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Columbia Spectator Staff

The University Senate closed its year on Friday with a heated debate over the merits of the Reserve Officer Training Corp and University President Lee Bollinger's first public comments on the ongoing graduate student strike.

The lengthy meeting featured a plethora of end-of-the-year committee reports and resolutions, attracting a significantly larger group than usual. It drew a three-fifths majority of sitting senators for just the third time this year, as well as many of the newly-elected senators for the next academic year.

The meeting served as a sort of who's who for the new senators, with several top administrators present and participating in discussions. Bollinger, University Provost Alan Brinkley, and acting Vice President of Arts and Sciences Ira Katznelson all spoke at the meeting, while Graduate School of Arts and Sciences dean Henry Pinkham, one of the central figures in the graduate student unionization debate, sat silently in one of the back rows.

As senators walked into the meeting they were greeted by Graduate Students Employee United picketers, who handed out fliers and wore signs with messages such as, "If we're not workers, we won't work." Appropriately, the GSEU strike was the first discussion item on the agenda, with a statement from Bollinger and an impassioned rebuttal from GSAS student senator and GSEU member Coilin Parsons.

"My position ... is that the graduate students and the administration will be better if we do not have a union acting as an intermediary between graduate students and the faculty," Bollinger said, adding that "there's nothing the University can do" to speed up the appeal process.

Parsons countered, saying "It's not out of your hands. There's another perfectly acceptable way to go about it, and that is by dropping the appeal. We now have the legal right to form a union, and the University is trying to take that right away."

Bollinger did not allow extensive discussion on the matter, citing the busy agenda. He made a point of emphasizing that "this is not a life-or-death struggle for the University as we know it. We believe that it would be ill-advised and not in the best interest of the University over time, but it is not a position that says this is a life or death struggle."

The senate was able to breeze through a number of non-controversial proposals, including two on new graduate-level degrees, before broaching the touchy subjects. The group unanimously approved a resolution on General Studies housing that was a significantly watered down version of a controversial measure at the March meeting.

That proposal, which drew sharp rebuke in March from Pinkham, would have recommended that Institutional Real Estate administrators allocate spaces in three specific buildings to General Studies students in order to improve the sense of community within GS. This month's proposal lacked any specific references, stating only that the senate recommended that IRE address the problem.

A proposal to recommend changes to the University diploma sparked somewhat unexpected controversy when Bollinger voiced concerns with the resolution. General Studies student senator and student caucus co-chair Matan Ariel gave a lengthy presentation of the proposal, which was largely his creation, before Bollinger interrupted.

"I would not recommend that we as a senate recommend one [new diploma design] or two or three," Bollinger said. Since ulitmately this has to come to us, the administration, I do not think I could take that recommendation. Can I propose that we not have a vote and we'll diligently pursue it with the Trustees?"

As Ariel shook his head from the podium, student caucus co-chair Nate Walker stood up.

"No. The advice of the administration in September was 'tell us what the students want and conduct a student vote,'" he said.

Although two other senators raised concerns about the proposal, it passed relatively easily.

The debate over the question of whether to return ROTC to campus took place as most senators--including Bollinger--were streaming out after a two hour meeting. Several members brought up opposition to the plan, primarily to the controversial "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" mililtary policy that prevents open homosexuals from enlistment. Despite resolution sponsor Michael Adler's disapproval, the discussion was cut short because of the few remaining participants.

The senate will resume with its 2004-2005 session on September 24.