I haven’t been following the story of this year’s hunger strikers at Columbia University, but it somehow makes me feel young again. The Stawberry Statement! Still in print after all these years, I read it in the summer of 1969 and I remember it well. One of author James Simon Kunen’s beefs, as I recall (and I am writing from memory), was the school’s Harlem expansion.
According to the New York Times, the heirs of Kunen at Columbia are still protesting the school’s Harlem expansion. When this year’s hunger strikers ended their strike in time to enjoy Thanksgiving, the Columbia Spectator reported that they had done so “following a series of initiatives posed to strikers by the administration…” A subsequent story also reported:
In light of the strikers’ demands, Columbia has committed to several Academic initiatives. These include, subject to faculty approval, the shift of Major Cultures to a seminar-style class, and “unprecedented” student input in the faculty hiring process for the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. Additionally, a review of the Office of Multicultural Affairs will include the consideration of creating a Multi-Cultural Affairs office in the Arts and Sciences.
Did Columbia make any concessions to the strikers? It’s hard to tell if you’re listening to the administration. Yesterday Columbia sent the following message to alumni leaders:
You may have heard that seven undergraduates recently undertook a hunger strike on the Morningside Campus to publicize their stand on the Core Curriculum, Columbia’s plans to expand in Manhattanville, and other campus issues. To the relief of all concerned for their well-being, the students elected last Friday to end their 10-day protest after discussions with both University administrators and community activists. We are all thankful that none became seriously ill as a result of the fast.
A number of newspapers inaccurately reported that in response to the strike the University had agreed to spend $50 million to change the Core Curriculum by funding new sections of classes in nonwestern humanities know as Major Cultures. It is true that faculty committees on undergraduate education have been considering this possibility, along with other enhancements of the Core, for some time, since long before the hunger strike. While a possible shift to a seminar format for Major Cultures similar to that of other Core classes is indeed under review, nothing has been finalized, and such a plan would have to be approved by the faculty. There is not and never was a commitment to allocate $50 million in response to student demands. If such an enhancement to the Core is ultimately approved by the faculty, how to pay for the incremental funding it would require (estimated in the ballpark of $2.5 million a year, or 5% of $50 million) has not yet been decided.
I hope this clarification is helpful should you find yourself talking about these matters with other Columbians.
Eric J. Furda
Vice President for Alumni Relations
Furda’s message is a bit circulocutory. While Vice President Furda may be thankful that none of the strikers became seriously ill as a result of the fast, he expresses no such concern about alumni reading his message. Alumni sickened by his message, however, might be cheered by the words of current students such as Dov Friedman and Edward Beaulac.
FOOTNOTE: Alumni might also be interested in Richard Miniter’s New York Post column on another perennial problem at Columbia: “Hatemonger U?”