‘MEALAC, Meet the Students’

By on April 15, 2005

Columbia University’s Jai Kasturi and Abby
Deift wrote an opinion
piece
in The Spectator today that I hope will help transform the Columbia controversy into
an opportunity for finding some common ground. Here’s a snippet of their
thoughts:

Despite
concerted efforts by the University and student groups to address the
multiplicity of issues raised by the ad hoc committee report, external agendas
continue to distract many of the parties involved in this controversy.

Specifically,
the faculty and grads in the MEALAC department and concerned students and student
leaders need to meet and begin a conversation about their mutual pedagogical
concerns. It was the absence of such a dialogic environment that largely
allowed what should have been an intra-departmental conversation to fester into
such an unproductive and unnecessary crisis. If the absence of collegiality was
the main problem—“incivility”—as the ad hoc report had it­­­—then MEALAC ought
to begin addressing that problem proactively by extending an open invitation to
students and student leaders for a direct dialogue.

The ad
hoc committee report underscored the lack of formal or well-defined grievance
procedures at the university level. But such procedures would and should only
be a last resort….

Too many parties have been racing to co-opt the language of victimhood and
helplessness, but in reality we are all empowered to take control of this
situation. And we ought to be suspicious of anyone who, along with MEALAC,
refuses to introduce any conciliatory tone in this public debate. It is the
lack of such a tone that is ensuring the external groups’ ability to shape the
terrain of our debate.

At the moment, MEALAC has a real opportunity to take charge of this crisis
by inviting an open discussion of these central issues…. If there is indeed a
lack of dialogue leading to misunderstandings and suspicions, then this is
something we must work as a community to remedy.

Engaging in direct and open
dialogue, recognizing both student and faculty empowerment, working for real
change from within the community—sounds to me like a great recipe for some
positive steps forward.

Schools: Columbia University