From the Issue: Strong, Beautiful, Broke

Be on the lookout for the December issue of The Blue & Whitearriving on campus this week. In the meantime, Bwog will honor our heritage/amorous affair with our mother magazine by posting features from the upcoming issue. Such treats include a discussion of Occupy Wall Street with Columbia professor Todd Gitlin, a look at Columbia’s proposal for a new engineering campus, and the politics of space in Lerner. Below is Peter Sterne’s investigation into Barnard’s budget woes.

Colleges are in the business of education. Though they are large private corporations that manage hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars a year, as non-profits, institutions of higher learning have a culture distinct from that of most for-profit private corporations. As Greg Brown, Barnard College’s Chief Operating Officer, says of the industry, “This isn’t corporate America, where the COO makes 100 times what anyone else makes.” In order to fulfill its mission, though, Barnard has to manage its money well, which requires it to make decisions that, in the short-term, may not be seem to be in the best interests of its students.

Barnard, eking out its existence on a tiny endowment, has faced financial difficulties for years, and as a result, recently adopted policies aimed at increasing revenue that have upset many students. Last year, it required all students, even those commuting to school or attending part-time, to purchase a mandatory meal plan, which costs at least $300 a semester. In October, Dean of Barnard College Avis Hinkson officially ended the informal practice of allowing some students to enroll as part-time students for their final semester of senior year, and paying significantly less for these fewer credits. The elimination of part-time enrollment set off a wave of controversy and renewed scrutiny of Barnard’s budget.

Technically, Barnard has always required all students to enroll as full-time students for all of their eight semesters. In practice, though, any student could petition for part-time enrollment, and these petitions were almost always granted. Barnard thus developed a culture of part-time enrollment, and in some cases academic advisers even encouraged students to enroll part-time. Now that the informal policy has been eliminated, many students are concerned. “It will certainly limit options of being ‘strong and beautiful’ on campus, given that students generally took this chance to take on special jobs and full-time internships,” says Hannah Goldstein, BC ’13. An outspoken critic of the change, she had planned to enroll part-time for her final semester next year and warns that the change “will encourage finance-conscious seniors to cut their time here short,” prompting them to graduate a semester early rather than pay for the cost of a final full-time semester.



Like Columbia, this fellow's got everything under control

You may have seen it in the news yesterday morning, but we just wanted to make sure you were aware that Columbia’s endowment is flush with hard-earned and successfully-invested dollars. $7.8 billion of them in fact, (you might be interested to know that the cost of Manhattanville was pegged at $7 billion). Think about all the cheeseburgers you could buy with that.

Here’s the official press release

Bwoglines: 1, 2, 3, 4 Loko Edition

St. Peter's Denial /wikimedia

Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ has banned the alcoholic energy drink Four Loko. Let’s hope this disturbing trend stays in Jersey. Or not. (CBS New York)

Princeton’s endowment posted a mere 14.7% gain last year, to Columbia’s 17%. (NYT)

The New Museum’s latest exhibit contains a newspaper on the end of newspapers. (Capital NY)

This guy can teach you how to ride a bike in the city, even where there’s no bike lane. (NYT)

The Feds busted a 45-member New York-based marijuana ring yesterday which included Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Kareem ‘Biggs’ Burke. Bwog sincerely hopes this doesn’t affect Memphis Bleek’s habits. (WSJ)

A Gentleman and a Scholar, and a Modest One at That

PrezBo was unwilling to display the recent gains posted by the endowment at the Fun Run on Friday.

There’s Nothing Like the Last Minute

Know what you’re going to be for Halloween? Neither do we. With three days to go, it’s time to give in and get serious—you’re not going to buck gender normativity this year, pal. But all is not lost, with this list of easy-to-find, last minute costumes. Hustle over to Ricky’s (you know you’ve always wanted to see the inside) or a friend’s well-stocked closet so you don’t feel like a fool come Friday

  O’Connell’s Cougar: Distinguish yourself from the riffraff with this studded “Waist Beauty” tramp stamp temporary tattoo ($9.99). 

Grad student: She works nights to pay for her Ph.D., but that doesn’t mean she can’t have a little fun.  The “Slutty Barista” ($29.99) is at Ricky’s.

Columbia’s Shrinking Endowment: Find a large friend and wear his clothes. A variation on the traditional “Shrinking Woman” costume.

The Regretful Carman Resident:
Doodle on yourself with permanent marker.  Look forlorn, and repeat: “No, guys! I was napping, not passed out!”


Morning Roundup: Damn the Man

US treasury

In a surprising blow to future bureaucrats, Columbia cuts funding for student governing boards (Spec).

New York finds out who will take on Bloomberg as residents vote in primary elections (NY1).

