To President Bollinger:
I was surprised to see that you had written a letter to the editor of Spectator on Nov. 20. I was more surprised to see that its subject was a defense of Athletic Director M. Dianne Murphy’s employment.
President Bollinger, from what I’ve observed over the years, the undergraduate students here respect you and your daunting, dignified ways. We look up to you as the leader of our beloved school, a defender of diversity in college admissions, and our stern professor of constitutional law. You even have a nickname in our books, meaning that, undoubtedly, we even hold a certain affection for you.
It is with this awareness of our admiration that I write to explain my disappointment that, of all the turmoil your undergraduates have faced in recent years, a call for M. Dianne Murphy’s termination was the first issue important enough to prompt your only published message to students in a student space—this newspaper.
Because there have been other times when we wanted, expected, or needed to hear from you, President Bollinger. We needed to hear from you in August 2012 when a promising young first-year committed suicide during orientation week, and all of Columbia, not just undergraduates, walked into their first classes in the shadow of great tragedy.
We expected to hear from you a year before that, when the dean of Columbia College, the dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the University provost all left their posts within a year and we were thrown into confusion about what would happen to our school and our education.
We wanted to hear you reaffirm Columbia’s commitment to diversity in light of recent incidents motivated by deep-rooted and casually-voiced racism, sexism, and homophobia among students selected to represent our school.
We waited for you to respond to reports that a professor was the victim of a hate crime, or to the College’s referendum on divestment supported by 73.7 percent of the student body, as President Drew Faust did at Harvard. Any of these issues—rather than your endorsement of Murphy’s job performance to students who have neither a say in her employment nor a deep fear about what her employment means for our school’s moral character—were worthy.
President Bollinger, when I heard that you wrote a letter to Spectator, I was happy that you chose to come and address an issue in a student forum. Rather than send us an email or write us a press release, you chose to engage in conversation with us—in our space. But now that I’ve read your letter, I can’t help but feel that it was written to mollify someone who was offended by the editorial, like a supporter of Ms. Murphy or a trustee whose support we don’t want to lose. I think that even though you sent your letter to a newspaper run and read by students, we weren’t your true intended audience.
President Bollinger, I still hold out hope that one day you’ll really speak to us. When you finally do, we will listen.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in English. She is the president of the Columbia College Student Council.
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