National Academies Face Growing Criticism for Appointing Columbia President to Chair Committee on Voting
Major pro-democracy activists join those questioning appointment while Bollinger refuses to respect results of overwhelming democratic unionization vote on his own campus
New York City – A broad coalition of pro-Democracy activists sent a letter today to the National Academies’ Future of Voting committee expressing serious concerns over the appointment of Columbia President Lee Bollinger to serve as co-chair.
The letter, which can be read in full here, points out that Bollinger has a record of undemocratic practices on his own campus, particularly his ongoing refusal to honor the results of an overwhelming 72 percent vote in favor of unionization by research and teaching assistants. Signatories include Wendy Fields, the Executive Director of Democracy Initiative; Heather McGhee, President of Demos; Karen Scharff, Executive Director of the Citizen Action of New York; Breana Ross, President of the US Student Association; Aija Nemer-Aanerud, Director of Student Action; LeeAnn Hall, Co-Director of People’s Action; Anna Galland, Executive Director of MoveOn.org and many more. For a full list, click here.
“Delaying and denying the results of an election because you don’t like the outcome is antithetical to the principals of democracy,” said Olga Brudastova, a PhD student and research assistant in Columbia’s Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. “President Bollinger’s treatment of our recent election flies in the face of the goals of this committee. We hope the National Academies considers his record, and focuses on individuals who honor democratic outcomes whether it is convenient for them or not. We are so grateful for the support of the pro-Democracy community, and will continue to make our case.”
The letter comes on the heels of alerts from several other groups alarmed by Bollinger’s handling of this election. Letters expressing similar concerns have been sent by workers at Columbia, and by one of the largest unions of academic scientists in the U.S.
The signatories of the letter wrote:
“As Bollinger himself stated in the University press release announcing his appointment as a co-chair of your committee: “Nothing is more essential to a functioning democracy than the trust citizens have in casting their ballots.” Yet, right on his own campus, Bollinger has undermined that trust by refusing to respect the validity of an overwhelmingly clear National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)-supervised unionization vote, in which 72 percent of research and teaching assistants voted in favor of unionization with a margin of nearly 1,000 votes.”
The letter refers to a December 2016 election in which 72 percent of Columbia’s Research and Teaching Assistants voted to unionize, rejecting an intense anti-union campaign by the administration. The election itself followed a nearly two-year legal effort by Columbia to prevent the vote from happening in the first place. Despite the nearly 1,000 vote margin of victory, a subsequent public petition signed by an even larger majority of the workers in support of unionization, and the regional National Labor Relations Board affirmation of the validity of the vote, Columbia President Lee Bollinger has refused to bargain with the democratically-chosen union.