While you’re still smoking 25 feet away from Butler, remember that the city might ban smoking in public parks (Gawker).

Remember that one time Ahmadinejad came to campus?  Spec does, and suggests you actually sign up for the World Leaders’ Forum this year (Spec).

New York remains the safest big city in America — no matter what your grandmother says (NY1). 

The eighties continue to suffer as Patrick Swayze dies at 57 from pancreatic cancer (Gothamist).

Morning Roundup: Emerging Relatively Unscathed

Even though Blair from Gossip Girl considers them her “holy trinity,” 2/3 of HYP are officially Big Losers now! (WSJ) (Bloomberg)

Columbia, on the other hand, reports smaller losses. (Reuters)

Morgan Stanley’s new CEO made it through the B-School. (WSJ)

New York Fashion Week keeps on strutting its stuff, despite the recession. (NYT)

And in somber swine news: a Cornell student dies of H1N1. (NYT)

Photo via selfhelpdaily.com

The Budget’s Gone Up?

Yes, the endowment may have taken a plunge in recent months, but you may have noticed the news was largely lacking in stories about spending cuts around Columbia. Contrast that with our friends in places such as New Haven, Princeton, Ithaca, and (especially) Cambridge, all of whom knew long ago that cuts were on the way.

Now, the New York Times reports that, despite a 22 percent hit on the endowment, Columbia’s budget will increase spending 0.4 percent. That’s still a decline after adjusting for inflation, technically, but, as the Times puts it, the amount is “is essentially flat and avoids the severe cuts faced by its peers.”

How is Columbia making it through relatively intact? According to the Times, “Columbia does not rely on its endowment nearly as much as its peers do; about 13 percent of its annual operating expenses are met with income from its endowment, which was valued at $7.1 billion on June 30 last year.” By contrast, Princeton has relied on its endowment for 45 percent of expenses. This is not to say that cost-cutting has been non-existent, “but mostly the university has slowed the pace of hiring, creating panels to screen all appointments. Many of Columbia’s schools are not raising faculty and staff salaries for next year.” As a result, Columbia has maitained its AAA credit rating, something that institutions like Dartmouth have been unable to do. Turns out all those years of a struggling endowment did have an upside.

PrezBo Announces Endowment Decline of 22%, “Meaningful Expense Reductions”

PrezBo has decided to close the academic year with a less-than-cheery missive about the University’s budget. Not surprisingly, the numbers have declined more since January: “For the first nine months of the University’s fiscal year ending on March 31, 2009, the value of the endowment declined nearly 22%, with private investments and real assets valued on the normal one quarter lag as of December 31.” But, PrezBo claims, “while hardly good news, my sense is that this constitutes strong relative performance both compared to benchmark averages in the financial markets and university endowments nationally.”

As for cost-cutting measures, “meaningful expense reductions have been set in place.  Additionally, many salaries across the University will be held constant.” Additionally, as already announced in January, new hires will be “reviewed” across the university (read: will be significantly less likely), and no new “capital projects” will be started.

And it looks as if creditors are satisfied so far: “last week both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s reaffirmed their highest credit rating, Aaa and AAA respectively, for Columbia’s debt.” Other revenue streams continue to remain strong, including tuition. Then again, Bwog suspects tuition will continue keeping you poor, but at least no one’s going to be repossessing your room during finals. Full email after the jump. (more…)

Columbia Raises Lots of Money, Possibly for The Last Time

Ah, memories of when money grew on trees: a study by the Council for Aid to Education determined that Columbia raised $495.11 million in Fiscal Year 2008, an increase of 17% over FY 2007, good for third in the country. The only two schools to raise more money than Columbia? Stanford ($785.04 million) and Harvard ($650.63 million). 

Overall, the 1,052 institutions in the report raised $31.6 billion, an increase of 6.2%. However, that number may be the last increase for several years, as Ann Kaplan, the director of the study, told the Wall Street Journal that many institutions “hit a wall” at the start of the year. Kaplan also predicts that the new year could see the steepest year-to-year decline in decades. So if you see one of these people, consider giving them a hug. Seeing Manhattanville in your lifetime could depend on it.


Looking for Some Schadenfreude?

After PrezBo’s announcement about the state of the endowment, Bwog decided to see how Columbia’s finances are doing relative to other Ivies. The results offer great opportunities for schadenfreude since Columbia’s predicted loss may be the lowest in the League.

As posted last night, Columbia has far out-performed Harvard and Yale, which lost 22 percent and 25 percent respectively, as well as Princeton, which also has an expected loss of 25 percent. Worse off is Cornell with a whopping 27 percent loss that is leading to major budget cuts and tuition increases.

