John noted here on Friday that Columbia’s effort to placate its hunger strikers was likely to bring them “more protests and larger demands.” That’s exactly what seems promised in a triumphant editorial by Andrew Lyubursky, one of the hunger strikers, in the Columbia Spectator today:
The experience of the last two weeks has shown us, against the doubting words of many a naysayer, that the sleeping giant of student power has finally awoken. We have shown that the University is not an impenetrable monolith but rather a contested space in which students have the power to intervene if they have conviction and dedication. A $50-million commitment to the transformation of the Major Cultures requirement, a commitment to the expansion of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, a blue-ribbon panel to keep the administration accountable – these are all massive victories that will improve the experience of all students at Columbia. Yet, while we celebrate the substantial gains that have been made, we must not lose sight of the issue that the University stonewalled on – the proposed expansion into Manhattanville.
Given the university’s rapid capitulation to the hunger strike, it’s clearly now not a question of whether more stunts will happen, but when.
Five students drinking Gatorade and water for a week are apparently all it takes to bring a major university to its knees. Columbia has had more than its share of lunatic events this year – the noose, the cancellation of the Minuteman speakers for the second time, inviting and then abusing the Iranian madman, and last week another controversy over a biased comment someone had scrawled into a library book. But the collapse of the university in the face of five student hunger strikers – the number was reduced to two students before the university folded – makes all the previous lunacies seem sane.
The strikers got most of their scattershot agenda. New faculty will now have to endure diversity indoctrination as part of their hiring. Columbia’s core curriculum, much too “Eurocentric” for the strikers, will now feature more more required courses on Asia, Africa, and Latin America. More money and staff will be added for ethnic studies. The Office of Multicultural Affairs will be expanded and another high-ranking diversicrat will be named to the administration. The collapse will cost Columbia at least $50 million.
But the university’s reputation for weakness and cowardice in the face of PC-mongering is not the key to this story. Columbia has been working for years to expand north into Harlem. It wants to add to its campus four large blocks from 129th Street between Broadway and 12th Avenue as well as three properties east of Broadway. Columbia must run the gantlet of many hearings and approvals, including those of the City Council, which is unusually sensitive to racial complaints about the curriculum and behavior of a historically white institution about to annex a chunk of Harlem. The strikers played the race card by denouncing Columbia’s “institutional racism.”
Columbia may have feared that one or more of the hunger strikerrs would become seriously ill or die. One abandoned the strike after fainting in the library and two others quit to get medical help. But the real aim was to protect the expansion program. One professor told me it was “a brilliant move” by President Lee Bollinger to buy off the protesters for only $50 million, while at the same time demonstrating some politically useful concern for racial and ethnic studies.
But it’s only a brilliant move if it doesn’t teach future strikers how easy it is to get concessions from Columbia. Protestors are still trying to kill the expansion into Harlem. Bollinger’s decision to buy off the strikers may lead to more protesters and larger demands.
Alas, one of the intrepid Columbia hunger strikers has given in. How will they ever force Columbia to stop expanding, increase resources for minority centers, require more ethnic study courses, and make January sunnier with such lazy tactics. Especially now that a gourmand opposition group has mobilized – “Why We Act, Why We Eat,” whose mission is to “eat against a group that seems not to care for the well-being of its students or itself.”
All is not lost though. Several students continue the herculean fight and, in proof that no student idea is so foolish to fail to draw faculty enthusiasts, a professor has joined the strikers. The Sun reports:
On Thursday, a professor of Political Science at Barnard, Dennis Dalton, joined the strike. Mr. Dalton, 69, who studies Gandhi, said he would continue to teach classes while subsisting on orange juice and water, according to the student newspaper, the Columbia Spectator. “I want the core curriculum supplemented by writings on Gandhi, King, Malcolm X,” he said.
And you thought the hunger strike couldn’t become more ridiculous. I’d suggest the nutritive benefits of solar healing for the intrepid strikers. The practice promises “that after 9 months, one can eventually win a victory over hunger” simply by subsisting on the sun. If only the strikers had found out earlier. Their set of demands is sufficiently incoherent that they could easily additionally demand that the dining halls be replaced with a nutritive sun observatory. No one would bat an eye.