Opinion | Columns

Letter to the editor: Deantini doesn't owe you a tragedy response

To the editor:

In the recently published column, “The crocodile tears of Dean Valentini,” Mikhail Klimentov suggests that Dean Valentini does not care about “tragedy response.” Klimentov not only argues that  Valentini’s response to the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Joshua Villa was weak, but he also describes Valentini’s hypothetical attendance at a Black Lives Matter die-in as “fake and politically motivated.”

The assertion that Valentini’s response to the aforementioned events is “weak” is correct, but  for a very particular reason: Columbia administrators don’t have the responsibility of expressing sympathy to the community in the case of a supposed national tragedy.

Indeed, the events that triggered the Black Lives Matter protests were tragic. However, by expecting the administration to reach out every time such an event occurs, we are essentially saying that we need public consolation.

Given all the very necessary things that students ask for—including a rape crisis center and a food pantry—it's baffling that empathy from University authorities is one of them. In an environment where we spend so much time reaffirming our adulthood, asking for emotional reassurance from the administration isn’t just ridiculous—it’s infantilizing.

While reaching out is certainly a nice gesture, consoling us in times of distress is not the administration’s job. The Columbia community is strong; people have friends for a reason. Administrators are here to make sure the University runs smoothly, students graduate on time, and the fat stacks keep coming in. Checking up on students to let them know that they care about their feelings is something I’ve never seen listed as one of the job requirements for college administrators.

Students often lament the actions, or lack thereof, of administrators. In the past, student activists have turned administrators into scapegoats. Executive Vice President for University Life Suzanne Goldberg, for example, has become a scapegoat for No Red Tape. Meanwhile, Student-Worker Solidarity recently crafted effigies of University President Bollinger and Barnard President Deborah Spar as props for protest.

To use administrators as scapegoats for Columbia’s structural problems is disrespectful and myopic. Our administrators are not paid to acquiesce to student demands; rather, they are paid to be cogs in the machine of Columbia’s sprawling bureaucracy.

In the physical absence of the adults who raised us, we look toward their surrogates, our professors and administrators, for adult comfort. Indeed, it’s easy to see why students are drawn to Valentini given his friendly and wryly paternalistic demeanor. Hundreds of miles away from our parents, quarantined in the Columbia bubble, we’re essentially starved of adult attention. This can make it all too enticing to desire a tragedy response from admins.

Despite this, that we have these expectations of administrators does not mean that they are required to capitulate to us. Call your parents, or, if that’s not an option, a friend or a mentor. Just don’t expect the administration to take on that role.

Pressuring Valentini to be a paragon of excellent behaviour by reaching out to students every time something bad happens? Well, I’m fairly sure that’s just not in his job description.

The author is a Barnard College sophomore majoring in urban studies. She is a first-generation college student, TA for Barnard’s environmental science department, and columnist for Spectator. She tweets @Toni_Airaksinen.

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