Columbia College Student Council should be an example of transparency to the Columbia administration. Yet, the student council, along with the Columbia Elections Board, does not adequately advertise its own elections, showing that its leadership is too far removed from the student body.
Students at Columbia regularly accuse the administration—often rightfully so—of lacking transparency, perhaps most visibly in the contexts of sexual assault and mental health, but also in the context of smaller decisions, such as the removal of Orgo Night from Butler last semester. Indeed, CCSC members have themselves criticized the administration for its opacity. In its platform last spring, the current CCSC Executive Board promised both “administrative transparency” and “CCSC accountability.”
But in order to best advocate for administrative transparency, CCSC itself must be transparent and readily open to all Columbia students.
Last spring, three of the five winning candidates for CCSC Executive Board ran unopposed. Following the election, I heard many students complain that the opportunities to run for council had not been properly advertised, and that the elections process favored those who had already been involved in student government at Columbia.
As far as I could tell, this year’s election Facebook event page was originally the only public notice of the upcoming CCSC and Engineering Student Council elections. At the time of the initial deadline to register to run, just 359 students total were “attending,” “interested,” or “invited” to the event. According to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, Columbia College and SEAS combined include about 6,000 students.
Of the 41 students who responded “attending” to the Facebook event, 26 were incumbent elected members of CCSC or ESC. Thankfully, CCSC noticed the problem before campaigning began. But just barely.
Although registration to run for CCSC this spring was due on March 21 at 11:59 p.m., at 11:24 p.m.—just 35 minutes before the deadline—the CCSC Judicial Board sent an email to the Columbia College student body admitting that “the upcoming CCSC elections had not been advertised as planned due to an internal misstep on CCSC’s part.”
It seems, from the email, that this error was CCSC’s—not CEB’s—fault. Regardless, in the email, the Judicial Board announced that registration for the elections would remain open for two more weeks, delaying the entire election schedule. I applaud the Judicial Board for admitting the council’s error, but the student body deserves a clearer explanation; the email did not include how or why CCSC neglected to email the student body or post the link for candidate registration on Facebook.
Unfortunately, CCSC’s delaying elections this year is emblematic of larger transparency issues within student government at Columbia. University students do not frequently receive updates about what the council is working on. CCSC does not publicly post meeting agendas, so Columbia students do not know when CCSC will discuss particular issues or what council leaders have planned for their next meeting.
CCSC should routinely update its constituents. Posting minutes on its website—as it already does—is a good step, but it is not enough to make sure Columbia students know what their elected representatives are working on.
Columbia students should—and, undoubtedly, will—continue to hold the administration responsible for its seemingly impenetrable bureaucracy and unclear, inefficient decision-making processes. I admire CCSC for its extended efforts to improve mental health on campus and for its work on a host of other issues that undergraduates at Columbia face.
But to build trust within our community, CCSC must make sure Columbia students know what the council is working on, and provide full justification for both its successes and failures. If CCSC does that, the Columbia administration will truly have a model to emulate.
The author is a junior in Columbia College studying history and religion. He is the co-head of Third Wheel Improv and a former deputy news editor for Spectator.