Proposals to restructure Columbia University

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On October 10, 1968, the Columbia Spectator published a special supplement, entitled Restructuring Columbia, that sought to describe various plans to restructure Columbia's governance and administration structure in the wake of the 1968 protests.[1] Student, faculty, and Trustee working groups all proposed different ideas. At the end of the 1968-1969 academic year, the structure designed and advocated for by the Executive Committee of the Faculty, the University Senate, was submitted for referendum, passed, and implemented by the Board of Trustees. The Senate remains today as Columbia's comprehensive governance, legislative, and policy-making body, subject only to the reserve power of the Board of Trustees.

Temple Special Committee

The Temple Special Committee, chaired by Trustee Emeritus Alan H. Temple, oversaw the initial inquiries on restructuring. The Temple Special Committee did not articulate any proposals of its own, but acknowledged the need for restructuring at every level of the University, and articulated the basic principles of participative idea generation that governed the process.

Students for a Restructured University Proposal

The Students for a Restructured University, a moderate breakaway faction of the Students for a Democratic Society, presented the most comprehensive, far-reaching, and radical proposal for a reform of University governance and administration. It eerily resembled a Qaddafi-esque Jamahiriya of popular committees operating in a multi-tiered form of direct democracy. It is commonly accepted that had this plan been implemented, Columbia would collapse, black hole-like, into an infinitely dense bureaucratic singularity.


Each constituency (student, tenured faculty, untenured faculty) in a department would form a Departmental Committee with decision-making powers, with powers shared equally by students and faculty. Committee members would be elected on a 12-month basis, subject to recall, with no representative serving more than two consecutive terms.

The constituencies' respective departmental committees would also elect a Departmental Coordinating Committee, also elected on a 12-month basis, subject to recall, with no representative serving more than two consecutive terms. The purpose of the Coordinating Committee is to be an intradepartmental liaison between the various committees of the department.

All students and faculty would then elect a Department Chairman, on a 12-month basis, subject to recall, with no Chairman serving more than two consecutive terms.


Departmental constituencies then elect representatives to the Divisional Coordinating Committee, on a 12-month basis, subject to recall, with no representative serving more than two consecutive terms. In this case, "division" refers to a "faculty" or a "school". The Divisional Coordinating Committee then creates subcommittees to govern the division, such as a divisional Committee on Instruction.

Each division, aside from the departments, will contain a "Free Department" - eerily reminiscent of the free cities of the Holy Roman Empire - which would contain interdisciplinary courses, and courses found otherwise unacceptable to any of the department. Any group of 10 students, with the agreement of a faculty member, can institute a course in the free department.

The dean of the division is elected by equal votes of faculty and student to a 3-year term, renewable once, and subject to 2/3 recall vote.

Joint Legislature

The Joint Legislature (JL) would include equal numbers of students and faculty representatives, each having one vote. The JL would be the final authority in all University matters, elects the Provost, and nominates candidates for the President. The JL would appoint and supervise the entire central administration. The Trustees would pro forma ratify all actions of the JL.


The Provost would be elected annually by the JL to a 3-year term, renewable indefinitely, and subject to recall. He would make day-to-day decisions necessary to the successful operation of the University.

President and Trustees

The proposal transforms the office of the President from being a functional chief executive to a Commonwealth-style titular and honorary figurehead. A slate of candidates would be nominated by a student-faculty search committee instituted by the JL. The President will then be elected this slate by the University community in a general election for a term of five years, with a maximum of two terms, subject to impeachment by a 2/3 vote of the JL. The President would act as the ceremonial leader and fundraiser.

The Trustees would defer all decisions to the JL, granting pro forma assent to all of its actions. The Trustees' main functions would be fundraising. All Trustees would be elected by all University alumni and by all members of the University community to six-year terms, renewable, and subject to recall.

Executive Committee of the Faculty Proposal

The Executive Committee of the Faculty proposed a structure which was essentially implemented in the form of the University Senate, that is a unicameral body faculty, administration, students, and other constituencies. There was a key difference, in that in addition to token student representation (ten students), the Executive Committee originally advocated for a additional separate and parallel Student Assembly, which would have succeeded the derided and dismissed Columbia University Student Council. As it was implemented, the Student Assembly was rightly seen as useless, and student representation was doubled to twenty.

Some members of the Executive Committee also advocated for the presiding officer to be a faculty member, while others preferred the President. Eventually, it was agreed that the President would preside at plenary meetings, but be required to work with a faculty Chairman of the Executive Committee, who would run the Senate in between plenaries.

Walsh Committee Proposal

The Walsh Report, written by a Trustee committee, advocated "no basic change in the structure of university government, although we suggest consideration of several possible improvements". They wanted the Columbia University Student Council to take on a more "federal" structure, and devolve significant responsibilities to the school specific student councils. Faculty would continue in the administration-dominated University Council.

Significantly, the Trustees would appoint a Board of Visitors to every single school "with specific duties of inspection and report". Essentially, it would have strengthened the powers of central administration, weakened the students, and kept the faculty in their state of non-involvement.


  1. Restructuring Columbia, Columbia Spectator, 10 October 1968