Task Force on Military Engagement

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The University Senate-commissioned Task Force on Military Engagement conducted Columbia University's spring 2011 proceedings on the Reserve Officers Training Corps. The Task Force existed from December 20, 2010 to March 4, 2011. Following the conclusion of its processes and delivery of its report, the University Senate voted 51-17-1 to "explore mutually beneficial relationships with the Armed Forces of the United States, including participation in the programs of the Reserve Officers Training Corps." This decision reversed a 42-year-old de facto ban on ROTC at Columbia.

Run-up and Preparation - Summer-Fall 2010

Members of the 2010-2011 Student Affairs Committee of the University Senate led by chairman Tao Tan, CC '07, Business '11 began planning for the process in June 2010.

The Obama administration had made clear its intent on repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and following an unpopular legislative year, the window of opportunity was closing fast on its ability to move its social agenda.

Meanwhile, there was an indication that the Columbia administration was growing steadily friendlier toward the Armed Forces of the United States. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had visited in 2010 at the invitation of University President Lee Bollinger and delivered a very well-received speech, and Dean of Columbia College Michele Moody-Adams had made comments that at least hinted at the possibility of a more open view toward the military in the September/October 2009 issue of Columbia College Today, the alumni magazine.[1] Most tellingly, in her previous job as a senior administrator at Cornell University, she supervised all three branches of Cornell’s fully and formally-recognized ROTC programs.

Conversations and meetings were held with key stakeholders in the faculty and administrative leadership with the question, “what do we do if DADT is repealed in the next year?” By the end of the summer, a basic understanding and consensus had been established that the University's senior leadership envisioned a sort of a public-facing, consultative process as opposed to a highly-centralized and closely-held process which other schools eventually adopted.

At the beginning of the fall 2010 semester, since DADT had not yet been repealed, the Student Affairs Committee unanimously agreed on the following governing principles:

  • Our top priority is that the student voice is heard.
  • We will take no action until and unless “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed legislatively or judicially.
  • We will take no position on Reserve Officers Training Corps at present, until and unless student body opinion is gauged.

Behind-the-scenes negotiations, however, were taking place. The initial discussions over the summer coalesced into a detailed framework of a potential ROTC process that included public hearings, solicitation of statements, and an opinion survey. By November 2010, these plans received the endorsement and support at the highest levels of University leadership and were in place, ready to be implemented upon the repeal of DADT.

Process and Planning - December 2010-January 2011

The DADT law was repealed by Congress on Sunday, December 19, 2010. On Monday, December 20, 2010, the Task Force on Military Engagement, jointly commissioned by the Student Affairs and Executive Committees of the Senate, announced its spring process, including the hearings, survey, and statement solicitation. Over the next few weeks, high-profile University leaders were secured to host the hearings, logistical arrangements were made, and the rest of the Task Force was assembled.

The full roster of Task Force members were:

Events of the Task Force - February 2011

Solicitation of Statements

The Task Force established an e-mail alias to collect statements from members of the University community. Overall, the Task Force received 113 statements, 65 from current students, 28 from faculty and staff, and 20 from alumni. Submitters could request anonymity or complete redaction of remarks. The Task Force accepted submissions up to 11:59 PM on March 2, 2011.

Major University figures who submitted statements of support include Dean of Columbia Business School Glenn Hubbard, Dean of Columbia Law School David Schizer, Professor Richard Betts of SIPA, Professor Kenneth Jackson of History, and Professor John Huber of Political Science.

Hearings of the Task Force

The Task Force ran three public hearings in February. The hearings were a "town hall" format where any attendee could express an opinion to the Task Force. The hearings were intended primarily as forums for individuals to make their views known. The hearings were open to all CUID holders, including alumni.

First Hearing

The first hearing took place on Monday, February 7, 2011 in the Altschul Auditorium (417 IAB) from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM. The hearing was hosted by George Blumenthal Professor of Political Economy and Chair of the Executive Committee of the University Senate Sharyn O'Halloran, who offered opening remarks. Approximately 75 students attended this hearing. The Columbia Daily Spectator later reported an estimate of 100 attendees with 40 speakers. Twenty-one spoke against ROTC, and eighteen were in support, with one ambiguous.[2] Many speakers spoke multiple times.

