After Columbia University College Republicans invited white nationalist speakers Mike Cernovich and Tommy Robinson to campus, hundreds of students reacted with outrage and organized protests, rallies, and marches against the speakers. The Black Students’ Organization even created a petition calling for Columbia College Student Council to defund CUCR altogether because of the high security costs of its events, which prompted the University to absorb these costs. Despite this year of controversy, University President Lee Bollinger has remained firm on his stance regarding free expression, stating that Columbia will continue to allow for speakers of a variety of different ideologies onto campus, even potentially offensive and hateful ones.
Graduate student unionization battle climaxes in weeklong strike
Graduate student union supporters began the year fighting allegations of impropriety from the University after their election on whether to unionize. Even as Trump appointees began to fill the National Labor Relations Board, the union won certification and increased pressure for Columbia to begin bargaining. After months of protests, petitions, and threats of legal action, the union voted to strike, and thousands of grad students walked out of Core classes, labs, and recitations in the week before finals.
Amid federal policy changes, sexual misconduct allegations and investigations persist at Columbia
This year, allegations of sexual impropriety have led to the removal or resignation of several University faculty members, in line with national momentum surrounding the #MeToo movement. History professor William Harris was fired in November after a student alleged that he groped her without consent. In January, photography professor Thomas Roma stepped down after five students accused him of sexual assault. Neuroscience researcher Thomas Jessell was relieved of his duties in March after engaging in an illicit relationship with a lab member. In September, the U.S. Department of Education relaxed Obama-era policies mandating severe disciplinary action in sexual assault investigations. Columbia currently faces five such investigations. On the heels of Department of Education’s policy change, a report by the sexual health initiative SHIFT found that one in three women will face sexual assault during her time at Columbia.
Progress in several faculty-related issues is limited, despite University awareness
A lack of funding for the Arts and Sciences has resulted in a decline in course offerings as departments are unable to replace tenured faculty when they go on leave. Junior faculty, who frequently face the burden of high childcare costs and receive little financial assistance from the University, also feel the effects of this insufficient funding. The University announced a new, landmark commitment to faculty diversity, but graduate school students remain predominantly white, and the number of faculty of color has stalled in recent years. Additionally, some faculty are trying to clarify the role that teaching ability plays in the tenure process, where it is currently second to research contributions.
As student body becomes increasingly diverse, students of color call for increased support
Despite being the most diverse Ivy, Columbia still has a long way to go in terms of inclusivity. Evidenced by a range of student concerns concerning a lack of institutional support, inadequate faculty training, and an overwhelming whiteness in student groups and academic fields, the administration still struggles to provide comprehensive solutions to the problems that students of color face on a daily basis.
President Sian Beilock becomes Barnard’s eighth president amidst clashes with student activists
President Sian Beilock was welcomed to campus despite disappointment from some that Barnard’s next president would not be a woman of color and concerns regarding her past ties to anti-union activity while at the University of Chicago. In February, she was inaugurated and shared her vision for Barnard, amid pro-union protests. Later, the college was accused of violating its own code of conduct concerning its treatment of student protesters, which it denied. In an effort to improve student and alumnae advising, Beilock announced massive consolidation of resources under the new initiative Beyond Barnard. The year ended with renewed tensions when Beilock announced the college would not consider divestment from eight companies with ties to Israel after students voted to pass a referendum that encourages Barnard’s Student Government Association to make a formal request to the college.