventing them from fully engaging with course material. 
  • Students have not had access to office hours, depriving them of crucial resources for academic success and exacerbating existing educational inequities among the student body. 

Undergraduate student life is suffering. The University has not addressed this gap.

  • With such a large number of sections on strike, Masterpieces of Western Literature and Contemporary Civilizations have no longer been the communal experiences they are advertised to be. 
  • The University’s failure to fulfill its duties has jeopardized undergraduate traditions. Tree Lighting, a tradition normally filled with peace, joy, and community, was overshadowed by the University’s failure to fulfill its contractual duties. Student a cappella groups facilitated conversations with SWC and made the decision to express solidarity with the strike, in order to confirm that their performances would not be interrupted. The onus should not be on undergraduate students to undertake the labor of navigating dynamics between SWC and the University. 

Senior University administration has neglected to substantially address any of these issues.

  • The senior University administration has not made an effort to listen to and include the student voice. CCSC has not received any communication from senior University officials on this matter.
  • We appreciate the efforts of Columbia College leadership to provide some transparency to students during this time. However, senior University administration has failed to address the issues presented above in any capacity with the larger undergraduate student body. 
  • Students should not have been expected to navigate this uncertain environment alone. Without the proper University response, the burden has fallen on CCSC to fulfill the University’s contract. This is unacceptable. 

Students enrolled at Columbia with the expectation that they would receive a full undergraduate experience. Since 2018, semester after semester, strike after strike, this obligation has not been fulfilled by the University. Now and going forward, the University must ensure that the undergraduate experience is not disrupted. We call on the University to reinforce its commitment to the undergraduate student body. The University’s contract with the student body has already been broken — any action taken is long overdue. If the University’s commitment to the educational success and overall well-being of its students is genuine, it needs to act now. 

Signed by Columbia College Student Council 

December 5th, 2021

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