News | Academics

Undergrad council leaders restart push to fully open Uris library during exams

  • Elise Guarna for Spectator
    OPEN SESAME | CCSC, ESC, and GSSC presidents are restarting a push to open Watson Library in Uris Hall to non-Business School students during midterm and finals weeks.

Undergraduate student council leaders are restarting the fight to fully open Watson Library to undergraduate students during exam weeks.

Presidents of the Engineering Student Council, Columbia College Student Council, and General Studies Student Council presented a letter on Thursday to the University Senate Libraries and Digital Resources Committee, asking that undergraduates be allowed into the business school library at all times.

“We’ve been fighting ever since they started this last year to get this overturned, and we fought really, really hard just to get a temporary solution, which was a temporary compromise—which was to let undergrads in after 7 p.m. on exam periods,” CCSC President Daphne Chen, CC ’14, said. “But the issue for us really is­—it’s common sense and it’s an almost ethical issue basically—since it’s a university library, it should be open to as many people as possible.”

The letter released last night said that it was “unfair” to only allow business students into the library.

Last October, undergraduate access was restored to the library during midterms and finals after 7 p.m. as a compromise after a complete ban on undergraduates earlier that year. Marc Lombardo, Business ’14 and co-president of the Graduate Business Association, the Business School’s student government, said that the association sees the compromise as an adequate solution.

“We initiated and worked in good faith with the other councils to come up with an amicable compromise to the ongoing space issue we face here at Columbia,” Lombardo said in an email.

The undergraduate council presidents, however, are aiming to fully restore access—a goal they didn’t achieve in the fall.

“We were thrown into this when we shouldn’t have been thrown into it,” ESC President Siddhant Bhatt, SEAS ’14, said. “And we will not back down because the way the decision was made was not appropriate, and we are mature enough to go through channels to see how we can move forward.”

They hope that by raising the discussion about library access now, they can have a resolution by the fall semester.

“It’s time for the stakeholders to come back together and re-evaluate, and we will again strive to achieve basically what our constituents want,” Bhatt said. “And we will work on what we think is right within the construct that is in place.”

The April 2013 decision to close Watson library was closed to undergraduate students at the request of the Business School left many council members feeling blind-sided.

“I think even from our Dean’s office down, they felt they were handed the decision as well, and, from my conversations with the Dean of Students’ office in GS, that they’re in full support of this type of conversation happening,” GSSC President Hannah Germond, GS ’16, said. “Not only on principle, but the type of space and how it was automatically shut down really left a lot of students out who counted on having that group space where conversation and such was allowed.”

One of the things the University Senate quality of life survey said students were dissatisfied with was the amount of space available for collaborative work. Watson Library, which allows students to talk in the main room, is one of the few libraries that have collaborative work spaces.

“We’ve pushed on a lot of the other committees that we need group study space,” University senator Jared Odessky, CC ’15, said. “And this is the perfect example of how we’re closing off the resource we need the most, which is kind of silly.”

Odessky said that he hopes the Libraries and Digital Resources Committee will support the proposal to re-open Watson and that the committee will use information on Watson Library use to make a recommendation that balances the needs of students with needs of librarian.

“If the Senate Libraries Committee says something, they’re going to listen,” he said.

Germond stressed that the business library is especially important to GS students as a space, because GS students lack convenient access to residential space.

“We don’t have the lounges which are open for group study and such. But I think while we are in a very inclusive community—one that welcomes all ages, and diversity—I do think that GS students gravitate towards the Business School because there’s this similarity in age and they really do find themselves studying there in groups within GS students,” Germond said. “So I do feel taking that out and limiting that access has been very large, and we’ve seen a very big response to that.”

Additionally, construction in the Seely W. Mudd building student lounge is removing around 150 seats in study spaces, placing additional space constraints on engineers.

For Chen, opening the library is not only a practical issue, but also one about the morals of the use of student space.

“For us, Watson Library being open to undergraduates is non-negotiable,” she said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

elizabeth.sedran@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ezactron

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Anonymous posted on

As a Business School student, I firmly believe that the restricted access already represents a fair compromise.

In addition the larger issue is being ignored by the Undergrad student councils. Instead of fighting to open Watson, why not fight to change the more than 20 other libraries on campus to better reflect undergrad needs?

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CU_Alum posted on

Watson Library's collections cover economics as well as business. Since the collections are not limited to business, access shouldn't be either. Realizing that the B-School should not have a monopoly is the least that can be expected, not a "fair compromise".

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UJ posted on

Watson is fully open to Economics and Business Major's during the closed period; it's just other students who have restricted accesss

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CC '14 posted on

But that's not the point. Rather, it's that a variety of people are interested in those collections without majoring in those fields, but more importantly, that the space itself shouldn't be restricted based on the surrounding collections. Most of our libraries are open to everyone within the Columbia community, and that includes undergraduate reading rooms in Butler being available to Law School and Business School students. Whereas these spaces are always open to Business School students, regardless of discrepancy between the collections and the academic interests of the students, Watson is completely closed off to undergraduates during finals season, so the compromise that was reached was still unjust and asymmetric.

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You are losing this issue posted on

And you are making the B School look really, really bad. Keep it up. You're making our future business leaders look petty, small, aloof, and like jerks. #goodjob

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Anonymous posted on

So there are space issues at other departments that fail to provide adequate space and lounge areas (or a place where people can talk, eat, and sleep...cough...engineering students...cough) and it's the business school's problem to solve?! Why don't we demand changes at our schools before pointing a finger a the b-school?

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Anonymous posted on

Many of the posters here are negotiating from a position of rights: they hold that all libraries should provide equal access to all students. Business school students likely could make a rights-based argument for restriction, especially given the misuse of the library by students who sleep and watch movies in Watson. Either way, the discussion would lead to no meaningful compromise. Further, the library's collections largely have been moved elsewhere; to that end, CU_Alumn's post reveals a misunderstanding of the space's current purpose.

Undergraduates often argue that because business students have access to other campus libraries, so undergraduates should have access to Watson. However, business school students would post no objection to being restricted from Butler's two undergraduate floors. Indeed, undergraduates have a responsibility to lobby for additional collaborative space for their uses, even as they lobby for opening Watson.

Business students soon will move to improved, dedicated facilities in new buildings, and undergraduates will be left to their purposes in Watson. But Watson, all agree, is an inferior space, functionally and aesthetically antiquated. Unfortunately, as they wait for the Pyrrhic prize that is Watson, Undergraduates will have failed to convert other campuses spaces to collaborative learning environments.

The university should make Watson available to all students, and it should convert quiet study spaces used mainly by undergraduates to collaborative spaces. Undergraduates are a small portion of the overall university population. Columbia's planning principals, therefore, continue to reflect the democracy of its students, and accordingly should create significant more space for graduate students. This may need to come at the expense of undergraduates, whose usage of campus space is disproportionate both to their numbers and financial contribution to the campus community. This, as so many posters on this article are fond of stating, is only "fair".

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