Iresponse to the MEALAC controversy, seven campus student groups sponsored a forum on grievance procedures for student leaders last night in Earl Hall Auditorium.
Speakers at the forum focused on outlining old and new grievance procedures, in addition to suggesting possible changes to them that would be further discussed in the weeks to come. They emphasized that the forum was not organized to field criticism or respond to debate concerning the recently released ad hoc report, but instead to educate student leaders about existing procedures and converse with them regarding possible changes to be made in the future.
The forum included a panel featuring University Provost Alan Brinkley and Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History Ira Katznelson, who served as chairman of the ad hoc committee that recently concluded its investigation into students' allegations of academic abuse against their professors.
Brinkley began the night by speaking for 10 minutes, then responded to students' questions for another 10 minutes.
"We all have a common interest in trying to resolve our differences," Brinkley said. He identified four characteristics that should be present in the University's grievance procedures: transparency, clarity, the existence of a clear path for the grievant to take, and the existence of several points in the procedure at which the grievant may appeal.
"All of these have been missing or misunderstood," Brinkley said.
Katznelson spoke next, emphasizing above all the importance of "the reaffirmation of a sense of collective responsibility" in the University community, citing the final paragraph of the report composed by the recent ad hoc committee: "In general, what we believe is most needed at this point are not further formal rules or regulations to codify behavior or sanction specific categories of action so much as the reassertion of certain norms. We need to reaffirm that sense of collective responsibility which is vital for the well-being of every community of scholars, and to nurture the mutual respect required to sustain us in our common quest for the promotion of learning and the advancement of knowledge."
Katznelson also urged students to read the report. "This is meant to be a document that stimulates conversation about grievance procedures in the university," he said.
Ombuds Officer Marsha Wagner spoke about the Ombuds Office, which she described as an office created to help students "sort out feelings," educate themselves about University policies and procedures, and talk about various options in choosing a course of action to pursue in response to a grievance.
Other speakers addressed the professor review process. Nathan Walker, the co-chair of the University Senate's Student Affairs Committee, said the concern of faculty members adverse to the idea of student's reviewing their professors' conduct, saying "This is simply a democratic mechanism in which all people participate in a matter that concerns them."
At the event's conclusion, the President of the Student Governing Board Hector Chavez advised his peers on the importance of maintaining a constructive conversation on campus in response to the MEALAC debate, saying, "Tonight's meeting should be considered only the beginning. The real work lies ahead."
Other speakers at last night's panel included School of General Studies Dean of Students Mary McGee Barnard's Dean of Studies Karen Blank, Barnard's Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs Sonny Ago, and Kira Kalina Von Ostenfeld, history department graduate student.
Several student groups co-sponsored and organized the event, including the Student Governing Board, the Activities Board of Columbia, LionPAC (the pro-Israel student advocacy group), the Muslim Students Organization, the Organization of Pakistani Studies, Turath, the Arab Students organization, and the United Students of Color Council. University Chaplain Jewelnel Davis mediated the event at the request of the coalition of student groups.
The forum was the first in a series of events the coalition of student groups intends to organize in order to encourage positive dialogue and action on campus.