Second Hearing

The second hearing took place on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 in 309 Havemeyer from 8 PM to 10 PM, running over by half an hour. Opening remarks were given by Dean of Columbia College Michele Moody-Adams. The hearing was controversial because some ROTC opponents claimed that Moody-Adams's remarks were indicative of a bias in favor of ROTC. Moody-Adams later denied this and criticized the inaccurate characterization as such in a letter to the editor.[3]

The second hearing also witnessed the Hecklegate incident where GS freshman Anthony Maschek, a wounded veteran, was heckled by ROTC opponents, and called a racist, for defending the role of the military by stating, "It doesn't matter how you feel about the war. It doesn't matter how you feel about fighting. There are bad men out there plotting to kill you." Naturally, this ignited a conservative media firestorm, with the publication of an inflammatory article in the New York Post a few days later.[4] It was widely felt that this incident, which occurred over 10 seconds during a mostly respectful two-and-a-hour hearing, was inaccurately portrayed in the press, and blown out of proportion.

The Spectator estimated that 200 attended the second hearing, with a "slight majority" of speakers again speaking against ROTC.[5]

Third Hearing

The third hearing took place on Wednesday, February 23, 2011 in the Altschul Auditorium (417 IAB) from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM, running over by half an hour. Opening remarks were given by Provost and Dean of Faculties Claude Steele. This hearing, by one estimate, drew 500+ attendees, with 400 accommodated in the auditorium, and over 100 outside trying to get in. It was the most heavily-attended event in the history of the University Senate.

No major disturbances or controversies took place during this hearing. However, anger and media attention over the incident at the previous hearing led to a heavy security presence.

Student Body Survey

A student body survey was conducted from Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 8 PM to Thursday, February 24, at 11:59 PM. The survey was open to students of Columbia College, the undergraduate program at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School of General Studies, Barnard College, and the School of International and Public Affairs -- schools which had any level of ROTC participation in the last five years.

The survey was designed with the cooperation of CUIT and was linked to the Columbia's WIND password authentication system. The previous survey was not tied to the password authentication system and suffered from allegations of repeat voting and widespread voter fraud. Notably, votes tied to a single voter (the individual had posted his personalized voting link online, thereby allowing anyone who clicked on it to vote.) Nearly one-third of the 6,913 votes tabulated were thrown out as duplicate or somehow fraudulent.[6]

The survey's result follows.

  • 60% of students surveyed are in favor, 33% are not in favor, and 7% don’t know or have no opinion on the first question of “I ______ of a return of ROTC to Columbia's campuses.”
    • Of the five academic programs surveyed, SIPA was 66% in favor, GS 71%, SEAS 70%, and CC 59%. Barnard voted 42% in favor, and 47% not in favor.
  • 79% of students surveyed are in favor, 13% not in favor, and 7% don’t know or have no opinion on the second question of “I ______ of Columbia allowing participation of Columbia students in ROTC, whether on- or off-campus.”
  • 39% of students surveyed believe a relationship between Columbia and the military supports or somewhat supports Columbia's identity, principles, and policies. 35% of students surveyed believe the relationship detracts or somewhat detracts. 24% believe it neither supports nor detracts, and 2% don’t know or have no opinion.
  • 42% of students surveyed believe military engagement will increase or somewhat increase academic freedom on campus. 28% believe it will decrease or somewhat decrease academic freedom. 27% believe it neither increases or decreases academic freedom, and 3% don’t know or have no opinion.
  • 37% of students surveyed are either supportive or somewhat supportive of the military’s current practices with respect to Columbia University’s non-discrimination policy. 39% are unsupportive or somewhat unsupportive of current practices. 13% are neither supportive nor unsupportive of current practices, and 11% don’t know or have no opinion.
  • 58% of students surveyed believe military engagement on campus will increase or somewhat increase intellectual diversity on campus. 18% believe it would reduce or somewhat reduce intellectual diversity. 22% believe it would neither increase nor reduce intellectual diversity, and 6% don’t know or have no opinion.
  • 66% of students surveyed believe that an ROTC program that leads to more Columbia-educated officers would be a positive development. 18% believe it would be a negative development. 11% are neutral, and 5% don’t know or have no opinion.
  • 2,252 students out of 11,629 eligible returned surveys (19%).
    • 152 students from SIPA returned surveys (11% turnout).
    • 307 from General Studies returned surveys (15% turnout).
    • 283 from SEAS undergraduate returned surveys (19% turnout).
    • 1,113 from Columbia College returned surveys (25% turnout).
    • 397 from Barnard College returned surveys (17% turnout).

