Friday, November 16, 2007

Hunger Strike Continues in Spite of Concessions
By Laura Schreiber

Four students continue their hunger strike to demand changes to the University’s proposed Manhattanville expansion plan, after administrators agreed Wednesday to meet several of the strikers’ academic and administrative goals.

Negotiators representing the hunger strikers met with Maxine Griffith, executive vice president for government and community affairs, Thursday to discuss a set of demands they have presented on the expansion plan.

Administrators also clarified Thursday that they would devote $50 million of the University’s endowment to generate funds for enhancements to the Core Curriculum—including the announced shift of Major Cultures to a seminar-style class—rather than making a one-time capital expenditure. Additionally, Columbia stressed that the plan still needed to go through a lengthy approval process including gaining faculty approval and the implementation of a pilot program.

In a statement presented to the negotiators, Griffith responded on behalf of the University to several student concerns, noting that the administration agreed in spirit with some of the community benefits recommendations, but could not commit to them through negotiations with students.

Students demanded that the University commit to negotiating community benefits exclusively with the West Harlem Local Development Corporation rather than through separate agreements with individual politicians, such as the recent agreement with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to set up a $20 million affordable housing fund.

They also said that the agreement with Stringer was insufficient, since it would fund only about 100 housing units. The Environmental Impact Statement states that the expansion plan could indirectly displace more than 3000 people. The students demanded that the University make “a far more significant commitment to affordable housing.”

Griffith’s response noted that, “The $20 million affordable housing fund ... was created to be leveraged by affordable housing developers towards a much larger sum.”

Students called for several community benefits including an increase in community programming through groups like the Double Discovery Center and Community Impact, a scholarship admission program for CB9 residents, and a comprehensive educational complex including K-12 education, a health clinic, and adult education.

Griffith said in her response that the University agreed in spirit with students’ requests. “All of the items in this point have been raised as potential education benefits over the course of the conversations with the WHLDC,” the response said.

Students and administrators’ statements clashed most directly over the strikers’ demand that eminent domain be taken off the table. Griffith said that the University would retain the option of asking the state to use eminent domain if they could not reach agreements with business owners who have so far refused to sell.

Students said they brought up two additional points at today’s meeting, including a demand that the University not build level four bio-tech labs—a promise the University has already made in writing. The other demand was that the University create a committee on sustainable community relations to study socio-economic, environmental and cultural impacts of the expansion plan.

The negotiators released a statement late last night saying that the negotiations “confirmed our worst fears.” They objected to Griffith’s request that Community Board 9 member Vicky Gholson leave the room before the negotiations began. “We are greatly troubled by the implications of this action, which implies that the administration rejects the presence of the very people whom the expansion most affects,” the statement said.

“While we have been willing to compromise from our original position, we have not seen a similar commitment made by the administration,” it continued.

Earlier in the day, a crowd of students and community members gathered in the rain on College Walk in support of the strike. “Using eminent domain is like negotiating with a shotgun on the table,” said Bryan Mercer, CC ‘07, who ended his hunger strike Wednesday night.

Later that evening, about 30 students gathered on Low Plaza to protest against the strike.
Christina Chen, CC ‘09 and a strike organizer said she contacted the organizers of the counter-protest earlier in the day to suggest that the two sides meet for a discussion. “A lot of what they’ve been saying so far is legitimate,” Chen said. “But they turned my offer down tonight, which was very personally disappointing for me.”

“I’m not for a group of students representing student voice, when we don’t get the administration to listen just because we’re not starving ourselves,” Jenny Honrahan, BC ‘10, said.

A group of students from the counter-protest discussed the demands with Barnard Professor Dennis Dalton, who joined the hunger strike last Thursday. One counter-protestor told Dalton he was “the most rational voice I’ve heard from that side,” to which Dalton responded, “Well, what we need to do most is find some common ground.”

Daniel Amzallag and Maggie Astor contributed to this article
The reporters of this article can be reached at

TAGS: Hunger Strikers, Manhattanville Expansion Plan
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I have also asked the Spectator to review the turnout for the night as Daniel Amzallag's estimate of the rally's size was horrendous.

They said that they will review the pictures of the event.

