Research and learning cannot take place if students are not being supported both mentally and physically. Though Columbia prides itself on being a “leading center for research and a diverse environment that facilitates student learning,” we as a community must constantly hold the administration accountable for making this mission a reality. That means that the University is obligated to provide students with the tools necessary to make the most of their educational experience.

The University should be providing, or at the very least subsidizing, basic necessities so that students can focus on their studies. The administration has already begun to enact some policies to alleviate the daily pressure on students, such as having an emergency meal plan for students who are dealing with food insecurity, providing feminine hygiene products in bathrooms around campus, and offering group therapy sessions for students dealing with mental illness. While we can congratulate the University on taking action on these issues, we should still stop short of being content with these changes alone.

The amount of student suicides in the past few years is a grim sign that the University is failing to tackle the mental health problems its students face. The constant reports of sexual assault cases on campus highlight the shortcomings in sexual assault prevention and the support of victims. And there needs to be more disability access around campus so students with physical disabilities do not have to worry about how they will get to class. If the administrators want to provide for this school and its students, they should be open to hearing suggestions from students and professors on how the environment can be improved moving forward.

As a member of Columbia College Student Council, I have experience working with the administration and know that many changes are spearheaded by students themselves. For example, appointed and elected members of CCSC have been working alongside the Center for Student Advising, Counseling and Psychological Services, and Disability Services to ensure that each department is privy to the concerns of students across various aspects of their mental, physical, and academic lives. Since the University actively cultivates a diverse student body by seeking out a variety of students with different backgrounds and abilities, it only makes sense that the administration must take responsibility for meeting students’ diverse needs. That is why it is important for students to push the administration to do more, whether through protest or direct collaboration.

The role of a university is to challenge students academically while also providing outlets for them to nurture their minds and bodies. Students at Columbia might make it seem as though they only exist within the confines of their classrooms and their research, but that is never the case. Can a student who’s constantly hungry or suffering from a traumatic experience really be expected to perform well on tests?

Research and learning cannot take place if students are not being supported both mentally and physically. Though Columbia prides itself on being a “leading center for research and a diverse environment that facilitates student learning,” we as a community must constantly hold the administration accountable for making this mission a reality. That means that the University is obligated to provide students with the tools necessary to make the most of their educational experience.

The University should be providing, or at the very least subsidizing, basic necessities so that students can focus on their studies. The administration has already begun to enact some policies to alleviate the daily pressure on students, such as having an emergency meal plan for students who are dealing with food insecurity, providing feminine hygiene products in bathrooms around campus, and offering group therapy sessions for students dealing with mental illness. While we can congratulate the University on taking action on these issues, we should still stop short of being content with these changes alone.

The amount of student suicides in the past few years is a grim sign that the University is failing to tackle the mental health problems its students face. The constant reports of sexual assault cases on campus highlight the shortcomings in sexual assault prevention and the support of victims. And there needs to be more disability access around campus so students with physical disabilities do not have to worry about how they will get to class. If the administrators want to provide for this school and its students, they should be open to hearing suggestions from students and professors on how the environment can be improved moving forward.

Elise Fuller is a junior in Columbia College majoring in anthropology. She serves as the inclusion and equity representative for CCSC and the campus liaison for Black Students’ Organization. You can always find her in Café East discussing the nuances and diversity of bubble tea flavors.

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By ELISE FULLER
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Discourse & Debate: What does a university owe its students beyond education?

What does a university owe its students beyond education? What role should a university play in the individual needs and lives of its students? Are we, as a community, too hard on the administration?

Columbia, along with most other universities in the United States, has undergone a dramatic evolution in its commitment to overseeing the daily lives of its students. Prior to the 1960s, the doctrine of in loco parentis guided universities’ policies regarding the personal lives of their students. Universities enforced strict curfews, alcohol was prohibited, sexual promiscuity carefully monitored, and moral reprobates unceremoniously expelled. No more. In turn, the modern university affords its students free reign, turning a blind eye to rampant underage drinking, ethically questionable decision making, and subversive speech.

The marked differences between these two models actually derive from a far more fundamental debate regarding the University’s obligations to its students. Founded as an Anglican institution, Columbia professed fidelity to what it considered to be certain eternal verities for a fair amount of its history, and sought to impart those truths to its students. Hence Columbia’s motto: “In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen,” which translates to “In Your light we shall see light.” The study of the arts and sciences was to be conducted through the prism of a theistic worldview. Quite reasonably, a certain conception of the University’s obligations toward its students would follow. If Columbia desired to educate its students within a religious paradigm (however capacious that paradigm was), they thought they ought to ensure a certain level of obedience to religious precepts as well.

