SIPASA President Survives Dismissal Proceedings

By: Ali Feldhausen

Monday evening on the 4th floor of the International Affairs Building, the SIPASA executive board began dismissal proceedings for the current SIPASA president.

The motion required a three-fourths vote from the executive board to pass. Anonymously, ten members voted for dismissal and seven against (59% for dismissal and 41% against). Thus, the president maintained her position as head of SIPASA.

The process behind these proceedings began approximately two weeks prior, after a board member sent a letter to the executive team. In this message, the member called into question the president’s leadership style and the insensitive comments made during the budget committee meetings. A full outline of the budget committee meeting complaints were listed by a separate entity in the article “In Defense of Diversity: An Open Letter to SIPASA.”

In sending this letter, the team member invoked the use of Section 4.5 within SIPASA’s constitution, which outlines steps towards dismissal. The section reads:

Any SIPASA Officer can initiate dismissal proceedings against any other SIPASA Officer for failing to uphold the mandate, principles, and/or integrity of this Constitution. The initiating SIPASA Officer can in the first instance unilaterally initiate a case for dismissal with the SIPASA General Board or request the Executive Board to initiate proceedings to bring a dismissal case to the General Board. Any SIPASA Officer subjected to dismissal proceedings shall be given reasonable notice as well as an opportunity for defense, and shall be granted due process under the highest voting standard, as further described in Section 7.4 hereof.

SIPASA held a closed meeting to address issues concerning the budget negotiations on Monday February 24th. The board did not make quorum and the meeting was postponed.

On March 5th, many of the members of the SIPA community were first made aware of the SIPASA happenings through a personal comment on Facebook from one of the current Communications Chair. Made in reference to “Breaking the Loop”, the comment read:

As a current member of SIPASA, I've grappled with some of the questions raised in the final two paragraphs. Speaking personally, while I believe growth is part of everyone's journey - it doesn't always happen at the right time.

I firmly believe that as students of a policy school, we deserve more - and need to demand more from our leaders - they must be the standard we hold ourselves to, and the reflection of our collective values. This question has been raised to SIPASA as a motion, and an answer should come soon.

During the proceedings on Monday March 11th, both the president of SIPASA and the accusing board member were given fifteen minutes to state their cases. After these statements, board members were given approximately fifteen to twenty minutes for questions, followed by five minute closing statements from the president and the board member. The president was then asked to leave the room, so that the board could take the final vote.

From what can be gathered from conversations with board members, the dismissal trial and the votes for or against the current president were not just about one thing. Those who supported the president appeared to have done so for a number of reasons, whether that be the belief in second chances or personal relationships.

Likewise, those voting against stressed an insistence on adherence to institutional processes and the president’s lack of public sector leadership experience. This is all in addition to a failure to understand the importance of identity politics and the ways in which this failure may affect the overall legitimacy of the board as the representative body of SIPA.

In response to the dismissal trial, one member commented, “I think it will be interesting to see the direction the board goes in now after the results of the vote have been out. It is concerning to find that half of the board is pro her dismissal, for what seems to be a variety of reasons, and it invites the discussion of whether or not it would be a wise decision for [the president] to resign.”

Nevertheless, since the vote has taken place, many board members have also emphasized the importance of moving forward and working together. Stressing this point, when asked for comment, the president declined to speak until a full General Board statement could be made in the SIPASA Cable, expected to be released on Friday March 15.

Correction: This article previously stated that all SIPASA Board Members were made aware of this article prior to printing in addition to a number of Board Members being asked explicitly for comment. The fact that all board members were aware was based on the assumption that the General Board had access to the email This is, however, not the case.

Turning Plastic into Policy

By: Sean Hansen

At just 24 years old, Boyan Slat is a youthful Dutchman with a passion for conservation, and an incredible drive to clean up the world’s oceans. He’s devoted the past five years of his life to fighting marine pollution through designing an innovative waste catchment system to trap and collect ocean plastic that is currently being implemented in the Pacific Ocean. His work earned him a spot in TIME Magazine’s list of best inventions, a United Nations’ ‘Champion of the Earth’ laureate, and over $35 million in funding for his NGO, The Ocean Cleanup.