I thank all the commenters who have also recognized this considerable mistake in something as simple as counting.
Best regards,Josh mathew
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 7:30pm

Christina Chen's comments regarding the dialogue proposal are misleading. Furthermore, I was never approached by Daniel Amzallag for a response or for a description of the conversation that occurred between Chen and myself. The Spectator has decided that while her comments are misleading and while I should have been contacted for a response, Chen's statement is ultimately factually accurate (as in, she did make that statement).
Therefore, I would like to also respond to the following piece of text from the article:
Christina Chen, CC '09 and a strike organizer said she contacted the organizers of the counter-protest earlier in the day to suggest that the two sides meet for a discussion. "A lot of what they've been saying so far is legitimate," Chen said. "But they turned my offer down tonight, which was very personally disappointing for me."
Chen had contacted me via Instant Messenger at around 3 pm and proposed having a place for discussion between the striker coalition and the anti-strike gathering. I said that I would pass the suggestion on to the other anti-strike gathering organizers and that I would respond to her as soon as possible. I told her that I was about to meet a professor. After that, I had to attend an hour-long recitation section and then present at an internship panel. I know this might sound silly, but let's remember that we are at Columbia first as students.

Chen then contacted both the Spectator and Bwog and suggested that my failure to respond could represent a rejection of dialogue. I immediately emailed Chen and confirmed that a discussion would be appreciated.

I spoke to Chen at 7pm by telephone and discussed the evening's events. After much going back and forth, I realized that Chen wanted us to cancel the demonstration in order to have the intergroup discussion. She said that it would be awkward if there were an anti-strike gathering from 8:30-9:00pm and then a discussion at 9:00pm, which would force the strike supporters to cancel their planned 9:00pm vigil. I said that canceling the anti-strike gathering was not possible for two reasons.

First, it would be almost impossible logistically. The anti-strike organizers' had been only able to contact the attendees through Facebook messages. A Facebook message sent less than an hour and a half before the expected demonstration would most likely not be read by those expecting a rally at 8:30pm. Such an action would be highly inconsiderate.

Second, as I stressed to Christina, dialogue is very important, but it was important that the 70+ anti-strike attendees at least have the opportunity to meet each other face-to-face and realize that they existed outside of a Facebook group. They had to have the opportunity to discuss amongst themselves why they oppose the strike, its methods, or its process of formation. I emphasized that unlike many members of the strike coalition who already were already close friends before the strike began, most of the anti-strike attendees had never met each other before.

Chen accepted this and asked if the anti-strike organizers could work with the strike organizers to possibly schedule a town hall meeting in the coming days (in Lerner or another location). I said that I do not represent the anti-strike attendees desires and cannot assume that they would want a town hall created by the two sets of organizers.

Chen asked that the anti-strike organizers present the possibility of dialogue to the attendees and ask for peoples' concerns so that they could be passed on to Chen. I agreed to this.

Chen emphasized that her group was interested in hearing our concerns and said that their had been, within the strike coalition, acknowledgment of past mistakes. She said the strike coalition was not interested in creating division. I questioned the credibility of this statement. We made some closing comments and ended the conversation.

I apologize for the length of this letter, but considering the Spectator's coverage of the event last night and of Chen's comments about a supposed rejection of dialogue by the anti-strike organizers, I thought I should publicize the conversation between Chen and myself.

Best regards,
Josh Mathew
For a more accurate description of the anti-strike gathering, please see the Bwog article "Mixed Messages" by Lydia DePillis.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 7:24pm

wow. so laura schreiber is auditioning for a regular article on democratic underground in her future. don't expect to get any work at a serious newspaper if you lie so completely and manipulatively about the counter protest yesterday
30 people? try at least 4 times that number.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 7:23pm

Apparently the individual who wrote this article is a supporter of the hunger of the hunger strike. Which would explain her lies and misrepresentations.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 1:39pm

You guys have no right to complain. If this article was biased in favor of the anti-hunger strikers, you wouldn't have said anything at all. Bwog is the most biased journalistic source I had ever seen, and its completely leaning in your favor. I think this article is biased myself, but as a journalist I realize how difficult neutrality is. This isn't the New York Times. Bwog doesn't even try, its just plain blatant about it.

Congratulations to the hunger strikers for successfully seeing their demands met... I don't think many of us thought it would happen and you did it in face of enormous opposition and obnoxious rudeness. Thank you for defending not only minority and ethnic interests on this campus, but our faith in well-organized and effective protest.

