We pay nearly $90K to Columbia but can’t even get on campus

We pay nearly $90K to Columbia but can’t even get on campus
We pay nearly $90K to Columbia but can’t even get on campus

Rikki Schlott

U.S. News

By Rikki Schlott

Published
April 30, 2024, 6:23 pm ET

Columbia University students — who are paying an eye-watering $89,000 in tuition — say they’re not getting their money’s worth now that campus is closed in the wake of ongoing protests and riots.

Early Tuesday morning, the university announced that the grounds are closed to all students who don’t live on-site in dorms.

As a part-time student myself, I was outraged when I showed up to campus Tuesday afternoon, swiped my ID card and set off an alarm. Even though I’m paying Columbia tuition, I’m barred from using the campus grounds.

Columbia’s campus is shut down to non-resident students after protesters took over Hamilton Hall. REUTERS
Students at Columbia ignored a deadline to clear their encampment Monday. AP

It feels as though students like me are being punished for the actions of a rule-breaking few.

The movement came after pro-Palestinian student protesters broke into and forcibly occupied Hamilton Hall Tuesday morning, after being told to abandon their “liberated zone” encampment or face suspension.

Avi Weinberg, a Jewish student who is not part of the protest, says the situation makes him feel like he’s suspended.

“They locked down the campus, and they basically suspended the entire student body for the actions of probably 100 kids who are inside campus right now,” the 25-year-old senior told The Post. “The kids who are breaking rules are the only ones with access right now.

“As a student at Columbia, I want to be able to access all the resources and all the spaces that any student should be allowed to access,” Weinberg, who is studying economics, added. “And this protest has been preventing students from having just free movement on our own campus.”

And it’s all happening just as students are preparing for final exams, which begin Friday, and the end of the school year.

Columbia student Anthony Rispo says his study plans have been up-ended by the protests. Anthony Rispo/Facebook

“I live in a small apartment off campus, and it’s difficult for me to study in my apartment,” Weinberg said. “I look forward to going to the library to study and prepare for interviews and my school work. Now that I’m job hunting, it’s very detrimental that I don’t have that space anymore.”

Chaya Droznik, a 22-year-old junior studying computer science, lives near school and depends heavily on campus resources, including the dining halls, the gym and the library study space.

“I can’t exercise as I normally would. I can’t eat as I normally would. “I can’t study like I normally would,” she said. “It feels like I paid for something, I’m not getting it — and I want my money back, of course.”

Other students told The Post’s Jack Morphet and Emily Crane they aren’t able to use the remainder of their dining plan — worth about $18 a meal.

Chaya Droznik depends on Columbia for her meals — but can’t access the campus now. Courtesy of Chaya Droznik

“We’re low-income students. We rely on Columbia dining service to eat, especially at the end of the semester,” Taylor Francisco, 26, said. “I just want to eat to sustain my brain while I do my work.”

Anthony Rispo, a 34-year-old psychology student, agrees the school is letting students down.

“When it comes to access to campus, I feel like I’m not getting my money’s worth at all,” he told The Post. “And today when they said don’t come on campus at all, that’s where I felt really slighted.”

Rispo, who commutes from Putnam County, depends on the campus library space to get work done, and he says not having access to it during final weeks is especially harmful to his education.

“The protesting really threw a wrench into things and distracted the end-of-year process for me,” he explained. “It’s final season, and if this wasn’t going on, I’d be on campus a ton. But now I can’t be.”

Avi Weinberg worries that his graduation ceremony will be impacted by the protests. Courtesy of Avi Weinberg

Droznik is also furious that his tuition is paying the paychecks of faculty members who are taking part in the protests.

“Faculty are out there with the protesters blocking entrances to the encampment, and my tuition money is going to their paychecks while they’re on campus intimidating us and preventing us from moving freely,” she said.

Weinberg, who is supposed to graduate next month, worries the ceremony might not happen — he estimated a 75% chance it’s disrupted — and says the value of his Columbia degree has been degraded by the protests.

“The school lost its backbone, and I don’t even know how they can recover from this,” Weinberg said.

Campus is closed to many students after rioters took over Hamilton Hall. REUTERS

According to Rispo, the solution is simple: the university should refund a portion of students’ money for lost time and access.

“I think at this point, it’s fair for the university to prorate tuition,” he said. “Our access to the school is being inhibited, and there absolutely should be a monetary adjustment.”

I certainly feel the same. My first semester at Columbia has been derailed by tension and hostility on campus — and now I can’t even access it at all.

Additional reporting by Jack Morphet and Emily Crane

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