Like many of us here at SIPA, Boyan Slat is a problem-solver; someone who studied an intractable public policy challenge that no one had even been willing to tackle, and designed a novel solution that investors and the public could get behind. While it’s too early to determine if his idea will succeed in cleaning up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the drive, determination, and vision of Slat are things that we, as aspiring policymakers, can appreciate and strive towards.

But if eliminating marine pollution throughout the entire Pacific Ocean sounds daunting to you, that’s because it is. For those of us who are inclined to act on a somewhat smaller scale, there are countless ways we can change our everyday behavior to become more environmentally conscious and future-oriented. Below are just a few ways in which Columbia makes it easy for us to shift our behavior – to be more sustainable, become better stewards of our planet, and better advocate for environmentally sustainable policies. 

1.     Cut down on plastic waste. Each year, about 8 million metric tons of plastic finds its way into the ocean. And while Columbia may have earned several accolades in the 2018 Sustainable Campus Index, it still faces a major challenge in addressing plastic waste. Just hang around after any campus events or functions, and watch the amount of food and plastic waste that is discarded day in and day out. Although some cities are starting to move away from single-use plastics (including New York), as a society we need to break away from the comfort and convenience that plastics provide us. Carry a reusable water bottle, coffee mug, or grocery bag. Invest in glass or metal containers as an alternative to plastic Tupperware, and choose to bring a fork with you to eat your lunch instead of grabbing a throw-away plastic one. Try to avoid buying clothes that use synthetic fibers, which contribute to harmful microbead pollution.

2.     Step up recycling. 75% of waste is recyclable, but only about 30% makes it to the proper recycling bins. Columbia University has a comprehensive recycling program divided into two categories: 1) Green bins for mixed paper & cardboard; and 2) blue bins for metal, glass, plastics, & cartons. Recognizing that as students we’re often rushing to class or to grab a free slice of pizza at an event, we can all step up our impact by taking just a moment to sort our trash—both on campus and at home. Educate yourself on the different types of plastic; which can be recycled, and which are the most toxic (see PVC plastics). The labels on Columbia’s trash bins can also be confusing to some; take a look here for a more thorough breakdown of Columbia’s recycling system.

3.     Travel sustainably. The transportation industry is the leading source of carbon pollution in the U.S., contributing 75% of all carbon monoxide pollution and nearly a third of total greenhouse gas emissions. Choosing alternate means of transportation – a la Citi-Bikes, a personal bike, public transport, or simply carpooling – can be a huge factor in reducing the number of cars on the road, thus driving down emissions. Moreover, Columbia received the top performer award in transportation sustainability from last year’s Sustainable Campus Index. Columbia’s decision to phase out its diesel-powered campus shuttles and replace them with a fleet of electric busses will reduce emissions by 70% on campus, making it even easier to travel throughout Morningside Heights sustainably.

4.     Eat Responsibly. Changing your eating habits is tough. But it’s also one of the most effective means to combat climate change and global warming. Animal agriculture accounts for between 10-20% of greenhouse gas emissions – making it the second largest contributor to man-made greenhouse gases. Aside from the release of methane, however, animal farming also demands significant agricultural, water, land, and energy resources that exacerbate environmental stress. With a quickly growing world population, shifting resources from animal farming to agricultural farming could produce a much larger yield of vegetables, at a much lower environmental cost. This isn’t to say you need to give up meat entirely and move towards veganism (although that is what the United Nations recommends...) – it can be as simple as going meat-free once or twice a week, or phasing out dairy products.  

5.     Get Engaged. There are countless opportunities at Columbia to get involved in sustainability on and off campus. Check out the Earth Institute’s Center for Sustainability, which hosts events and offers fellowships for pioneering research ideas in sustainability. Join SIPA’s Environmental Coalition (ECO), which strives to build a community of like-minded environmentally conscious students and organize events around sustainability – including an upcoming week-long trek through Costa Rica to learn about organic farming, permaculture, and biodiversity. And earlier this month, Columbia hosted the 16th annual All Ivy Environmental and Sustainable Development Career Fair – which aims to connect environmentally sustainable businesses and organizations with likeminded students.

It can be easy to dismiss the impact of these individual actions. But collectively, these choices add up and contribute to a wider environmental movement that is rapidly growing. Whether you are ridding the ocean of several hundred metric tons of plastic waste or simply refusing a plastic grocery bag, SIPA encourages us to be forward-thinking practitioners -- and to reflect on those choices we make.