-Frances Jeffrey-CokerPS: If you want to respond to me, don't be anonymous. I respect those who stand up for their views and I don't take ideas seriously when the author doesn't even have the courage to be responsible for them.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 4:01pm

"As a journalist I realize how difficult neutrality is."
But is it difficult to count? 30 people looks NOTHING like 100, or 80, or 75 (the lowest number that has been reported on this thread). i too understand that maintaining neutrality is difficult ... but counting accurately is not.

and it's ok, i don't really care whether YOU respect me or not.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 5:30pm

PS: and lest i be mistaken for some racist who doesn't respect any striker, i will amend my statement to say that after having seen the taunts that frances jeffrey-coker posted on the "we do not support the hunger strikers" wall, i do not consider her someone whose respect i particularly desire.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 7:10pm

I'm with you 1:39, Laura Schreiber makes it clear in her article where her allegiance lies and I see little attempt to cover that bias up. Her misrepresentation about the anti-strike along with the Chen quote seems to make her standpoint clear. I do not know enough about the other events to remark on them, but I hardly think that the rest of the article allows for much bias against the anti-strikers. Despite all else, however, that one clear and unacceptable count of the strikers is ridiculous- it does not even account for a third of the group. If the Spec wants to maintain its name as a fairly respectable college news source, its writers must make the attempt to remain professional and untouched by biases.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 2:53pm

Anonymous at 1:39, you're way out of line. If anything, this article is factual to the point of being dry. The writer has clearly gone out of her way to present what is happening in a balanced way, which is the job of a reporter. Just because she doesn't slam the strikers (and there is much to criticize them for) doesn't mean she supports them. It means she, and Spectator in general, believe that this is an issue that Columbia students should know all the facts about.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 1:58pm

I know 1:39 did not back up his/her points with any proof, so I thought I do it here.

Meanwhile,can you provide any proof that "this article is factual to the point of being dry"?
What is not factual is the following:-There were 30 people at the anti-strike gathering. That is a falsifiable hypothesis that has been falsified. There were also not 150 people at the ASG. That too is not factual. Rather, there we about 80 people at the ASG. That is factual, and there is photographic proof.-That Christina Chen did not get a response to her request for discussion.
Again, that is not not factual, and I am reliably informed there's an email circulating the rounds from Josh Matthew asking to meet Chen at 9pm yesterday. This email is proo and I[m sure if you want, someone would forward it to you. Post your email address or number and I'll work out a way. I could get into another debate about Chen only accepting debate on her terms, but for the meantime, let's leave that aside and simply state that her claim to have not received a response is demonstrably nonsense.

If you have proof for your points, please tell us about it. Otherwise, don't pretend that the article is factual to the point of being dry. Claims that it is not CAN be backed up by proof. On that matter, Laura Schreiber and the two other journalists should publish a retraction immediately for their factual errors.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 3:28pm

That the article is factual to the point of being dry is my opinion. I use the word factual to represent the tone- "full of facts" as opposed to "full of opinions." I do not mean to say that the reporting was 100% accurate- judging by people's responses to the number of strikers as 30, mistakes were clearly made.

I merely wished to disagree with the statement that the writer was lying and/or purposefully misrepresenting. When I read this article, I did not see the basis for such accusations. I find it too easy to post anonymous, uncalled for criticisms of Spectator writers who work very hard on this board, and wish that it were different.

I commend you for fact-checking; it is the responsibility of the readers to keep the press "honest." However, it is my hope that these same readers will discriminate between the human imperfections in reporting a high-stakes story, and a malicious intent to misrepresent the facts.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 4:48pm

agreed, and I'm against the strike. this article is trying its best, although I think quoting chen is akin to quoting a puff e-mail from a political campaign - disingenuous. The issue that 1:39 got incensed about was probably the underrepresentation of anti-strike members, which is very unfortunate, but not worthy of accusations of systemic bias.

by most counts, there were about seventy-five people out against the strike last night, give or take about ten.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 2:13pm

ugh, i used to think that christina chen was a well-meaning and extremely passionate person whose views (on the strike) i just happened not to agree with. given the way she's handled the the whole affair though--from sending out that email about being disappointed in the existence of anti-strike groups, to repeatedly hedging and eluding real, meaningful discussion in a public online forum, to trying to cancel or co-opt an expression of the opposition--this just shows me that she is close-minded and not committed to REALLY listening at all.

Her two-faced, evasive tactics have been nothing short of--for lack of a better word--weaselly.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 1:29pm

it's time for a debate, in public, on the record, with the strikers or members of their "team." let's hear what the student body has to say about this by allowing them to ask questions. their tactics are ludicrous and to allow them to control the terms of the debate only lends them legitimacy.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 1:03pm

30 students?????? That would be funny if it were not for the fact that it is so damaging to the 700 plus students who don't support the hunger strike. There were not 30 people, there were also not 200 people, there were about 90 people. Spec, seriously, that is blatantly biased reporting. We have however come to expect that from you, so I'm not surprised. Laura Schreiber, Daniel Amzallag and Maggie Astor, shame on you. People have photographs and you must not be allowed to get away with that nonsense. If we were dealing with thousands of people, such subjective judgments of numbers would be harder to disprove, because you can't photograph 5000 people. You can however photograph 90 people, and several of us did.

