Ethnic Studies with professors and hiring power
Major Cultures with classes on colonialism and race
responsibly through community input
Increase administrative support

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

The first negotiation meeting: a report-back

Support has been flowing in from everywhere--sympathetic security guards have dropped off sleeping bags, and Dr. Vicky Gholson (a community organizer in Harlem and one of last night's panelists), dropped off a gigantic tent. Vigils have drawn together strikers, organizers, and supporters consistently, even in the pouring rain, and statements of support have been on the rise. I even hear rumblings that Dennis Dalton, Professor of Political Science at Barnard, is joining in on the strike (!?). I anticipate a strong showing of community support at today's rally as well.

Yesterday's negotiating meetings, however, were nothing less than frustrating. Here's a report back:
At about 11:15AM, we met with Dean Ajay Nair (Associate Dean of Student Affairs, CC/SEAS) and Dean Chris Colombo (Dean of Student Affairs, CC/SEAS), who promptly informed us that the other administrative members whom we requested at the meeting refused to meet given our requested conditions: that the meeting be open to silent observation from the public. While we explained our position--that public meetings are a visual display of transparency and our efforts to change the typical and historically frustrating terms of negotiation behind closed doors-- we were informed by Colombo that the admin would not budge on this point. In the interest of moving forward, we as a negotiation team decided to a private meeting and would advocate therein for more open meetings in the future.

We met at 12:30PM in the Intercultural Resource Center (IRC); representing the admin were: Provost Alan Brinkley; Austin Quigley, Dean of Columbia College; Nicholas Dirks, Vice President of Arts & Sciences; Maxine Griffith, Executive Vice President for Government & Community Affairs; and Deans Colombo and Nair. We began the meeting by reading aloud a statement from the strikers, and the remainder of the one-hour meeting was to set the procedural terms for meetings in the future. They are, as follows:

-A capped number of students will be allowed to sit in on all meetings as private observers. We ourselves suggested this, as a way for a variety of students--student council reps, underclassmen (to better understand the process for the future), etc.--to be able to observe the ongoing debate. The number of students is currently up for debate; admin were reluctant to consider 20, and so we are currently drafting a proposal for 15, trying to find a proper balance of students whom we would wish to be there to witness the process. Moreover, it is our mandate that the lists be rotating, so that more than just 15 students overall will be able to take part.

-There will be two types of negotiation meetings: one on the expansion demands, one on the other 3 (the Core, Ethnic Studies, administrative support). Until issues are resolved, the two will receive equal time. Certain administrators, however, will be expected (and some have shown interest) to appear in both meetings.

-There will be a moderator at meetings, to make sure that no one side takes up the majority of the time and space during meetings. Both sides need to come to agreement on who the moderator would be, however.

-All administrators in meetings will be reached when we contact the admin, and thus all must be held accountable to such. This term rose out of a concern that certain administrators were automatically serving as the liaisons to the students; administrators promptly replied that they receive too many emails a day to reasonably and promptly respond in time, and thus the Deans of Student Affairs would continue to serve as the go-betweens. Our intent here was, again, to make the communications process more transparent.
The next meetings are scheduled for Monday--admin responded that they would be away over the weekend, and thus not available en masse until the 6th day of the strike. Yet, thus is the fundamental contradiction, or puzzling element, to their arguments--while individual administrators repeatedly stressed their commitment to ending the strike as soon as possible, and in concern for the health of the strikers, this is certainly late in the process already. Moreover, when we were text messaged mid-meeting that one of the strikers had just been taken to Health Services in a wheelchair because of low blood pressure, not one admin responded vocally (and only one approached us on the matter afterwards. FYI, the individual in question is feeling better).

The administration might want to take the position that they ultimately can't be held accountable should the strike be prolonged and the health of the strikers put at risk--and that it would be our fault for not agreeing to call off the strike if we felt dissatisfied. The strikers have put their faith in those of us who advocate the demands for them, and it is highly problematic to assume that the onus is on the negotiators to see to the health and safety of the strikers--whose reason for striking in the first place was due to the failure of the administration to adequately hear and meet their concerns in times past.

Brinkley said in the meeting that the negotiations and meetings would stretch on further than the end of the strike. We are, of course, aware of this. But we are also aware of our lack of power, and the University's ability to not fulfill its promises--and it was only in the wake of student action that we were able to secure such a meeting in the first place.

-the negotiators