Students and faculty pushed against the lack of clarity around divestment, policies around relationships between faculty and students, and general administrative decision-making procedures during a heated Senate plenary meeting on Friday.
Last winter, tensions reached a new height when members of the Student Affairs Committee pointed to changes that had been made on a policy banning romantic or sexual relationships between faculty and undergraduate students following a Senate-wide vote. In particular, senators decried the purpose of having public meetings given that the policy change was not sanctioned by Senate rules, raising questions about the transparency of Senate and administrative maneuvers.
Before the start of set agenda items, GSAS Senator Andrew Hsu pointed to a number of frustrations regarding Senate functions, including the the lack of attendance by University President Lee Bollinger, who has attended one of five Senate meetings since the start of the semester, and missing communication in regard to a newly posted policy on faculty-undergraduate student relationships.
“I just wanted to say for the agenda, I don’t understand why it says the President’s Report when most of the time it’s the provost who is responding,” Hsu said. “It’s really the provost’s report.”
School of Social Work Senator David Cheng also questioned whether the updated faculty-undergraduate relationship policy, which has been posted online but was not re-voted by the Senate after controversy following the changes, was going to be publicized to the student body. In response, moderator Sharyn O’Halloran urged Cheng to use Senate e-lists to spread the word.
The meeting saw a contentious response to an annual report from the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, one of the few officially public announcements released each year from the committee in regard to details of University finances and investment—processes which are historically kept under wraps. ACSRI chair Merritt Fox said that given a lack of divestment proposals from the community, the committee will likely not be considering new proposals this semester and will instead follow up on divestment from companies affiliated with the tobacco and fossil fuel industries based on set criteria.
In response, students voiced concerns about the transparency around these criteria, which have not been revised in recent memory. Administrators clarified that the standards were not set for evaluation in the near future.
“They have not been edited in a long, long time, but members of committee are comfortable with that,” Fox said.
Students additionally asked why all four spots on the committee for graduate and undergraduate representation are currently occupied by Columbia College students, to which Fox clarified that student governing bodies nominate student representatives, among whom the administration then chooses.
However, James Piacentini, GSAPP graduate student and vice-chair of the Student Affairs Commitee, said in response that the SAC—the main body of student representation on the Senate—is limited to putting out the call for student applications and providing a list of interested applicants to the ACSRI board, without direct involvement in the nomination of or appointment of students.
At the plenary, SEAS professor Julia Hirschberg also presented on new technology advancements on behalf of the Informations and Communications Technology Committee, which would digitalize travel expenses for university-related travel expenses. Hirschberg added that she faced difficulties contacting the right administrators within the Office of the Provost and as a result did not have a clear idea of the timeline or rollout of the initiative.
In light of the debate, other faculty expressed similar concerns about administrative functions and bureaucratic opacity at the University level.
“I’ve been here for 30 years, and I still don’t know who decides what at this University,” Business School professor Nachum Sicherman said in light of the debate.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified James Piacentini as the GSAS co-chair of SAC, while he is a student at GSAPP and a vice-chair of SAC. Spectator regrets this error.