Here’s a sneak peek of the Autumn issue of The Blue & White, which will be out next week (damn you, Sandy!).
One blustery October afternoon, approximately 60 students shuffle into 501 Schermerhorn for class. Some fiddle with their water bottles, others heave hefty copies of Constitutional Law, Sixth Edition out of their bags. President Bollinger—for the next hour and fifteen minutes, anyway—will become Professor Bollinger. As he glances at the roster and starts to call out names, the classroom falls silent. You can almost hear the collective sigh of relief when he’s settled on two students, a Mr. Fine and a Mr. Chen. Mr. Fine and Mr. Chen are not relieved. For the duration of the class, they’ll have to answer any question Bollinger throws at them, in front of their peers, TAs, and, of course, Professor Bollinger himself. “Mr. Fine?” He calls, smiling. The student raises his hand and begins to speak.
Bollinger is as much a campus legend as he is the face of the University. Many students know him from the parody Twitter account bearing his name, or his widely-discussed (and acclaimed) haircut, before they meet him in person at one of his famous Fireside Chats—that is, if they get the chance. A sighting of PrezBo strolling down College Walk is a gossip-worthy event, chronicled in exclamatory text messages to friends. Students want to know him, impress him, critique him, and so, with visions of trumping the LSAT dancing in their heads, they flock to his class.
Political Science W3285, or Freedom of Speech and Press, holds a certain cachet among Columbia students, thanks to its unique pedagogy and the man behind it. President Bollinger, who has taught the class for 25 years—first as President of the University of Michigan, and now as the President of Columbia—favors a loose version of the Socratic method, a manner of teaching typical of law schools.