Thursday, November 15, 2007

CU Meets Some Striker Demands

CU Meets Some Striker Demands
By Josh Hirschland and Laura Schreiber

Video Feature
CTV News coverage of the hunger strike (story available here). Video courtesy of CTV News

The administration agreed to several of the strikers’ demands last night, an ad hoc coalition in support of the strikers announced.

The University has committed to pay for the expansion of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and to transform the major cultures requirement of the Core Curriculum into a seminar-style class at a cost of $50 million, according to a statement released late last night by the ad hoc coalition in support of the strike. Currently, students choose their major cultures course fulfillments from lists of lectures and seminars across several different departments and regions.

The announcement capped off an evening filled with rumors of stalled negotiations and a more than 200-person protest on Low plaza.

“We have faith specifically in Vice President Dirks that his intent for arts and sciences is essentially in line with our general views for academic reform,” said Sam Rennebohm, GS and a member of the coalition.

But while negotiations have ended about the strikers’ demand regarding ethnic studies, the Core Curriculum, and administrative reform, four students will continue their strike in protest of the proposed Manhattanville expansion plan.

Negotiators representing the strikers will meet with administrators today at 4 p.m. to discuss the unaddressed demands including the revocation of Manhattanville expansion plan 197c with executive vice president for government and community affairs Maxine Griffith.

Bryan Mercer, CC ’07, and Emilie Rosenblatt, CC ’08, ended their hunger strike Wednesday for “personal reasons,” hours after Health Services officials declared them to be in severe condition. Two additional strikers, April Simpson, CC ’11 and Rich Brown, CC ’10, joined earlier in the day.

Still some strikers said they were excited about the night’s concessions.

“It’s reaffirmed my belief in students,” said Victoria Ruiz, CC ’09. “It’s reaffirmed my belief that the current process is messed up and needs to be changed, because it shouldn’t take a hunger strike for what happened tonight but it did, but hopefully tonight represents change in how student voices are heard at this school.”


Early Wednesday evening, news began to spread that the regularly scheduled night vigil was going to be particularly important.

Christien Tompkins, CC ’08 and a member of the coalition, told the assembled crowd of about 200 at the start of the vigil that administrators had announced that they planned to stop negotiating with strikers and had threatened to tear down the tent encampment on South Lawn where the hunger strikers have been living.

Tompkins linked the dismantling of the camp to security concerns related to today’s trip to campus by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. University public affairs officials later confirmed that Annan is coming to speak at tonight’s Hamilton Awards dinner, but said that the visit would not affect the strikers’ base.

“There was never any discussion of that,” University spokeswoman LaVerna Fountain said, calling the statement a “complete and total inaccuracy.”

Members of the coalition also announced that the University had threatened to put two students on forced medical leave. Public affairs officials said that they were unaware of this and had not heard that there were any plans to expel the strikers from campus for health reasons.

Soon after the announcements, the assembled crowd marched to Hamilton Hall, where the negotiations were being conducted, to hear word from inside. Student leaders were joined at the front by several Harlem residents, including Community 9 board member Vicky Gholson, director of the Harlem Tenants Council Nellie Bailey, and the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp.

“They’ve given us a choice, they say we can either concede some bullshit demands ... by midnight, or the talks stop. We say hell no,” said strike negotiator Andrew Tillett-Saks, CC ’09 to a crowd gathered in front of Hamilton Hall, where security guards barred the door to prevent protesters from entering.

At the vigil, Desiree Carver-Thomas, CC ’09 and a member of the coalition, said that administrators had pulled away from the table. Fountain said that negotiations were ongoing, and that she was unaware of any threat to break them off.

“The administration cannot tolerate dissent only when it’s convenient for them,” Carver-Thomas said.

Administrators left for Lerner Hall, and the assembled crowd marched on Low Library, chanting “Whose campus? Our campus!” They remained there until 10:45 p.m., when coalition leaders told the demonstrators that negotiations had restarted and announced the administrative concessions from earlier in the day.


It is still unclear where the information about the administration’s potential actions against the strikers originated.

GSSC president Niko Cunningham said he heard from a member of the CCSC executive board and the strikers that Dean of Student Affairs Chris Colombo told CCSC President Michelle Diamond, CC ’08, “this [strike] is going to end one way or another tonight.”

Diamond denied that Colombo pressured her into convincing the strikers to stop. She sent them an e-mail Wednesday asking that they cease striking, but said it was personal and that it was of her own accord and did not represent of the council’s views.

“Right now, I believe it is in everyone’s best interest to end the strike,” she wrote. “While I believe you have included some important issues that should be addressed, there are other students with equally important concerns that have been put on hold because the Administration and the councils are working to end the strike.”

The reporters of this article can be reached at
TAGS: Demands, Hunger Strike

View Comments ( 16)Post a Comment

CB9M Chairman's Message to Students in Hunger Strike.

As you may know I am away recovering from surgery but I am following the developments quite closely.

I firmly believe you have made your points and received wide media coverage.

I again beseech you to stop your hunger strike as it pertains to the CU Expansion issues. The ULURP process is alive and well and I am confident that your personal sacrifices have been noted and opened some eyes both at the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

It would be highly detrimental if your health deteriorates and places your lives in danger with the onset of inclement weather. We need you healthy and in fit condition for the struggles still ahead.

I congratulate you for your courage, dedication and affection for our community, your efforts will have great value and take a place o honor in the history of student activism on behalf of our community.