UPenn has only reported for the 2008 fiscal year, which ended last June. Their loss up until June was 6.1 percent, the largest drop among the nation’s top twenty university endowments for that fiscal year. Its current numbers are unknown. See more losses after the jump.


PrezBo Announces Endowment Damage, Outlines Cost-Cutting to Come

Another month, another depressing e-mail about the state of Columbia finances: earlier this evening, President Bollinger sent an email to the Columbia community (which may or may not have reached your inbox at this point) about the state of the endowment, and this time he included actual figures! After spending a paragraph on why “Columbia has maintained its impressive momentum as one of the world’s great research universities,” PrezBo announced that “during the six-month period ending December 31st, the total return of the University’s investment portfolio declined by approximately 15%.” 

The decline, while still significant, is not as bad as it could have been. Last month, Barnard announced a six-month decline (of the entire endowment, as opposed to its investments portfolio) of around 25%, while Harvard and Yale lost 22% and 25% on their investments, respectively, through the end of October (at that point, according to Bollinger’s email, Columbia’s own decline was only 11.8%).

Bollinger closes the dispatch with a summary of the budget cuts ahead. “Although certain parts of the University (such as the central administration) are significantly dependent on endowment for operating revenue…” he writes, “the University as a whole counts on its endowment for only 13% of operating budget.” Even though this number is lower than Columbia’s peers, Bollinger says, “to facilitate a smooth transition to these new financial realities, we are asking all budget units to model an 8% decline in endowment funds available for operations next year.” Bwog would like to suggest a 100% cut in the War on Fun. Full email after the jump. (more…)

Don’t Worry, It’s Only $3 Million

And yet more benjamins go up in smoke. Earlier this afternoon, Columbia confirmed a Bloomberg News report that it had “uncovered” a $3 million loss in its law school endowment tied to Bernie Madoff. Madoff is currently out on bail for what many are calling the largest Ponzi scheme in history.

The $3 million is part of a 1980 gift to the law school from an unnamed alumnus who retained the right to decide how the money was invested. Columbia spokesman Robert Hornsby told Bloomberg that “only in rare circumstances in the past, and after approval by the university’s gift review committee, has Columbia accepted such a gift to be retained in another form of investment.” As for the larger “merged endowment pool,” under which most gifts are invested, Columbia has not discovered any further losses. According to Hornsby, Columbia also does not have any funds managed by Ezra Merkin‘s fund Ascot Partners.

It is unknown how much of the law school endowment is represented by $3 million, as Columbia does not break down the endowment by school. Regardless, Columbia can now join the club of schools defrauded by Madoff, which also includes New York Law School ($2 million), Bard ($3 million), Yeshiva ($14.5 million), Tufts ($20 million), and NYU ($24 million).

AltSpec: While You Were Away

Classes “begin” in a few days, figuratively because a few of Bwog’s have already been canceled for CC’83 Awesomeness Festivities.  But your fair university didn’t get nearly as much sleep as you did over break.  Here’s what Alma Mater’s been up to.

People of Old

Alumni provide proof that we’ll all find jobs, eventually.  In the meantime, buff your resume with good deeds for the UN, or fulfill your second grade dream and work for the circus (Bwog is jealous of the latter grads).  If the arts are your thing, you could end up guiding an opera company or debuting at Sundance.

People of New

The good times might be few years away, but you can still relish your present hell situation in this (frigid) town.  Alex Gross, CC’11, came here for football and was profiled by his local paper.  The Dayton Daily News mentions “learning how to get around the city by subway” as one of the things he has managed to pick up.  And how to stand on line, instead of in line.  Four other Columbians were recently profiled in The New York Times.  A few years ago, they formed the Columbia Ballet Collaborative after, you know, “juggling calculus, molecular biology and Hindi-Urdu” and the other cool things college kids do.  Representing straight-laced, conscientious Butler residents everywhere, one student assured the reporter “I never take drugs.” (more…)

Of Money, Money, and Obama

Three pieces of Columbia-related real-world news: first, some dude named Barack Obama has been chosen as TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year. The most interesting part of the feature are “previously unpublished photos” of a very cool lookin’ Obama, taken while he was at Occidental, a year before arriving at Columbia. One of the photos (at right) has a cigarette that looks enough like a blunt that Matt Drudge has it up on his front page already.

In endowment news, Yale estimates that its endowment has fallen 25% since the end of June, further adding that it expects no growth until fiscal 2011. As a result, Yale will be cutting expenses by slowing salary growth and delaying construction of several new buildings.

Finally, a Columbia University tech start-up has won a national award. Hey, if this is a good time to found a bank, maybe tech start-ups can work as well.