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Douglas Kessel / Senior Staff Photographer

Engineering Student Council president Siddhant Bhatt (l.), SEAS '14, and Columbia College Student Council president Daphne Chen, CC '14, met with members of the Graduate Business Association to discuss the policy that barred undergraduates from using Watson Library during exams on Monday morning.

In a reversal from last year's policy that barred most undergraduates from using Watson Library during exams, undergraduate students will now have limited access to the library during the two-week midterm and final periods of each semester. 

The decision came after a meeting between members of the Graduate Business Association and the undergraduate council presidents Monday morning. 

The Business School library has been contentious territory after it banned all undergraduates except economics majors during finals last semester. Since then, undergraduates have been working to regain access to one of the few study spaces on campus that allows for food and group collaboration.

Under the new agreement, undergraduates will be able to use Watson Library starting at 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and all weekend, during midterm and finals periods. 

At the beginning of the semester, Graduate Business Association Presidents Gil Valadez and Marc Lombardo approached Engineering Student Council President Siddhant Bhatt, SEAS '14; Columbia College Student Council president Daphne Chen, CC '14; and Malcolm Marcoulides, the academic affairs representative from General Studies Student Council, to try to create a solution.

“I want to be fair to our predecessors,” Valadez said, referring to the former GBA leaders who made the decision to ban undergraduates last year. “There is certainly miscommunication, and I think that is clear. There was never intent to make this adversarial. We are proud of our Columbia community and we feel very much a part of the Columbia community. We welcome our community members, but we just need to protect the one small space in which our student constituency studies.”

In recent weeks, CCSC, ESC, and GSSC have discussed the issue at council meetings, and all three councils passed resolutions in support of undergraduate access.

Council members have also been gathering data from Watson Library and contacting library officials to determine when students are most likely to use various libraries. 

The resolution observed that Business School students tend to leave the library earlier in the day, while Butler Library's peak hour is 11 p.m. 

“Data from the finals period last year asserted that Watson Library capacity was lower post-7 p.m. and on weekends. Based on that, the libraries worked with administrators and with student councils to get a recommendation so we could get to a middle ground,” Bhatt said.

In order to address the outcry caused by last semester's policy change, the GBA and the undergraduate student councils have teamed together to form a short-term solution.

“A lot of the collaboration started this semester, and the GBA reached out to us this semester, which we're extremely gratified about,” Chen said.

Last year, the undergraduate councils tried to remedy the situation by implementing short-term solutions like extending the hours in Northwest Corner Library and allowing classrooms to be used as collaborative space. 

Graduate students last semester expressed concern that there was not enough space for both graduate and undergraduate students, and some students continue to feel this is a problem despite the councils' attempts to reconcile.

“In all fairness, our constituency uses the library. The predominant amount of our work is collaborative, and we need spaces. It had gotten to a situation in Watson where there was a certain misuse of things,” Valadez said. “Particularly around exam times, it was frustrating. Of course we're open to other places, but our students predominantly use Uris and Watson exclusively, and to not be able to find a seat and then to see people's stuff there when they're not there, those were some of those things.”

Despite these specific concerns, all students emphasized that the struggle over the libraries is not unique, but rather indicative of the perpetual lack of space on campus.

“It points to the problem on campus of lack of space and, more specifically, lack of group study space. It's not about graduate versus undergraduate students,” Chen said.

Still, Watson's unique atmosphere that allows for talking and group study and permits food consumption makes it a popular destination for many types of students on campus.

An avid user of Watson Library, Nancy Zhang, CC '15, said she feels that Watson is a far less stressful environment than other libraries on campus.

“Being allowed to have food is a big deal, especially when you're studying for eight, nine hours like I am,” Zhang said.

That's why last year, when the library denied access to undergraduates, Zhang believed “a lot of undergrads were competing for space” in other libraries around campus. 

Janet Chen, CC '17, was not a student last year during the controversy, but she currently studies in Watson often.

“I didn't realize it was such a big deal, but I heard people can get very territorial during finals week,” she said. 

Given the spatial issues of a school like Columbia, Marcoulides said he is happy with the way this compromise turned out.

“In a city like New York, we're always going to face these spatial issues, and to see us come together at a great university and solve them is a fantastic thing,” Marcoulides said. 

Although opening the library to undergraduates after 7 p.m. will help in some cases, this is still a temporary solution. The undergraduate student councils are looking to the Libraries Committee of the University Senate for a long-term solution that will perhaps result in full accessibility at Watson Library once again. 

“On behalf of CCSC, we very much believe that the University libraries should remain open at all times possible for University students. In the long term, we still want to push for more open space, but we're very happy with the compromise,” Chen said.  |  @ColumbiaSpec

Watson Library Columbia College Student Council Engineering Student Council General Studies Student Council
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