As for the whole Chen being being "personally disappointed" about the anti-strikers refusing debate, that too is nonsense. I'm not sure exactly but what I understand happened was this: The anti-strike group posted on the pro-strike group's discussion thread several questions.
Christina Chen promised to get back to them. She never did this. Yesterday, when it was too late to cancel the anti-strike demonstration, she proposed canceling the anti-strike protest and moving it to a different time when it would be an open forum. She proposed this to Matthew, who is not an elected representative of the anti-strike movement, and has no legitimacy or power to do that. Matthew told me he nonetheless responded to say that would meet Chen at 9.
I don't know in what context, but I saw Christina and Matthew and some British girl meet around 9 on Low and did talk.

The problem was the way she wanted to have this debate was absolutely pointless and would smack of the same illegitimacy that plagues the hunger strikers. She wanted to have Matthew and Sablinska and co. go have private, one-on-one discussions with the hunger strike coalition supporters. But that would be useless. Matthew et al. do not represent the anti-strike movement, and - as far as I know - have made it explicitly clear that this is the case. Thus if Chen were to engage a couple of unelected "representatives" (who themselves do not claim to represent the anti-strike movement) in an unrecorded and private discussion, that would not constitute the public and open debate many of us have been calling for all along.

If Christina Chen wants to engage in debate, she should do so publicly by responding to the questions on the pro-strike group's wall that have gone unanswered for several day's now. That is the only practical way right now to produce the open and transparent discussion that she alleges she wants to have.

The real answer is for the University itself to host a town hall in which everyone can be heard, and we don't have to use facebook as a crutch for legitimacy.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 12:56pm

oh wow, really... 30 students??? That is just a joke. Someone has to get fired.and the commenter who said 200 at the vigil???! please.a SIMPLE visual estimate would have shown that the groups were roughly the same size. If they had 200 then the counter protesters also had 200.
This exaggeration both ways is just incredible. Also, the strikers' vigils have dozens of outside community members, whereas the anti-strike group *ONLY* has columbia affiliates. If we were to factor in the number of Columbia students at these events I have no doubt the anti-strikers had more than the strikers.

By my count I got to 110 anti-strike protesters. Spectator - seriously please publish a correction to this in your next edition, based on the photographs. Get 5 people to do independent counts (and 5 people who are known as independent in this debate). AND PUBLISH THE CORRECTION - immediately, online, and in print, on Monday, on the front page.

we might also ask about the students who didn't have the courage to come out and speak, precisely because of the bias of people like this Spec reporter who will continually misrepresent them in order to intimidate them and silence them.

but not all of us will be silenced... this has been one of the most divisive and unproductive chapters in student relations at Columbia. These students have intimidated the majority into silence or anonymous blogs online where no one can identify them and ostracize them.

Columbia should do an online, anonymous vote on the issues (with only columbia students voting)...I am sure we would see a very different picture emerge. And at very least it would stop the strikers from invoking democracy in their campaign.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 12:18pm

Honestly, the level of bias in this article could not be higher. 30 students? Do you really think that there was no one out there taking photos? You should really learn to count. And the whole Christina Chen thing? Honestly, Bwog got the same e-mail and had the decency to remain a little more unbiased in not posting it. You should really get your facts straight and as a journalist, you have a moral duty to remain unbiased in your writing. Read some actual news reporting and maybe you can learn a thing or two. Until then, refrain from writing news stories.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 12:16pm

i don't know if this is bad reporting on someone's (spec/bwog) part or either pro-strikers/anti-strikers twisting the truth, but the bwog has a different version of the "we offered to meet with antistrikers for a discussion and they rejected us" story. they report that strike organizers wanted to turn the scheduled counterprotest into a forum for discussion, but because of the logistical problem of informing everyone of the changes, antistrikers ultimately decided to continue with their silent gathering anyway.

if christina chen's story is true and the antistrikers flatly refused to have any sort of discussion in the future with the prostrikers, then shame on the antistrikers for not being more open-minded.

but if the bwog story is true and the prostrikers attempted to co-opt the opposition's scheduled gathering, then shame on them for trying to subvert the antistrikers' form of expression. if the strike supporters are truly so dedicated to having real discussion, they should turn one of their own events into such a forum, instead of attempting to make last-minute twists out of other people's events.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 12:06pm

the latter is unfortunately true. attempting to co-opt events and neutralize dissenters with purported "one-on-one" off-the-record discussions is a favorite tactic of the strikers. after the official protest finished up, several of us did chat with members of the strike team and so forth, and that was fine.