Columbia’s mission today is quite different to that which was envisioned by its founders. No longer viewing its objective as imparting truths to its students, Columbia now seeks to promote the critical thinking skills of undergraduates. Students study Contemporary Civilization in order to be “introduc[ed] to a range of issues concerning the kinds of communities—political, social, moral, and religious—that human beings construct for themselves.” Notice the decidedly value-neutral explanation for the significance of the Core. Naturally, Columbia’s posture regarding its academic responsibilities to students herald its neutral posture regarding its responsibilities to their personal lives, as well.

This is no coincidence. Columbia would be guilty of the rankest hypocrisy if it claimed to trust its students to explore the diversity of their intellectual experience but did not trust them to adventure socially and ethically, as well. The role the University plays in the individual lives of its students cannot be assessed without considering its role in providing us an education—the two are inextricably linked. Students who wish the University would assume a stronger role in their personal lives must concede that their argument justifies a similar call for increased intellectual paternalism.

I prefer that the University err on the side of intellectual and ethical risk-taking. Ultimately, Columbia is an institution of higher learning and its primary aim ought to be the instruction of its students in an academic discipline. Does that mean that the University should focus on providing its students an education to the exclusion of all else? Surely not. Though providing a first-rate intellectual experience ought to be Columbia’s principal objective in order to facilitate the environment most conducive to higher learning, providing for certain ancillary services will also come under the administration’s purview. Thus, the administration should ensure that its students have access to basic hygienic requirements and health services. We can quibble endlessly over whether tampons or toothbrushes should be categorized as “basic hygienic needs” or not, but resolving that question is utterly uninteresting. Beyond delivering these essential services, Columbia should do little to involve itself in the personal lives of its students.

Columbia, along with most other universities in the United States, has undergone a dramatic evolution in its commitment to overseeing the daily lives of its students. Prior to the 1960s, the doctrine of in loco parentis guided universities’ policies regarding the personal lives of their students. Universities enforced strict curfews, alcohol was prohibited, sexual promiscuity carefully monitored, and moral reprobates unceremoniously expelled. No more. In turn, the modern university affords its students free reign, turning a blind eye to rampant underage drinking, ethically questionable decision making, and subversive speech.

The marked differences between these two models actually derive from a far more fundamental debate regarding the University’s obligations to its students. Founded as an Anglican institution, Columbia professed fidelity to what it considered to be certain eternal verities for a fair amount of its history, and sought to impart those truths to its students. Hence Columbia’s motto: “In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen,” which translates to “In Your light we shall see light.” The study of the arts and sciences was to be conducted through the prism of a theistic worldview. Quite reasonably, a certain conception of the University’s obligations toward its students would follow. If Columbia desired to educate its students within a religious paradigm (however capacious that paradigm was), they thought they ought to ensure a certain level of obedience to religious precepts as well.

Columbia’s mission today is quite different to that which was envisioned by its founders. No longer viewing its objective as imparting truths to its students, Columbia now seeks to promote the critical thinking skills of undergraduates. Students study Contemporary Civilization in order to be “introduc[ed] to a range of issues concerning the kinds of communities—political, social, moral, and religious—that human beings construct for themselves.” Notice the decidedly value-neutral explanation for the significance of the Core. Naturally, Columbia’s posture regarding its academic responsibilities to students herald its neutral posture regarding its responsibilities to their personal lives, as well.

Benjamin Apfel is a senior studying philosophy at Columbia College. Before arriving at Columbia, he spent a year in an ultra-Orthodox seminary in Jerusalem where he studied Talmudic texts in Yiddish.

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By BENJAMIN APFEL
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Providing education is not a university’s sole prerogative; Columbia’s administration should not be expected to only provide spaces for classes, pay the teachers, and then call it a day. They must provide a place for students to eat, sleep, work, and socialize—they must create an ecosystem in which students are able to benefit from the educations they are promised.

The time when this responsibility becomes murky is when the University attempts to act as a surrogate parent by policing the behaviors of individuals in the name of greater safety or a greater good. Repeated mismanagement of this relationship reveals the shortcomings of our university’s administration. Though the administration has the resources to deal with some of the large-scale issues on campus, we should not look to it to adequately address more nuanced issues.

Take the misguided attempts to address rape culture during Bacchanal: Amid rumors that the entire event would be canceled, the administration instead denied relation to the question of sexual assault and decided to implement a system in which students would be sectioned into pens during the concert, apparently to promote safety during the chaos of Bacchanal. This “solution” underscores the fundamental problem with how the administration chooses to deal with rape culture—the imposition of these paternalistic rules implied that the only way to avoid sexual assault is to police the behavior of the student body at large. In contrast, we would expect an actual parent to find a way to curb the behavior of the potential attackers rather than doling out a blanket punishment. Though this policy may have promoted temporary safety, real solutions require a much more nuanced understanding of the challenges.