Report of the Task Force - March 2011

The Task Force assembled its report following the conclusion of the hearings and it was released to the University Senate on March 4, 2011. The report weighed in at a "monster" 228 pages, although the latter 194 pages were reprints of collected statements and the transcripts provided in full.

The report comprised the following major sections.



Described purpose and mission of the Task Force, as well as its membership.

Description of ROTC

Described, in brief, the ROTC program, including service obligation and tuition benefits.

History of ROTC at Columbia

Described Columbia's history of military engagement, dating back to the French and Indian War (1756-1763). Describes in detail the process and findings of the 1969 Mansfield Commission (terminating contract with NROTC), the 1974-1976 Tien Special Committee (reaffirming Mansfield's findings, and further stipulating that future ROTC relationships are subject to the approval of the University Senate), the 2003 Columbia College Student Council survey (65%-35% in favor, but no action taken), the 2005 Senate-commissioned Task Force on ROTC (failed by a 53-10 vote primarily as a result of DADT), and the 2008 joint student council survey (49%-51% split, but racked by allegations of fraud). Describes current conditions under which ROTC would be acceptable, including:

  • Columbia faculty retains control of granting of academic credit.
  • Columbia faculty retains control of appointment of military instructors.
  • Columbia administration retains control of space allocation.

Major Findings

Note: the following sections are reproduced in full from the Report of the Task Force.

Aside from describing results from the survey (see above), the report summarized key issues raised in hearings and statements, Columbia's current military partnerships, and studied ROTC programs at peer schools in the Ivy League.

Key Issue: Discrimination

In 2005, the persistence of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a prominent reason why the Columbia community did not support a return of ROTC to campus. In particular, DADT was frequently interpreted as directly conflicting with Columbia’s non-discrimination policy, which prohibits unlawful discrimination on the basis of gender identity. With the recent repeal by Congress of DADT, the U.S. military has removed one of the primary obstacles preventing open service of gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers.

During the course of the Task Force’s deliberations, the point was repeatedly raised that the U.S. military remains in conflict with Columbia’s non-discrimination policy, both due to the fact that the repeal of DADT has not yet taken effect and because the repeal of DADT will not affect the ability of transgender individuals to serve. Proponents of this position argued that, at present, transgender individuals are precluded from service due to both a diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder and because of the complications attendant with gender reassignment surgery. Points were frequently raised about the importance of preserving our non-discrimination policy, even if a behavior might only harm a small minority. For proponents of this stance, a U.S. military that does not allow for fully open service would be incongruous with Columbia’s policy on discrimination, thereby precluding a return of ROTC.

A number of counter-points were raised on this issue. These include arguments that U.S. military policy is not in violation of Columbia’s non-discrimination policy, that a return of ROTC would not be detrimental to the culture of tolerance and openness encouraged by Columbia and protected by the non-discrimination policy, that aspects of Columbia’s military engagement currently violate the non-discrimination policy with no ill effect, and that, on balance, the practical benefits of a return of ROTC outweigh potential harm.

Key Issue: Views of the Military

ROTC has been linked to general issues regarding Columbia’s engagement with the military. Some members of the community see an ROTC program as an undesired endorsement of the U.S. military by Columbia. Elements of this argument included opposition to the notion of Columbia permitting and enabling the training of military officers, conceptions of the military as a tool of killing and destruction, oppositions to the concepts of armed conflict and militaries, critiques of the U.S. military’s recruitment of low-income individuals and “predatory” recruitment, opposition to current U.S. military action, conceptions of the military as an arm of “U.S. imperialism,” and arguments that a return of ROTC would be an endorsement of the relatively high level of sexual abuse of women in the military.

