Bollinger Answers Student Demands
Bollinger Proposes Multicultural Office; Students Unsatisfied

By Morgan Sellers
Spectator Staff Writer
March 02, 2004

After two meetings with student leaders regarding the campus climate toward racism and discrimination, University President Lee Bollinger has agreed to institute a new Multicultural Affairs Office.

But the students who submitted the original proposal to the administration last week say that Bollinger failed to address all of their concerns.

"We had an agreement that [the administration] would respond in detail to each of the proposed points presented to them," said David Johns, CC '04 and one of the students who met with Bollinger last week. "This did not happen."

Bollinger was unavailable for comment.

The letter from Bollinger praises "the dignified and thoughtful way in which you have brought your concerns and proposals to us for discussion and action," but does not address Thursday's student proposal directly. Instead, it focuses on larger areas that encompass a number of the students' demands.

One of these is the "infrastructure of diversity," which Bollinger describes as "less well-developed at Columbia than it should be."

Bollinger calls for a Multicultural Affairs Office that would be "closely affiliated" with the Division of Student Affairs in Columbia College and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Various other universities, including Brown, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania, already have similar offices.

The letter describes some of the tasks of the office as advising student groups, advocating for minority populations, and "providing diversity training to constituencies within the College and SEAS," but did not discuss when this office would be instituted.

While the Multicultural Affairs Office was included in the students' proposal last week, that statement also called for three new administrative positions and a Committee on Diversity. None of these suggestions are addressed in the response.

The other large area that Bollinger addresses is the composition and diversity of Columbia's faculty, and the structure and scope of the curriculum. According to the letter, a faculty committee has already been meeting to examine these issues. Bollinger says that he will soon meet with that committee to discuss how to increase the faculty's "racial and gender diversity," and how to improve the curriculum's dealing with "issues of multiculturalism."

In his response, Bollinger also calls for an examination of the role and structure of special-interest housing, the Intercultural Resource Center, and the Intercultural House, as well as the strengthening of the Institute for Research in African American Studies, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, and the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race.

While the letter does not specifically address the students' call for the development of a Core class, it calls for the continued examination of "all areas of our undergraduate curriculum."

The letter makes clear that the University will not make any move to impose restrictions on free speech in public debate, but does acknowledge that "verbal harassment ... directed at individuals has long been held to be outside the limits of freedom of speech."

The letter concludes with a statement saying that Bollinger hopes to work with students and faculty to develop a series of more concrete proposals in the coming months.

According to Johns, the students are "disheartened" by the failure of the administration to directly address their proposal, but are committed to "achieving a Columbia that is committed to fostering an environment of true intellectual and scholarly discourse."

"We have consistently said that we are open to negotiation," said Reggie Gossett, CC '06 and another student who met with the administration.

Johns said that Bollinger's response was additional motivation for students to continue "educating the campus, and elucidating the fact that this is not a minority issue."

The student representatives, along with Columbia University Concerned Students of Color and other campus groups, are planning to hold a town hall meeting in the coming days. The United Students of Color Council will post both the students' proposal and Bollinger's response on their Web site.


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