The fact is that the administration’s structure makes it impossible for it to fully address the concerns of the student body. Not only are members of the administration removed from the day-to-day lives of students, but they also have to weigh concerns such as negative public perception and the legal liabilities the University takes on with each issue they address. Instead of tackling these issues head-on, they often opt to fabricate committees and positions to broadly evaluate issues such as mental health and rape culture. While the intentions make sense, the effect is that students get a more opaque and expensive bureaucracy with little tangible change.

Or, the University leans the opposite way, instituting sweeping measures, much like the Bacchanal plan or the revamping of the Rules of Conduct, that inspire more criticism and frustration. Though in both instances the aim of the University was to address a direct issue, the consequences of its solutions themselves were problematic.

When we ask people far-removed from the student body to fix the problems we face on a daily basis, we leave room for paternalistic and misguided measures. The administration is unable to be an arbitrator of social relationships in any way that feels personal or effective—that is the simple truth of their lofty position. Criticism of the University is useful because it helps to continually redefine the relationship of the administration to its students and holds administrators to higher standards.

At times, though, I worry that we use mismanagement by the administration as a scapegoat for our larger problems. Because it operates as the final authority for all its students, we have to be conscious of the limitations of the University. It doesn’t have the intimacy with students required to create tailored and nuanced solutions, like those we have grown up to expect from our parents or teachers, who know us personally.

The University must always be pushed to do more, but it is not equipped to be a surrogate parent. Thus, we must promote and rely on more personal administrative arms like resident advisers and student interest groups to formulate more concrete and effective solutions, so the administration can serve its rightful function as a facilitator, not an instrument of change.

Providing education is not a university’s sole prerogative; Columbia’s administration should not be expected to only provide spaces for classes, pay the teachers, and then call it a day. They must provide a place for students to eat, sleep, work, and socialize—they must create an ecosystem in which students are able to benefit from the educations they are promised.

The time when this responsibility becomes murky is when the University attempts to act as a surrogate parent by policing the behaviors of individuals in the name of greater safety or a greater good. Repeated mismanagement of this relationship reveals the shortcomings of our university’s administration. Though the administration has the resources to deal with some of the large-scale issues on campus, we should not look to it to adequately address more nuanced issues.

Ayo Osobamiro is a senior in Columbia College disappointing her parents by studying history and French literature. You can usually find her on campus schlepping various items for the student productions she works on, cracking cheesy jokes on her URC tours, or binge-watching reality TV in Butler.

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By AYO OSOBAMIRO

Let’s say you and I are running a five-kilometer race, but you start out two kilometers ahead of me.

At the end of the race, when you receive the first-place trophy, I’m going to get angry—and rightly so. I’ll say that it wasn’t a fair contest, because you started out ahead of me, and that I don’t deserve second place. But the more interesting thing is that you can’t be said to deserve the first-place trophy, because there wasn’t a fair meritocratic system in place. The game itself was unfair.

The analogy works with education, as well. Regardless of what side of “the line of privilege” you fall on (or how far you are from it), you should be concerned with doing away with inequalities that impede equal access to a quality education. The fact that inequalities exist damages everyone, regardless of how well-off you are. Equality of opportunity is the only way we can be sure that the goals we achieve are legitimate, and the honors we receive are deserved. If the game isn’t fair, then no one can really be called the winner.

With this in mind, it’s hard to say that the current level of critique against the administration is too harsh. We are invested in this community and want to see it change for the better. The reason we’re all here is because we want to be a part of this space, to help it grow, and to grow with it. But that means we have to be committed to ensuring an equal opportunity for any student who has shown their merits. Columbia is a placing of learning, and it should value critical minds above all else. We want to be a part of a community that fosters the most promising young minds of a generation—and in all honesty, that does not seem like too much to ask from the University.

But that means we need a university committed to equality of education and everything that comes with it. And it might seem like I’m just talking about textbooks and scholarships, but I’m not. There should be no natural impediment that a student cannot overcome. It can sometimes feel like you’re drowning, hoping the University will throw a lifesaver (this example may seem extreme, but on a campus that struggles with mental health at large, I feel it is apt). Students cannot concentrate on their studies if they constantly feel removed from this community, if they don’t feel valued, or if they feel cast aside. And it is the University’s duty to combat that, not just as a place of education, but as a social institution.

As an administration that prides itself on values of globalism and free thought, Columbia must recognize that social institutions at large have obligations to the human beings that help compose them. We are students, yes, but we are human beings first. As such, not solely for the sake of learning, but also from an understanding that human beings in need of aid are deserving of it, our university should be committed to lifting any impediment that may curb a student’s achievement.