Contrasting opinions included general support for the military, arguments that Columbia-educated officers will provide the military with effective and nuanced leadership, conceptions of the military as an apolitical implementer of U.S. policy and an improper target of political critiques, observations regarding the role of the military in humanitarian efforts and non-combat operations, and the expression of the positive importance of the military in protecting the freedoms and democracy of the U.S. Another perspective suggested that a lack of on-campus ROTC creates an improper stigma of military service, and is an inappropriate rejection of a history and heritage of military service by members of the Columbia community. Regarding the flaws of the U.S. military, a common rebuttal was that the best way to create change was to advocate from within, including issues surrounding socio-economic status of servicemembers, military attitudes towards open service, conscientious implementation of the laws of war, and the prevention of sexual violence.

Key Issue: Opportunity and Diversity

Proponents of ROTC voiced the argument that a military career is a valid option of which students should be able to avail themselves. They suggested that the University should not hamper students who wish to benefit from the advantages that an ROTC program offers or who wish to ease their entry into a military career. A corollary was raised that reinstating an on-campus program could help to attract more applicants to Columbia, particularly with regard to prospective students who might like to participate in the program or for whom the strength and quality of an ROTC program might be an important factor. Enabling these students to attend Columbia could increase the intellectual diversity of the student body and increase the pool of qualified applicants.

A rejoinder to this position was that benefits which might arise from an on-campus program do not outweigh concerns of non-discrimination or institutional identity.

Key Issue: Financial Considerations

A number of arguments in favor of returning ROTC to campus included the perspective that it would open up additional scholarship and funding opportunities to Columbia students. Proponents suggested that ROTC funds could enable more students to attend the University by freeing up a greater pool of financial aid, and would allow students who are only partially eligible for financial aid to defray some of the cost of attendance. A rebuttal regarding ROTC funding and scholarships focused on the notion that financial incentives are coercive and lead students to commit to potentially life-risking employment after college to attain an education.

As a factual matter, students may withdraw from ROTC at any point, though withdrawal after the first two years often requires repayment of funds received. Failure to repay may result in financial consequences but will not result in any sort of a punitive service requirement or obligation.

Key Issue: Intellectual Diversity and Academic Freedom

Concern was expressed that a formal or institutionalized relationship with the military would be detrimental due to academic concerns. An argument was put forward that military culture promotes deference to authority and cannot be reconciled with the freedom of inquiry and thought enshrined by Columbia University. There was fear that such tension might hinder the academic freedom of those involved.

On the opposite end, an argument was put forward that a liberal arts education is an asset to potential military officers and leaders, and that a greater presence of ROTC cadets among the student body would help to increase diversity of thought and opinion and lead to positive academic interactions. Further arguments in support of a return of ROTC voiced the sentiment that an on-campus program would help to further understanding and interaction between members of the University who might have inaccurate conceptions of military service or of those who choose a military career.

Existing Relationships

Columbia's existing relationships with the Armed Forces were reviewed, including:

  • The Yellow Ribbon Program (the Post-9/11 GI Bill), under which Columbia leads the Ivy League, in providing tuition benefits and educational opportunities to veterans.
  • Military recruiting at Columbia Law School for the JAG Corps, and at the medical and dental schools for Armed Forces postgraduate residencies.
  • Academic programs, including the Teachers College-West Point Eisenhower Leadership Development joint MA program, and PhD fellowships with the Department of Political Science sponsored by West Point.
  • Military research, including Department of Defense Basic Research funding.

ROTC Programs at Peer Schools

Review of ROTC programs at peer schools around the Ivy League. Most support ROTC in an extracurricular capacity without academic credit. However, Cornell University (which is part SUNY) does operate a fully and formally-recognized ROTC program. Certain schools within the University of Pennsylvania also grant academic credit.

Findings and Recommendations

The Task Force made the following unanimous findings and recommendations.

