The students are on strike to combat what they describe as deep-rooted racism.
Teachers and even some employees are preparing to vote for strike action on the grounds that they are fed up with the working conditions and the cultural diversity of Columbia University.
Students from the Clark Honors College have been marching daily to the building where their faculty work is conducted, chanting anti-racist slogans and lobbying administrators over issues including the number of Latina and African American students, tutors and graduate assistants. A number of individuals have left Columbia for other schools and corporations.
About 70% of Clark Honors College students plan to strike.
The university is paying former Howard University basketball player Chris Anderson, who used to chant during games for Howard University’s black nationalist group the D.C. Black Panther Party, $500,000 as a “deal maker” to convince student strikers to end their walkout.
To keep the student strikers at Columbia, President Lee Bollinger has been asked to reduce the number of football games Columbia plays, use less water, hire more female and minority professors and remove more symbols from the university, including the “South American Tiger” head that was unveiled outside of the university in 1930.
Another non-negotiable demand from students is to abolish the building with the original “South American Tiger” mascot, at least symbolically. “That’s something that’s going to have to be reconsidered. But I don’t think it’s on the verge of being realized, it would be hard for that to happen right now.”
The university has imposed through a referendum on an athletic department policy that would affect how intercollegiate sports are conducted at Columbia, and
frustrated some students say they feel the university is infringing on student and faculty rights as the struggle for equality rages on at Columbia.
“I think they’re depriving us of our education and their freedom of speech. We’re not striking for our education. I’m striking for justice.” said Tariq Grider, a student leader.
The current strike is the longest in the history of Columbia University and has been a flashpoint in the racial tensions that many perceive on the East Coast campus. While Columbia has been re-evaluating academic hiring policies for the last few years, the cause of this strike is to address the training and funding inequalities that have emerged as a result of these re-evaluations.
Students say it is ironic that employees were allowed a vote on what kind of contract they want before students were granted a vote on whether to strike.
The Daily Princetonian, the university’s student newspaper, reported that Strikers received an e-mail from President Bollinger on Sunday night acknowledging the failure of the university’s initial contract negotiation, and stating that in view of the strikes, the university will continue to seek negotiations on a new contract through the end of the academic year. The university and the Central Contract Negotiating Committee will be working on a schedule to return to the negotiating table.
Many supporters of the students stood outside the University gates of New York on Sunday night holding signs reading “Students have a Right to Justice.”
The campus has been closed for tours on Monday for the time being, as officials have tried to reduce congestion at the main entrance of Columbia. Students are usually shuttled to the campus by car, but have been prevented from taking their tours by New York Police officers.
University President Bollinger said that, after hearing from the students’ representative, he will visit the campus on Tuesday.