This may seem like a lot to ask for, but it shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t feel bad asking for things; you don’t get what you don’t ask for. And, in all honesty, everyone would be better off for it, including the people who don’t need to ask in the first place.

Let’s say you and I are running a five-kilometer race, but you start out two kilometers ahead of me.

At the end of the race, when you receive the first-place trophy, I’m going to get angry—and rightly so. I’ll say that it wasn’t a fair contest, because you started out ahead of me, and that I don’t deserve second place. But the more interesting thing is that you can’t be said to deserve the first-place trophy, because there wasn’t a fair meritocratic system in place. The game itself was unfair.

Dan Driscoll is a Columbia College sophomore studying philosophy and English. Please message him if you are confused about this piece—he is, too, and could use your help figuring it out.

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By DAN DRISCOLL

I am baffled by a recurring contradiction. Most students agree that the Columbia administration is inept. However, many of those same students simultaneously demand that the Columbia administration do and provide more. They forget that the people implementing those demands will be none other than the incompetent members of the bureaucracy they earlier decried. Do students believe that the more power, funding, and responsibility we afford Columbia, the more helpful and efficient it will become?

Centralized institutions are incapable of meeting the diverse needs and priorities of tens of thousands of individuals. Therefore, upon demanding services beyond Columbia’s capabilities, students should not be surprised when they remain unsatisfied. Columbia first and foremost owes its students a rigorous education and a rich “college experience.” After that, I stress that the University, in endeavoring to meet the first two goals, must also avoid imposing an excessive economic burden on its students.

In terms of general cultural issues, the Columbia administration would go bankrupt before eliminating complex social phenomena like stress culture and campus sexual assault, however defined. Sure, we could tinker at the margins, spending a few million here and a few million there. But, in short, no amount of money can change human behavior. However cynical this seems, it may just be the case that elite institutions, especially those located in an isolating metropolis, attract individuals who go to great, sometimes excessive, lengths to follow their ambition. This is neither to say that there are no measures we can take to mitigate the damage, nor to say that we should not hold Columbia accountable for how it responds to tragedies and crimes after the fact. But before going in to prevent the problems, it is necessary that one be realistic about the results and mindful of the costs.

Irrespective of any past culpability, we cannot expect Columbia to do anything of which it is incapable.

Students have demanded Columbia provide specific items and services for “free.” But if most students can procure these by themselves, let them. Justifying a subsidy for all students because a particular item or service is expensive is fallacious—making Columbia shoulder the cost does nothing to eliminate the underlying scarcity of a resource, especially given the University’s reliance on student tuition. Of course, while other sources of revenue such as returns on the endowment and alumni donations might help fund demanded resources, such funds should instead go toward countering the annual increase in tuition. This would ease the burden that Columbia itself imposes on students, and free up student cash, thereby precluding the need for institutional intervention in the first place.

Columbia owes its students the liberty to live and learn without unnecessary bureaucratic inefficiency. If the University were to provide students with certain hygienic necessities, for instance, students would likely end up paying even more overall than before Columbia involved itself. And this is before one even considers the reduction in freedom of choice, the frustration in navigating the Columbia bureaucracy just to claim the goods and services to which your tuition entitles you, and the distortions of supply and demand—at a lower price, students will consume a greater quantity of a good or service than at the equilibrium market price. More stuff means more money.

But the costs do not end merely at the economic. The first study of its kind found that those who had higher amounts of debt incurred from student loans reported higher levels of depressive symptoms. Might new administrative offices, programs, and giveaways, largely responsible for the dramatic increases in tuition, actually exacerbate the issues they intended to combat?

I am baffled by a recurring contradiction. Most students agree that the Columbia administration is inept. However, many of those same students simultaneously demand that the Columbia administration do and provide more. They forget that the people implementing those demands will be none other than the incompetent members of the bureaucracy they earlier decried. Do students believe that the more power, funding, and responsibility we afford Columbia, the more helpful and efficient it will become?

Centralized institutions are incapable of meeting the diverse needs and priorities of tens of thousands of individuals. Therefore, upon demanding services beyond Columbia’s capabilities, students should not be surprised when they remain unsatisfied. Columbia first and foremost owes its students a rigorous education and a rich “college experience.” After that, I stress that the University, in endeavoring to meet the first two goals, must also avoid imposing an excessive economic burden on its students.

Joseph Siegel is a sophomore in Columbia College studying philosophy and economics. If what you read of his today makes you at all angry, please be sure to avoid directing feedback to any Joseph Siegals, Seigels, or Spiegels.

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By JOSEPH SIEGEL

To respond to this installment of Discourse & Debate, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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