  • First, Columbia has many existing relationships with the U.S. military, notwithstanding ROTC. The Task Force believes that Columbia’s current relationships with the military enrich the Columbia community.
  • Second, the Task Force received a wide and complex range of views and feedback regarding Columbia’s relationship with ROTC and the American military as a whole. The Task Force believes Columbia's relationship with ROTC is an issue of concern for the Columbia community and that this matter should be addressed formally by the University Senate. Furthermore, the Task Force believes the present is an appropriate time for the Senate to revisit its previous stances on ROTC.
  • Third, the Task Force believes that Columbia University should actively support the endeavors of individual students to participate in ROTC programs, whether on- or off-campus. The Task Force believes the Reserve Officers Training Corps is a voluntary activity based on individual choice.
  • Fourth, the Task Force believes that if ROTC is to return to Columbia, it must do so under the provisions that degree credit is determined by the deans, faculties, and appropriate Committees on Instruction, that faculty titles be appropriate by Columbia's criteria, and that Columbia retains control of its space and other resources.
  • Finally, notwithstanding the issue of ROTC, the Task Force believes Columbia's non-discrimination policy is deeply important to Columbia’s identity and expresses shared values of fostering a tolerant and open community.

Senate Legislative Process and Vote - April 2011

Following the receipt of the report, the Senate Executive Committee began drafting legislation to return ROTC to Columbia. An early draft was leaked on March 21, 2011, possibly by a faculty member, which contained unfinished language. Following significant revisions and feedback gathered through the committee revision process, the resolution was endorsed by the following Senate committees:

Senate Meeting of April 1, 2011

The Senate met on Friday, April 1, 2011 at 1:15 PM at their penultimate meeting of the 2010-2011 academic year. All other business was more or less given short shrift. The meeting began with four brief speeches from Senate members:

Aside from a brief round of heckling from Professor Lydia Goehr, the proceedings were completely peaceful.

Following the speeches, Professor Lydia Goehr proposed two amendments, one to drastically alter and essentially defang the resolution (to change the resolution to begin conversations, with a clause to begin conversations on whether to begin conversations), and another to table the resolution. After a few minutes of mass parliamentary confusion, both were defeated by landslide supermajorities.

A few friendly amendments were proposed, including one that removed the protections guaranteeing faculty governance, on President Bollinger's word that such protections would remain in place.

More bickering took place, and one Senator angrily interjected that he wanted to talk about the resolution, not deal with parliamentary procedure proposed by opponents as a delaying tactic. President Bollinger then more or less took over, pronounced that the amendment process was finished, and began asking for speakers for their views on the amendments itself, with a plea to be “succinct”. Senators got antsier and antsier as the views expressed verged more and more into the realm of the bizarre, including one extended monologue on one Senator’s experience as an officer in a Soviet Army artillery battery. This was memorably followed up by the observation “If the US ever resembles the Soviet Union, then an on-campus ROTC program is the least of our concerns!”

Further bickering ensued, as the opponents tried every last-ditch maneuver possible to derail or table the resolution. All failed. Bollinger asked if the assembly was ready to vote (“YES!!”) and called for it. A flurry of hands flew up.

The final vote count was 51 for, 17 against, 1 abstain.

After the vote count was taken, one Senator began chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" which caused Professor Lydia Goehr to angrily snap "Oh grow up!"

Final Resolution

The final resolution, as passed by the University Senate on April 1, 2011 is reproduced below:



WHEREAS, Columbia University’s many existing relationships with the Armed Forces of the United States, such as participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program for veterans, the Eisenhower Leadership Development Program at Teachers College, and the Armed Forces scholarship and residency programs with the Faculty of Health Sciences, enrich the Columbia community; and

WHEREAS, Columbia students have successfully participated in off-campus Reserve Officers Training Corps programs for decades and have recently taken part in various ceremonial functions on campus, including commissioning ceremonies and a weekly color guard; and

WHEREAS, the United States Congress passed a bill repealing 10 U.S.C. § 654 (commonly termed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law) on December 18, 2010, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama, CC ’83 on December 22, 2010; and

WHEREAS, military service, supporting an abiding idea of the nation beyond its policies at any given moment, belongs among those forms of public service honored by Columbia University; and

WHEREAS, the 1976 Tien Special Committee specifically empowers the University Senate to discuss and decide on any future relationships with the Armed Forces; and

WHEREAS, the 2011 Task Force on Military Engagement conducted a broad and representative process, soliciting opinions from the Columbia community; the results of which included a survey of opinion of the student bodies of five schools* with a 60% (for), 33% (against), and 7% (neutral) result specifically on the question of on-campus Reserve Officers Training Corps; and

WHEREAS, the principles of Columbia University’s non-discrimination policy, which are deeply important to Columbia’s identity, express shared values of fostering an open and tolerant community, as shall not abridge the University’s educational mission.