but they have no intention of ever allowing any of the student body to debate their views in a public forum, on the record, except maybe professor dalton, who to be fair is more articulate and measured than the "strike team" after seven days of not eating.
it's cowardice.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 12:59pm

wow, that is seriously unfortunate. did the pro-strikers not realize how much chaos, confusion and ugly confrontation there would have been if the silent gathering had been changed last-minute to a forum for discussion? the point of the counter protest--it was made VERY CLEAR--was to show that there are students who oppose the strike. period. it was emphasized repeatedly that the gathering was NOT to air out everyone's different grievances.

to change it to a forum for debate without sufficient notice for anti-strikers, who have a vast range of problems with the strike, is to put them at an immediate and unfair disadvantage by not allowing them enough time to compose rational questions and carefully think about what they want to say. such a tactic serves to incite confrontation rather than comprehension.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 1:17pm

30 students. Wow. Really, Spectator??? I thought you were impartial??? That's just a joke.
I've heard estimates of 150, which I should add is also a joke.
There were about 85 students there last night actually protesting, others mingling around who we reporting or observing.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 11:50am

I second both the reader who wonders if your reporters can count and the commenter below from yesterday. Why did you focus on three VERY late "community" speakers and not the lady who spoke first and with such depth at Hamilton Hall who came with the group? The danger here is what if your writers do the reverse and embellish numbers, giving the impression of a mob forming. Some journalists!

Although Dalton is moderate, he seemed to fan the flames at the sundial, being supportive, with little other substance in his message. Besides that, citrus juice is not good for a fast. He should try something non-acidic for health sake.

The Spectator is as ignorant as the strikers are naive. The only community voice that made sense was the lady who appealed to the group to have resolve in light of the past student movements. You only mention the well-meaning Harlem trio that came late to the protest, not the speaker who was with us as a group from the sundial to Hamilton.The respect and thanks the three gave the crowd gave no food for thought or help with the administration. Get real!
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 11:45am

30 students? Are you kidding me?
Thats just innacurate reporting.

I was there last night, and there were many more than 30 at the silent protest against the hunger strike.

Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 11:10am

Are you kidding: 30 people?!?I have a photo of the protest, which I will find a way to publish, that only includes the people standing on the steps, and not the kids standing on the plaza, who probably number about 25. In my photo, there are 87 people protesting on the steps alone.
87 people for sure plus aprox 25 = about 110. Not 30.

There are also over 700 people in the antis-strike facebook group.

This reporter needs to be fired right now. He's a Columbia kid, and he either needs urgently to learn how to count, or to learn how to report what he sees and not what he wants to see.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 10:59am

Who can we fire on the strikers blog where they falsely state that the Minutemen shoot illegal border jumpers?
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 11:08am

I'm inspired to see this small group of visionaries prevail against common sense. Kudos to this group for their continued efforts against what is rational, and right.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 10:27am

Ha! 30 students, and they advertised that more than a 100 would come to protest against the people who have made such enormous sacrifices on behalf of the students of Columbia. That ought to say something about how people feel about the strike, considering that about 200 people came to the hunger strikers' vigil.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 10:21am

uh, you obviously weren't actually at the counter protest. there were way more than 30 people there. nice job revealing your ignorance on the matter, though.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 11:55am

They have made "such enormous sacrifices" on behalf of *THEMSELVES*. They are not legitimate representatives of Columbia students. The BWOG reported that one of the strikers ran for student government and was actually *DEFEATED.* By all estimates the strikers are in the minority. Anyway, there are more Columbia students in the anti-strike facebook group than then pro-strike one.

On another note: There were well over a hundred people at the anti-strike protest last night, and people have the photographic evidence to prove it.

Spec: seriously, if you'd printed even 60, I would have let go. But that is truly *AWFUL* reporting. Also, this was not hard to see. I question why the reporter/s came up with this number, and where they stand on the strike issue.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 11:31am

People have photos of the anti-strike demonstration showing over a hundred people. The spec reporter has egregiously misrperesented the number of people there. Its a shocking underestimate that makes me wonder if it was deliberate.

And lets talk about the facebook groups. 700 plus columbia students in the anti-strike group, with about 630 columbia students in the pro-strike group as of 8:20 last night.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 11:03am

Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 10:04am

Wow, you are so mature.
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 10:20am

oh come on, no one gets the 30 rock reference?
Posted by: anonymous (not verified) November 16th, 2007 @ 11:39am

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