I look forward to see y'all upon my return.
With respect and admiration


Jordi (George) Reyes-Montblanc, Chairman
Community Board 9 Manhattan
565 West 125th Street
New York, NY 10027-2301
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 8:50pm


Columbideology University
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 7:53pm


lol, are you seriously against an equitable study of the west and non-west? or are you just feeling attention-starved....
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 5:55pm


no, i think they are against the illegitimacy of the hunger strikers purporting to speak for the entire student body on their demands.

also, they are against banal, simplistic, inaccurate ad hominem characterizations like yours. since when does opposition to the rash tactic of a hunger strike automatically lead to being against equitable study of the west/non-west? you purposely try to oversimplify the argument to make yourself look like some righteous proponent of justice. LAME.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 7:52pm



If you don't support the strike for whatever reason, be there! Columbia needs to know this self-serving, petulant and unelected group of narcissists will not get away with blackmailing the university. They have NO authority to speak for anyone but themselves, and if they demand action that affects us all, they should know they do not speak for hundreds of other students whose voices are equally legitimate as their own.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 5:19pm


Hear, hear.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 6:57pm

That the Core may need revisions occasionally is indisputable. That students' voices about those changes need to be heard, ditto. But, the way it seemed to come about makes me wonder how much the administration, from the College's to the University's, believe in what they do, how they do it.
And, I wonder if the officials heard from students privately and/or in open forums about their concerns.

At this distance ('57C, Calif.), i can't judge the students' motives and actions. But, as others have written (and I witnessed in the 60s demonstrations), there was hardly a critical number involved.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 4:59pm


So because the majority of the student body is apathetic, or at least not proactive in acting on their convictions, no change should be made?
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 5:56pm


We know, have solid evidence that the majority don't act on their convictions? That's often the assumption made by the smallest of groups.Perhaps the majority is satisfied, even with reservations, with what they're getting. Or, is that not something the "activists" can handle?
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 6:27pm


I feel that the university's responding more to the threat of being sued by the hunger strikers' rich parents than the strikers themselves. I guess the hunger strikers should have used that to begin with, but at least they had a true college experience!
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 2:44pm


“We have faith specifically in Vice President Dirks that his intent for arts and sciences is essentially in line with our general views for academic reform,” said Sam Rennebohm, GS and a member of the coalition.

the lesson is that if you terrorize the university by threatening to starve yourself to death, then the university will reward your behavior by forcing reasonable students to attend brainwashing sessions until they share your views.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 2:28pm


Columbia gave me a shitty basement office with poor ventilation. Maybe I should go on a hunger strike.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 2:01pm


Columbia gave me a shitty office too - mine is uptown, at the medical center with leaky ceilings and old technology. Can I go on a hunger strike in favor of making the Expansion happen sooner?? They promised me a new office.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 3:53pm


I think that belittling President Bollinger and the rest of the administrative staff is not an acceptable way to vent frustrations about the current situation. In recent years the administration has faced criticisms from both sides of most major debates. I see Bollinger's status as a lightning rod for extremist sentiment as a testament to his commitment to find middle of the road solutions.

That being said, I am just as incensed by the actions of a few that will effect the majority of the campus. The chant, "Whose campus? Our campus!" that was used last night is as unfortunate as it is true. The hunger strikers and their supporters are an important part of this campus.

I commend their organization and their passion and congratulate them on their temporary victories. I only hope that the demands that they have made are successful. I hope that the potential restructuring of the core curriculum does not result in a course which, despite its best intentions, is met with disdain and mockery. I hope that this course is not responded to with the same sort of visceral anger that many of the other core requirements are. Art humanities, Music Humanities, basic sciences, math and literature--any one of these subjects can be forgotten if the class is either not taught or received well. But the lessons that the ethnic studies advocates hope to teach are too important to be either forced down students' throats or received only to be forgotten.

The tactics used by the hunger strikers and their supporters were not inclusive enough of the Columbia community and have created such a high emotional response that many students and community members will be blinded to the strikers' intentions and will hate what they have created by personal association. The protesters' jobs are far from over. They now need to try their best to win the opinions of the rest of a campus who is already tired of their existence. I wish you the best of luck and hope that you haven't done more harm than good.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 1:25pm


The tyrrany here can be seen easily from one line:'the assembled crowd marched on Low Library, chanting “Whose campus? Our campus!”'

These selfish kids think they represent this campus, but they don't. They represent a tiny extremist fringe. By giving in to their demands the administration is allowing these children to take power over the school and enforce their will on the vast majority of students who want nothing to do with them.

The administration has no idea how the school is embarrassing itself in the eyes of its students and alumni. How many of these people are now not going to donate to the school, or send their own kids to Columbia? This silent majority is constantly being ignored, and it needs to end.

Just because the protesters are loud and obnoxious doesn't make their position any more valid. Lee Bollinger needs to step up and show this school that reason, truth and justice still have a place at Columbia University.
Posted by: Jeff Waksman November 15th, 2007 @ 12:11pm


pander to a few spoliled brats!!! how many groups , will now be ON HUNGER STRIKES WITH DEMANDS ON THE UNIVERSITY??? when will the cowardly adminstrators have the courage to say enough is enough!! they just let a group that represents less then 1 /2 of 1 % of the student body hijack the school!! for this bollinger needs to resign!!! shame on him and the other cowards !!! the rules of the real world do not apply at this school!!shame shame shame!!!
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 15th, 2007 @ 11:56am


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