University Senate Meets, Responds to MEALAC Debate

From the archive (legacy material)

Lisa Hirschmann | Columbia Spectator | 28 February 2005

The University Senate returned to its discussion of improving Columbia’s grievance procedures on Friday in response to the ongoing MEALAC controversy, but it began with President Bollinger’s first public criticism of the New York City Department of Education’s recent dismissal of Rashid Khalidi from a program for secondary school teachers on instruction about the Middle East.
Bollinger called the dismissal of Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, a “very, very serious matter” and said that the University believes the Department of Education’s actions were “wrong.”
“When the city, acting as the state for constitutional purposes, declares that it will not permit a person to participate in a program that has been set up and established because of purported views of that person on other matters, matters of public concern, public issues, that is very clearly what is called viewpoint discrimination, and at the very least, indicates deep, deep first amendment concerns,” Bollinger said .
After the New York Sun printed an article on Feb. 15 stating that Khalidi was a participant in the city’s program, the Department of Education decided not to include him due to political views he has purportedly expressed regarding the Middle East.
“We believe that the position of the Department of Education on this is wrong, not only as a matter of constitutional law, but as a matter of good policy and as a matter of good conduct of education,” Bollinger said.
Columbia has provided education to secondary school teachers through the program for 10 years as part of its efforts to serve the public.
“I want it to be clear that we have taken a position on this, and that it is in our judgment wrong—deeply hurtful to every institution and to our educational system—and we’re hopeful that we can resolve this with the Department of Education,” he maintained.
The University President said that whether or not Columbia will continue to be a part of the program depends on discussion in the coming weeks with the Department of Education.
After Bollinger’s comments, the Senate continued with its main matter of concern for the Friday agenda, which was the University’s grievance procedures.
The grievance procedures discussion focused on the proposed resolution to establish an appeals procedure for student complaints. The Senate Student Affairs Committee put forth the resolution.
“The committee shouldn’t just be fair, but it should also appear that way from the outside,” said Matan Ariel, GS ’06, Senate Student Affairs Committee Co-Chair, of any grievance committee.
Professor Robert Pollack questioned the authority of any committee, body, or dean to deliver and execute a verdict in response to a student grievance.
“What could it possibly decide?” he asked, advocating instead a smaller scale response system under which students could complain to a Dean of Students, instead of the Dean of the Department, who could then in turn communicate directly with the faculty member involved.
“I’m worried about the student getting his $40,000 worth when it comes to grievances,” he said after the meeting.
Pollack pointed out that Barnard currently has a grievance procedure system that is more effective than Columbia’s because it deals with complaints in a more private and personal way, directly communicating with the professor in question.
Law Professor Jeremy Waldron pointed out that the mode of failure of a grievance procedure is frequently that the grievant is dissatisfied with the final decision of a committee. He suggested that specific guidelines be set forth articulating under what circumstances a grievant may appeal a committee’s decision.
But the proposal to add an appeals procedure was not adopted at Friday’s session.
At the meeting, Lamont-Doherty Research Scientist Maya Tolstoy also presented a report on the Earth Observatory’s contributions to the University, and James Applegate, co-chair of the ROTC Task Force Committee, presented a report on the Town Hall Meeting about the issue at Columbia on Feb. 15.