Some of Columbia's top storylines last year included a bizarre performance in a Frontiers of Science lecture, Nutellagate, Faculty House contract negotiations, and an alleged hate crime by a football player.
Performance in Frontiers of Science baffles, shocks students
- Renowned physics professor Emlyn Hughes made national headlines in February when he gave a bizarre performance in a Frontiers of Science lecture. The lecture, which was supposed to be about quantum mechanics, began with Hughes stripping to his underwear and changing into a black T-shirt and pants, and ended with a stuffed animal chopped in half on a stool.
- Footage from the 9/11 terrorist attacks and World War II were broadcast on stage, without any explanation from Hughes.
- All the while, Lil Wayne’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” blared on the speakers.
- The performance, the video, and the music captivated the audience of puzzled first-years.
- The day after the lecture, Hughes met with administrators, and University President Lee Bollinger said that Hughes had expressed regret for how the incident unfolded.
- Hughes, known by students for his unorthodox teaching style, drew criticism from students who said the performance and the video footage were disconcerting and offensive. Others did not find the incident offensive, but most students agreed that they just wanted to move on.
'Nutellagate' spreads chocolatey treat thin
- It started as a well-intentioned Facebook post by Columbia College Student Council representative Peter Bailinson, CC ’16. The post read that Columbia Dining had spent a staggering $5,000 on Nutella during the first week that the treat was offered.
- Bailinson said that he and other members of CCSC met with Executive Director of Dining Vicki Dunn, who had given them that figure.
- Bailinson intended the ensuing dialogue to center around issues of wastefulness and sustainability in the dining halls.
- Instead, after Spectator published an article about the alleged expenditure, the New York Times, NPR, BuzzFeed, and other media outlets picked up the story.
- Only after the story blew up in the media did the University—which earlier had declined to comment on Spectator’s inquiry about the figure—issue a comical press release with the punny lead, “It’s a smear!,” claiming that the numbers were blown way out of proportion. In fact, the University spent $2,500 on Nutella during the first three to four days that it offered the treat in February, after which the cost had dropped to $450 per week.
Faculty House employees resolve contract dispute after five-month back-and-forth
- For five months, Faculty House workers negotiated what they deemed an unfair contract.
- As the workers pled their case, members of the Student Worker Solidarity club partnered with the employees. The workers alleged stolen tips, misclassification of part time and full time workers, and little to no wage increases compared to other unions on campus.
- SWS members sent letters to top administrators, barged into offices, and held teach-ins at every opportunity they got to raise awareness about the issue.
- The largest rally attracted 200 students, and included a fiery speech from history professor Eric Foner.
- In an unexpected turn of events, Vice President of Campus Services Scott Wright wrote a letter to the SWS saying administrators were disappointed by the negotiations of Local 100, the union representing Faculty House workers. The University seldom comments during ongoing negotiations.
- Osmond Cousins, a cook at Faculty House, filed a class action suit in March to unite the workers and demand gratuity tips.
- On April 12, the workers finally accepted a new contract. The improvements in the contract were modest in comparison to what Faculty House workers had hoped for.
Alleged hate crime sparks criticism over racism, athletics culture
- Last May, police charged a Columbia football player with aggravated harassment after he allegedly assaulted and threatened a student with racial slurs, creating an outcry among students and raising questions about the culture of the football team.
- As news of the event spread on campus and national media outlets picked up the story, Columbia radio station WKCR began looking through the Twitter accounts of the charged football players, Chad Washington, and his teammates. WKCR ultimately compiled 46 tweets that contained homophobic, racist, or otherwise offensive content.
- Two days after the story broke, Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy and head football coach Pete Mangurian issued a joint statement in which they stressed that the tweets of a handful of players did not reflect the attitudes of all Columbia football players, let alone all student athletes.
- Meanwhile, dozens of student organizations—including the Asian American Alliance, several student councils, and governing boards—decried the language used in the tweets, calling for administrators to take action to combat hate speech on campus.
This article is part of Spectator's Orientation Issue. You can read the rest of the issue here.