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Vol.25, No. 19 Apr. 7, 2000

Senate Approves Membership in Two Anti-Sweatshop Organizations

By Tom Mathewson

On March 31 the University Senate unanimously adopted a resolution calling for Columbia to join the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), a factory-monitoring organization founded by the national activist group, United Students Against Sweatshops, while remaining a member of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), a larger anti-sweatshop group including apparel manufacturers that the University joined a year ago.

The Senate then devoted an hour and a half to the draft copyright policy produced last month by a Provostial faculty committee, debating its substance and Senate procedures for acting on it.

The solution of belonging to both anti-sweatshop groups was a compromise proposed by the Senate's student caucus shortly before spring break, and elaborated by students, faculty and administrators on the Senate External Relations Committee.

At a rally on March 1, Columbia Students Against Sweatshops (CSAS) had warned that it might take more militant action if the Senate did not vote on March 31 to leave the FLA and join the WRC. The accompanying rationale for the resolution the Senate adopted last week said the two monitoring groups represent complementary strategies—the FLA a "top-down" approach relying largely on corporate participation and internal monitoring, as well as the combined influence of more than 130 member universities, and the WRC a "bottom-up" approach relying on ad hoc, unannounced inspections and publicity.

The resolution also calls for later reviews of both groups. CSAS member Ginger Gentile, CC'02, urged senators to support the resolution, while stressing her wariness of the FLA as an effective force against sweatshops. Part of the impetus for joining the WRC now was the group's requirement that universities attending its founding conference on April 7 must be members. Columbia's delegation will include administrators, faculty and students, including a student caucus member.

The copyright discussion revealed a number of criticisms of the draft policy. Several student senators expressed dissatisfaction that students, who will be covered by a new copyright policy, have not participated in its formation and are assigned no role in overseeing it. Several senators criticized the draft's proposal for the composition of a standing committee to review disputes under the new policy—a committee appointed by the Provost and from which appeals would be decided by the President.

The Provost assured senators that this provision would be changed when the committee revises the policy statement after the comment period expires on April 7. There were also questions about the distinction between "traditional" works—articles, books, dissertations—for which copyright would continue to belong to the creator, and certain works in "new media" for which copyright would belong to the University. Some senators expressed discomfort with the draft policy's special provision for the handling of software, with a requirement that creators disclose any new works to the University and seek clearance before disseminating them.

Sen. Gerard Lynch (Ten., Law) presented a resolution, approved by the faculty caucuses shortly before the meeting, asserting the Senate's right to refer the policy to the Senate Faculty Affairs Committee and vote on it at its final meeting of the year, on April 28.

Lynch argued that a policy with such broad implications for faculty and students should be formally debated and acted upon by an institution designed to represent those groups.

Lynch praised the provost's efforts to solicit discussion and comment on the policy and made clear that the resolution did not rest on any particular "constitutional" claims about the Senate's role. He said that if the Senate voted in April to delay consideration of a policy until the fall, or to amend a revised version of the proposed policy, the administration might offer the Provostial committee's final draft to the Trustees anyway, though he hoped that the Trustees would at least be informed of the Senate's recommendations.

Parliamentarian Howard Jacobson said the resolution could not be voted on, since Senate by-laws require resolutions introduced on the floor to be referred to committee. In response to Lynch's call for an informal agreement to debate and vote on the proposed policy at the April meeting, the president said the Executive Committee would address the resolution, and take responsibility for assuring consultations with appropriate Senate committees (along with a possible role for Senate representatives at remaining drafting sessions of the provost's committee), and for arrangements for bringing the final version back to the Senate in April. He said the sentiments at the meeting had been clearly heard.

Finally, without discussion, the Senate approved a new M.A. program in museum anthropology.