Over the past year, Columbia administrators listened to student voices with uncharacteristically open ears. They promised us progress, change, and innovation—promises that inspired optimism. Students were enlisted to help search for deans of Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science and to advise administrators on the fate of new housing options. Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger and other administrators heeded students’ requests and published the breakdown of CC and SEAS student life fees. Clouded bureaucracies became a little more transparent with the formation of new committees on admission, financial aid, and academic policy-making.
The path ahead is much clearer than it has been. We are excited to participate in developing new visions and selecting new faces for the University, and we anticipate renewed debate about guaranteed housing and long-sought funding for arts at the undergraduate level. We begin the spring semester with wide-eyed optimism and hope not to be disappointed. We are particularly looking forward to the following developments:
COMMITTEE TRANSPARENCY: Now that both the Educational Policy and Planning Committee and the Committee on Admissions and Financial Aid have been formed, communication with students must be an imperative as these committees work to improve the educational and administrative environments on campus. The committees have been long in the making, and now that they are finally realities, updates regarding their work would significantly bolster their efficacy across campus. The first step was to establish these bodies, but now it’s time for us to hear from them, and for administrators and student representatives to pay attention to the suggestions and ideas they produce.
ADMINISTRATIVE TURNOVER: While searches continue for some of the most senior administrative positions at Columbia, including the dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the executive vice president for Arts and Sciences, we want to stay focused on the relationships between these positions and the student body. The SEAS dean search committee’s town hall last semester was a step in the right direction, with students emphasizing the importance of administrative accessibility. We should continue to press for these opportunities to express ourselves and our priorities, while ensuring that those appointed to these positions realize that we want to play an active role in determining the direction of Columbia.
HOUSING: The issue of housing reared its head last semester in a number of different ways. Barnard faced a housing shortage at the beginning of the year, and other challenges remain across Broadway. New housing spaces, such as the brownstones on 114th Street, were at the forefront of student discussions, and a special brownstone committee was created to help determine their inhabitants. A Special Interest Community committee was formed and will convene in the coming weeks to help allocate floors of the new convent on 113th Street. As we head toward Room Selection, we will be watching how these contentious housing issues play out—hopefully with greater transparency and equitable distributions.
CUARTS: Executive Director Melissa Smey’s email to the student body Wednesday was a step in the right direction. Last December’s protests, led by students and their sidewalk chalk drawings outside Miller Theatre, seem to have been heard by the powers that be, marking a victory for students. However, rather than announcing new developments, Smey’s email highlighted services that CUArts has been providing for years. We’re pleased with the open lines of communication, but there’s an opportunity to do more than just revisit the past. Smey already announced the formation of an advisory group consisting of students, faculty, staff, and a member of University President Lee Bollinger’s office, and committed herself to hearing more student voices. Let’s keep up the pressure for her to do exactly that by seeking to align the priorities of the administration with those of students and encouraging student feedback on issues such as increasing access to performance space and funding.
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