Updated at 4:57 pm on April 20.
Student-workers are expected to return to work on Monday, April 5, after the Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers’ bargaining committee voted 7-3 on Friday to pause the strike. The committee accepted the University’s offer, which called for mediation with a corresponding strike pause. Student-workers, who have been striking since March 15, retain the right to strike at any point....
I fell in love with Columbia immediately upon my first campus tour. The tour guide described the Core Curriculum, the group passed a protest on College Walk, and I found myself agape at the extraordinary energy that flows through this campus. I already reveled in free discourse and worshipped the First Amendment, and Columbia seemed like the ultimate expression of it. These days, I remain grateful beyond words for the laws that permit virtually any kind of speech at any time—and for a campus that puts its political freedoms into action. Lately, though, I've been thinking maybe we can do better. Having mastered our legal opportunities for freedom of speech, perhaps we can attain an even higher level of discourse. The challenge we face today is to organize a society based on a meaningful exchange of ideas rather than their mere promulgation. Currently, organizations on differing sides promote their views in isolation and without communication. Student groups animate our university with campaigns for the causes they believe in, battling each other for the persuasion of administrators and fellow students. For this they deserve appreciation, as they consist of hard-working, earnest students seeking to make our community a better place. But in working to persuade decision-makers to adopt their reforms, opposing sides rarely discuss issues directly with each other. The political activity that enlivens our campus occurs only in separated strands of discourse—segregated elements of speech that seldom reach any synthesis. Because student groups so rarely confront one another with disagreement, there is almost no chance for their arguments to engage with each other. The tragedy of Columbia's discourse—at first appearing vibrantly expressive of free speech—lies in the forgone opportunities for proponents to learn and enrich their beliefs from one another. Institutions that might mediate, impartially, among contrasting organizations are few and usually prejudiced. Many forums that claim to support dialogue premise their discussions on highly controversial ideas and remain hostile to having them challenged. A course from the Center for American Studies, for example, aims to explore "the role of conscious and unconscious racism, as well as community biases against the poor" in the American criminal justice system. A more open dialogue would have begun with an examination of the premise—whether or not such biases exist in the first place—instead of limiting the discussion to those who already agree with it. Similarly, some student groups claim to facilitate respectful dialogue but aim to address issues of structural oppression and privilege. They are hostile to disputes of their premises, i.e., whether structural oppression exists and whether its remedies are appropriate. Their approaches circumscribe discourse within a shared reality, attracting only like-minded people and precluding exchanges of ideas that are fundamentally and meaningfully challenging. Clearly, our university needs stronger mediator organizations—but maybe we can do even better than that. Maybe it is possible to achieve an environment in which differences confront each other voluntarily, in which organizations willingly engage with their opponents, and in which, as William Blake wrote, "Opposition is true friendship." Such interactions may already be frequent at Columbia on an individual basis, but among organizations they are exceedingly rare. For example, an alarming number of groups purport to represent objective notions of "justice" or "the public interest" and consequently spurn dialogue with others. Characterizing themselves as objectively and indisputably correct, they seek to advance their points of view without confronting others who disagree. But the very foundation of a pluralistic society is that individuals all hold different beliefs about what "justice" or "the public interest" comprise. The attitude of objective rectitude obstructs meaningful interactions among organizations, fostering a closed, intolerant field of discourse. Blake envisioned a situation in which two parties respected each other's individuality so highly that their ideological opposition would constitute the most honest form of human relations. Applied to student groups, such a world would not require mediator institutions, as groups would be self-mediating. A shared embrace of all differences in opinion as equal would mean that student groups would willingly enter into dialogue with each other, fostering richer debates and more nuanced solutions. Even if decision-makers chose one side over the other, the reforms offered would be better informed and more carefully vetted, having engaged with and responded to opposition. Through these interactions, organizations would be wiser from experience and richer from understandings of multiple perspectives. Our campus's discourse would rise to permit all types of rhetoric—even, or perhaps especially, that which makes others feel uncomfortable, offended, or "unsafe." An education that trains groups to be self-regulating and a campus whose organizations eagerly seek engagement—that is perhaps the highest form of pluralistic society. The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in English and political science. He was a deputy news editor on the 132nd deputy board and an opinion columnist in spring 2010....