‘MEALAC, Meet the Students’

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