That Columbia University welcomes the opportunity to explore mutually beneficial relationships with the Armed Forces of the United States, including participation in the programs of the Reserve Officers Training Corps.


Executive Committee

Student Affairs Committee

Faculty Affairs Committee

Education Committee

Other Events

Faculty Events

On Tuesday, March 8, 2011, Professor Richard Betts of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War & Peace Studies at SIPA, hosted a faculty forum. Four faculty were invited to present their views, and the floor was then opened up to questions and answers. The faculty speakers were:

On Monday, March 21, 2011, Task Force members presented to the Faculty Council of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Columbia University Medical Center.

On Wednesday, March 30, 2011, the University Senate's faculty caucus hosted a University-wide faculty forum to discuss the issue. The forum was held concurrently and simultaneously with a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which serves Columbia College, the School of General Studies, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the School of the Arts, the School of Continuing Education, and to a lesser extent, the School of International and Public Affairs.

Student Events

On Tuesday, February 22, 2011 the "Coalition Against ROTC" (it seemed to have evolved from the vague-sounding "TogetherColumbia"), which shortly thereafter renamed itself the "Coalition for a Military-Free Campus" held a panel discussion and forum. The speakers were (all speaking against ROTC):

The panel was held because the town halls "do not provide a safe space" to discuss ROTC's return.[7]

On Wednesday, March 2, 2011, ROOTEd hosted a discussion in Carman basement, to examine how the process "both revealed and shaped our community on campus." No one was really sure what they talked about, since it wasn't covered in the campus media.

The (now-renamed) "Coalition for a Military-Free Campus" hosted a town hall on Tuesday, March 29, 2011 in the Intercultural Resource Center to discuss ROTC further. Despite its claim to be a town hall, "attendees were mostly coalition members, along with a handful of other students ... Those at the town hall ... blamed the low attendance on apathy following the closure of the ROTC survey that the University senate sent to five schools last month."[8]

On the day of the University Senate meeting, April 1, 2011, around 20 students (including non-Columbia affiliates) were seen outside Jerome Greene Hall, wearing black, banging drums, and chanting slogans through bullhorns. Nobody apparently explained to them the irony of protesting militarization by banging drums in rhythm, the most militaristic musical instrument in existence. A number of protesters from outside the University were in attendance, in response to a fierce-sounding e-mail sent out to a listserv of an umbrella New York City-wide group of, well, apparently "professional protesters". (Seriously, they had a calendar with one or more protests a day members were supposed to go to.) A few protesters who were CUID holders, did enter Jerome Greene Hall and attend the Senate meeting. They sat quietly in the back and observed the proceedings without creating a disturbance.

Implications of Decision

The resolution merely authorizes the President to "explore mutually beneficial relationships with the Armed Forces." It does not mandate the creation of a program. Also, that issue is moot, as the military must first agree to establish an ROTC program at Columbia, and there is no guarantee it will do so. At present, all it does is permit the President to initiate negotiations. The operational parameters and form of a Columbia ROTC program, if any, other than protection of faculty privileges, are still unknown.

External Links


  1. Meet the New Dean, Columbia College Today, September/October 2009
  2. Opinions mixed at USenate's first ROTC town hall, Columbia Spectator, 8 February 2011
  3. Letter to the editor, Columbia Spectator, 17 February 2011
  4. Hero's unwelcome: Wounded Iraq vet jeered at Columbia, New York Post, 20 February 2011
  5. College dean speaks out in favor of ROTC, Columbia Spectator, 16 February 2011
  6. GSSC President Calls NROTC Survey “Meaningless”, The Bwog, 2 December 2008
  7. Anti-ROTC coalition holds own discussion, Columbia Spectator, 23 February 2011
  8. ROTC opponents still angered by poll, perceived lack of safe space, Columbia Spectator, 30 March, 2011