News | Administration

University Senate tackles agenda, surprise visitors

The University Senate was back in full swing Friday afternoon, debating a mix of issues both on the agenda and out of left field.

The Senate tackled smoking policy, the academic calendar, and master’s degrees while unexpected speakers talked Manhattanville.

Ben Totushek, GS and a member of the Student Coalition on Expansion and Gentrification, was not on the agenda but was allowed to speak by unanimous consent, and stressed the need for honesty on the part of campus leaders when going forward with Manhattanville. “Reading the minutes of the last meeting, there is a statement by President Bollinger that the community board [CB9] ended up approving the expansion, but that’s not true,” he said. Community Board 9, which oversees the area from West 110th to West 155th streets, rejected Columbia’s 197-c rezoning plan in August 2007. “I just want to urge transparency and academic honesty going forward in this attempt to raise University and community awareness about the benefits of the plan.”

And though she had to wait for the meeting to adjourn to be able to speak—speaking privileges during the meeting are only given to individuals with CUIDs—CB9 member Vicky Gholson said she was concerned that Columbia was cutting the community out of the Manhattanville process and requested the opportunity to make a presentation to the faculty. “I caution you that some of what you’re stating here, if this comes out to the community … it will give the public appearance that you too are impressing or oppressing the inhabitants of the surrounding community,” she said.

Otherwise, it was business as usual as Sharyn O’Halloran, chair of the Executive Committee, called the January plenary meeting of Columbia’s only University-wide legislative body to order in Jerome Greene Hall.

Plenary meetings are traditionally led by University President Lee Bollinger, but he was unable to attend due to an “honest miscommunication in scheduling,” O’Halloran said.

The Senate passed five Business School resolutions, including the election of student senator Tao Tan to the Executive Committee and the creation of four new master’s of science degrees in marketing, financial economics, leadership, and accounting and fundamental analysis.

Meanwhile, a smoking policy is still in the works in a joint collaboration between the Senate and the administration. Recommendations will be forwarded to the External Relations and Research Policy Committee in March, followed by a full Senate vote at the end of the semester. Meanwhile, studies are underway by an inter-committee working group on employment benefits to compare Columbia to similar institutions and propose changes.

Student senators also brought forth a number of additional considerations, most notably a 1,600-signature petition to change the academic calendar for the fall 2010 semester. Andreas Svedin, GSAS and chair of the Student Affairs Caucus, explained that scheduling finals exams through 10 p.m. on Dec. 23 caused problems for students with religious plans.

“1,600 students did come together and said, ‘This is important to us,’” Andrew Springer, a student senator for the Journalism School, said. “We need to take into consideration that some of the schools in our market basket don’t seem to have this problem.”

The petition was referred to the Education Committee, which astronomy professor James Applegate co-chairs. He said the same issue crops up every few years as Labor Day falls later, and pointed to New York state policy about a minimum number of days in a semester as a limiting factor. “This is the type of problem that doesn’t have a solution—it has a compromise,” Applegate said. “The situation is highly constrained in that we cannot shorten the fall semester.”

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