“Substandard,” “Unsanitary,” and “Undesirable”: CPC’s Open Forum on Columbia’s Expansion

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Above-standard and highly sanitary detective Jed Bush explores the controversies surrounding expansion at Monday’s CPC forum.

A misleading image representing another type of expansion

Last night, the Coalition to Protect Community (CPC) organized a panel discussion on SCUD— efforts to Stop Columbia University Displacement—in a small lecture hall in the Mathematics Building. Though students did not come out in droves (the crowd numbered around 40, with students making up around half of the attendees), that did not prevent two hours of discussion on the issues regarding the University expansion, from its economic aspect, to scathing criticism of the divisive and misleading language Bollinger’s administration has used on the issue.

The panel featured six speakers: two students, Yoni Golijov and Layan Fuleihan, one professor, Mindy Fullilove, and several community members, Sarah Martin, Tom DeMott, and Earl Kooperkamp. An invitation was extended to PrezBo, and though he did not show, his absence was marked by an empty chair.

The panel began with the two students discussing the effect of the expansion on the student body, with Golijov speaking on the need to preserve the memory of past expansion efforts, given that most students only stay in the community for four years. Fuleihan reminded the audience that the very idea of “Morningside Heights” was a false division meant to separate Columbia from its less wealthy Harlem neighbors. Still, for the rest of the panelists, most of the discontent stemmed less from the idea of expansion itself, but rather the University’s methods–which opponents argue have only contributed to further gentrification and division within the neighborhood.

Martin expressed concern over the expansion, discussing it within the greater context of the death of public housing across the country; she was even more concerned by the lack of any regard for the current residents’ wishes. For example, in the USenate, Martin claimed Bollinger had mitigated opposition groups to a “small minority,” citing Community Board 9 as evidence, though Martin then revealed that CB9 had voted overwhelmingly against the expansion effort.

DeMott echoed these concerns, pointing to several quotes from PrezBo and the administration that gave off a worryingly patronizing tone. One from 2004 asserted that Columbia used bullying tactics during negotiations, as the University claimed it needed “all or nothing” to go through with the expansion–but, seven years later, despite several major holdouts, they’ve begun work anyways. Another, procured from the USenate minutes, claimed that neighborhood residents were “substandard” and “unsanitary”—paralleling a quote from the University Provost during the 1960s expansion, describing the surrounding area as “a neighborhood of undesirables.” Perhaps most disappointing to the panel was the perceived sense that Columbia’s faculty was giving tacit consent to the expansion, a sentiment supported by piece written by Andrew Delbanco where the issue of expansion was brushed under the rug for being a “sparsely populated” area.

As the event petered out, various students and community member took time to speak of building further solidarity with the community members. Some expressed frustration at the University’s efforts to reach out to low-income students, while simultaneously dividing the university from its lower income neighbors. Others suggested that the issue was not quite black and white, as past gentrification in other neighborhoods had raised the unemployment in Harlem, making some willing to go along with the expansion plans in order to regain employment. Regardless, most seemed pleased at the turnout and energy of the event, and Tom Kappner was no exception: “I’ve been to many of these over the years, including a couple during my time here in ‘68, and this was up there with the best.”

Galactic expansion via Wikimedia

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  1. Waitasec

    DeMott graduated CC in 88 I believe, so he couldn't have been here in 1968. Could it be Tom Kappner you're talking about?

  2. FYI  

    The guy in charge of the Manhattanville expansion, City Councilman Daniel Garodnick, is coming to Columbia to discuss that project tomorrow, 3/28--it's going to be at 11AM in 801 IAB. Just figured people interested in this story might want to come to that.

  3. Anonymous

    Any student at Columbia who is against this is a moron and shouldn't be going here. Please have a panel discussion now on the benefits to Columbia, the students, the neighborhood, and future generations soon please to be fair and gave any credibility.

  4. Anonymous

    Why do we never hear complaints in Cambridge when Harvard wants to build something, or Palo Alto when Stanford builds literally millions of square feet of buildings per year? Are they just smarter?

    • Anonymous

      Because Harvard is building on not-so-densely-populated land purchased from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority. And Stanford's campus is 8,180 acres, 2/3rds of which is open space.

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