Open Letter on Exploitative Photography

Open Letter on Exploitative Photography

On the topic of photography of capstone projects at a February SIPA Liason Orientation, a presenter commented that “office or domestic photos” are not as interesting as “those in an African village.” SIPA students speak out against perceived encouragement of “poverty porn” by the SIPA administration, and offer steps the administration can take to implore students to refrain from taking and sharing exploitative photography of affected populations and communities.

Breaking the Loop

Breaking the Loop

In response to controversy surrounding the SIPASA budget meetings, Ali Feldhausen writes, “we love to revel in other people’s flaws and point out how we are better. However, the reality is that unless we are actively taking steps to improve our community and change SIPA’s shameful lack of awareness around race and intersectionality than we can claim no moral high ground.”

Man or Machine? Algorithms in the American Criminal Justice System

Man or Machine? Algorithms in the American Criminal Justice System

In an era of criminal justice reform, many jurisdictions in the U.S. are turning to risk-assessment algorithms to reform an unfair bond system. Shalaka Joshi illuminates the racial biases fueling these algorithms, and advocates for regulation to ensure representativeness, fairness, and transparency in our criminal justice system.

Career Profiles: Foreign Service Officer

A spotlight on different career paths students can pursue after SIPA

By: Walter Kerr

SIPA is a feeder school for the US Foreign Service. In my seven years as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO), including three overseas tours, I served with dozens of SIPA graduates.

There is no “right” time to become a US diplomat. When I joined, colleagues in my entering class ranged from recent college graduates to those joining as second or third careers. There is no “right” background, either. My FSO colleagues were former teachers, journalists, scientists, bankers, consultants, soldiers. In Brazil, I served with a guy who used to be a scout for the Boston Red Sox.

Why Join the Foreign Service?

People join the Foreign Service for many reasons: the opportunity to serve your country; to live abroad; to learn new languages; as well as to have impact early in your career. During my first tours overseas, I visited Americans incarcerated in Chinese jails to help them understand their rights in a murky legal system. I also helped destitute US citizens get home, managed international exchange programs that linked up-and-coming foreign leaders with their counterparts in the United States, and helped document and make public human rights abuses.

Insider Tips

To join, applicants need to take a written test (the Foreign Service Officer Test, or FSOT in Foreign Service lingo), submit writing samples, and undergo a day’s worth of role playing, job interviews, and other activities (this day is known as the Oral Assessment).

  • For the FSOT, you should be familiar with the US Constitution, have a good grasp of written English, and have a survey-level understanding of important historical events. To prepare, I picked up The Almanac of American History, which provides a cliffnotes of the most important topics in US history. I also memorized the names and locations of the ten largest lakes in the world, ten tallest mountains, ten longest rivers, as well as every article and amendment in the US Constitution. I’m glad I did.

  • Visit the State Department’s careers website and memorize the State Department’s six precepts (leadership, communication, management, etc.). Every FSO knows these precepts by heart. They are the criteria by which promotion panels evaluate us, and the criteria you will be evaluated against for entry into the Foreign Service.

  • Have stories ready to go that speak to each precept that show why you’re the best candidate.

  • Pick up a critical needs language or, even better, a super critical needs language like Mandarin, Arabic, or Korean. Everyone who passes the Oral Assessment is put on a rank-ordered hiring list, known as the Register, and proficiency in one of these languages will give you significant bonus points which will put you ahead of others who made the Register.

Words of Wisdom

A retired ambassador once told me something along the lines of, “Early in their careers, people choose assignments based on where they want to live. In the middle of their careers people choose jobs based on what they want to do. Only at the end of their careers do people realize the thing that made them happiest was whom they worked for.” I echo this.

Seek out opportunities to work for excellent ambassadors and other bosses. Also, don’t serve in places where you disagree with US policy. No matter where you serve, your job will be to defend and advance US interests. Work in places where you will be proud to do that.

While I’ve left the Foreign Service, I still love the institution of the Foreign Service. I recommend it strongly to SIPA students interested in pursuing a career in public service who also want to live overseas. There are few more rewarding, intellectually challenging, and adventurous ways to serve your country.

Walter Kerr is a first year student in the EMPA program. After seven years in the Foreign Service, he now serves as Chief of Staff for Zenysis, a Silicon Valley-based technology company active in international development.