Welcome to the new Office of University Life

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Four weeks into my new role as executive vice president for University life at Columbia, I want to use this Spectrum post to share a bit about my background as well as some initial thoughts about the new Office of University Life, its philosophy, goals, and possibilities for student involvement.  

As I often tell my law students, I would not have predicted, either when I was in college or in law school, that I would become a professor.  I wanted to be a civil rights lawyer and focus on issues related to race and sex discrimination. As it turns out, I wound up joining Lambda Legal, where I worked on LGBT and HIV issues—from antidiscrimination and criminal law to relationship recognition, immigration, and employment. Even then, I loved to teach—and co-taught a weekly class in civil rights and race relations to high school students and, later, a seminar in government regulation of sexuality as part of Fordham Law School’s evening program.

I decided to become a law professor because I wanted to spend more time writing about the difficult problems I worked on as a law reform lawyer, and now, more than a decade after entering academia, my scholarship continues to focus on barriers to equality, both procedural and substantive. I have been on the Law School faculty since 2006, and my teaching and related work runs the gamut from civil procedure to sexuality and gender law, advocacy, and programs in Lawyering for Change.

All of these experiences and interests inform my approach to the new Office of University Life. As an academic, I am deeply interested in the intellectual life and community citizenship questions and practices that are fundamental to a great university. And as a teacher and an advocate, I have long believed that effective engagement with these questions happens best as part of a collaborative enterprise, whether in classrooms, governance bodies, or society more generally.  

With these values in mind, my vision for the Office of University Life includes three primary, overlapping focal points: intellectual life and community citizenship; student life; and student conduct. While Columbia is a decentralized university—meaning that most of the activities and resources related to these areas are school-specific—there can be enormous value, in my view, in bringing together those with shared interests and expertise from across our different schools.  

My experience thus far in helping to launch the Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative has also highlighted the value in students, faculty, and administrators working together on University-wide projects. In this way, the synergies will be not only across schools but across populations with distinct experiences, interests, and expertise.

Put simply, the new office’s methodology is one of collaboration both across schools and among students, faculty, and administrators.  As the office is brand new, and in the process of staffing, this is, of course, a work in progress that will change over time.  But my aim is to bring this collaborative model to all that the office does.

In future columns, I will share in greater depth some opening ideas for the office’s work and report on the ongoing Sexual Respect and Community Citizenship Initiative.  But I should mention here that in addition to that Initiative, which was created by students, faculty, and staff from around the University, early work has also begun on race, ethnicity, and justice initiatives, including initial meetings with students, faculty, and administrators from some schools across the University and more to come soon.

In the meantime, if you have ideas for the new office or are interested in becoming involved, please reach out to UniversityLife@columbia.edu.  The fundamental commitment to collaborative work means that students from all schools, together with faculty and administrators, are vital to this process.  


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