Student organizations and governance
The web of student organizations and governance at Columbia is decently complex, and much of the complexity comes from a long bureaucratic history that few apart from Columbia can boast. This article deals with student groups excluding Columbia's affiliates: Barnard College, Teachers College, Union Theological Seminary, and Jewish Theological Seminary.
Student organizations for undergraduates take two immediate high-order groupings: recognized and unrecognized. There are certainly groups of students who form for a purpose quite often but are not recognized by the structure in place, and thus are not considered "recognized". Student groups of the recognized category number over 400 just for undergraduates alone.
Any group of students wishing to become recognized--and thus receive some amount funding and other benefits--must become recognized through one of two main means:
There are five governing boards that oversee undergraduate student groups on campus:
- Club Sports Governing Board - club sports
- Intergreek Council - fraternities and sororities
- Student Governing Board - religious, political, humanitarian, activist, and identity groups
- Community Impact - community service groups
- Activities Board at Columbia - everything that doesn't fit into another category
Each board has its own rules, policies, and timelines for recognition. Once recognized by one of these boards, a group is entitled to usually some amount of student life fees in the form of a budget, a Columbia student group account, and the ability to reserve space with University Events Management. Each board also has other benefits specific to its groups, such as the ability to use the Columbia logo, space in Dodge Fitness Center, etc.
These governing boards, in turn, get their funding from the student councils each year in a process (sometimes ironically) called F@CU. Barnard College's participation in funding these governing boards (and thus student groups) is seriously complicated.
Departments and Offices
A number of academic departments and administrative offices host student organizations that are not recognized by the system of governing boards. In most cases, however, departmental recognition is often a first step to later recognition by one of the governing boards (why limit yourself to just one budget?).
There are three undergraduate student councils:
These councils divide out the student life fees collected each year between themselves and the aforementioned governing boards at the F@CU meeting each spring. The councils pursue policy changes important to their constituents (or sometimes not) and host programming of their own.
Each graduate school has its own system for recognizing and supporting student organizations. It's really quite a headache, as some schools allow cross-pollination from other schools and divisions (such as SIPA), but other schools are not so warm to that idea (like Business). If you want to join a graduate student organization, your best bet is probably to get into grad school.
To further complicate matters, there are a small (but ever-growing) number of student groups with membership consisting of students from more than one school. In this case, Columbia College, GS, and SEAS are considered one "school" since they share the same student groups and oversight (more or less). So combination groups could consist of students from different graduate schools (the Medical Center is a notable exception), or a mix of undergraduates and graduates.
In any case, to sort some of this out, the Interschool Governing Board was created in 2006. This governing board is advised by the undergraduate Division of Student Affairs (via the Office of Civic Action and Engagement), but pulls in funding from various graduate schools and the undergraduate student life pool. It should be noted this board is also technically overseen by the University Senate.