College acknowledges working group efforts, but children on campus policy remains unchanged

By Anna Busalacchi, Managing Editor

Kayla Macedo

CFO Jerry Tarrer and Senior Vice President and Provost Marcella David have informed a working group tasked with examining the children on campus policy that more review and consideration from campus leadership is required before any changes can be made.

According to an email sent to the working group on Tuesday from Tarrer and David, the group had proposed changes to the policy calling for “a campus-wide policy welcoming children of employees and students to our campus, as long as COVID visitor policies are followed, the child is supervised by a caregiver at all times, and that, with ‘expected accommodation’ from the worksite, ‘the main purpose of the institution – teaching and learning – will be maintained.'”

While Tarrer and David thanked the working group for their recommendation, they said there remained “overarching concerns about broadly providing access to children, related to security, equity of access, risk management, liability insurance, facilities management and human resources.”

The email continued to say, “We have shared this recommendation with those areas of campus responsibility for input, and will then share the recommendation with campus leadership for review and consideration.”

Jessica Young, a member of the working group and associate professor in the Dance Department, said the working group centered the proposed policy revisions around creating a community of mutual support that is inclusive of all caregivers.

“The response from the provost and CFO could have been sent immediately upon receipt of the working group’s recommendation given that no action has taken place since it was sent on Feb. 4,” Young said in an email to the Chronicle on Wednesday. “This delayed response comes from a place of privilege and demonstrates a lack of understanding about the negative impact that the current children on campus guidelines have on employees and students who are caregivers.”

Jackie Spinner, a member of the working group, associate professor in the Communication Department and a member of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, said in an email to the Chronicle on Tuesday that the college is “delaying their recommendation into oblivion,” and she does not believe the administration wants the college to be a child-friendly campus.

“I’m really worn down by all of this,” Spinner said in the email. “The pandemic was an incredibly stressful time to be a parent. I feel like every time the college asked me to step up, I did. I’m just so tired by all of this and really disappointed.”

When asked for comment, the Chronicle received no response from David, Tarrer or Nathan Bakkum, senior associate provost and working group liaison. In an email to the Chronicle on Wednesday, Lambrini Lukidis, associate vice president of strategic communications and external relations, said, “The working group is reconvening shortly after spring break to continue its work. There is not anything new to share at this time.”

As reported by the Chronicle, the children on campus policy was announced on Sept. 21, 2021, in a collegewide email from David and Tarrer stating, “Generally, minor children of employees or students are not permitted on campus, however, some exceptions may apply due to an emergency or unavoidable circumstance.”

Employees wishing to bring their children, for no more than one hour, must have the permission of their immediate supervisor, according to the email. Requests from faculty must be approved by the senior associate provost through the faculty member’s department chair, and employees must have authorization from their supervising vice president through their immediate supervisor. Students wishing to bring their children to campus must have approval from the dean of students.

The children on campus working group formed one week after the unanimous vote on a motion from the Faculty Senate on Oct. 8 that “strongly requests that the College immediately rescind the guidelines.” A rally by faculty members protesting the policy was held on Oct. 11.

The working group of about 18 faculty and staff, students, deans, chairs and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office members, along with Bakkum, has met four times since the policy was initiated.

Matthew Rillie, working group member, coordinator of student support and engagement at Student Diversity and Inclusion and membership chair of the United Staff of Columbia College, said the working group has yet to meet with Tarrer and the provost, but that their work in unison with Bakkum has been helpful.

Rillie said the timeline of the policy moving forward is unclear. Meanwhile, staff has shared instances of emergencies with caregivers or needing additional flexibility from the college to fulfill caregiving duties.

“We don’t have a timeframe,” Rillie said. “Specific policy concerns have been shared. We don’t have a meeting with the provost or Jerry [Tarrer]; I don’t know if that actually builds trust or not. And I worry about what our institution looks like without actual trust-building.”

Diana Vallera, president of the part-time faculty union, known as CFAC, and an adjunct faculty member in the Photography Department, said the letter was confusing and dismissive.

“The working group was made up of all the constituencies and all the stakeholders, and we spent a great deal of time and really had thorough, thoughtful conversations as we’re supposed to,” Vallera said. “And to have all that time spent, and then almost two months later to receive a letter like this. You know, it was disheartening.”

Vallera said the working group needs a clear response from the college to know what recommendations they will accept or discuss further.

“I certainly hope we can build on what the working group already has accomplished, which was to develop an incredibly welcoming policy around children on campus,” Spinner said in her email. “But I fear that we will continue to be asked for our time and input when they’ve already decided that is not going to happen.”