Last night, lucky students (along with invited guests like CCSC President Karishma Habbu, ESC President Tim Qin, and members of the media) spent an evening in PrezBo’s house for one of his famous “Fireside Chats,” dining on fine cuisine (mini hot dogs, mini burgers, regular size chicken fingers, and cookies) and discussing the state of the university. Bwog’s presidential pyromaniac Peter Sterne reports.
Students brought all kinds of gripes to the president, from inadequate advising to the lack of a formal linguistics major. Some were old news to PrezBo, such as student unhappiness with advising, which, he recalled, has come up at every fireside chat for the last few years, though lately “students have been less unhappy” about it. Some issues surprised him. When someone brought up Columbia’s dubious distinction as the most stressed school in the U.S. (according to last year’s Newsweek ranking), PrezBo seeemed incredulous. “It’s not the most stressful university in the country, is it really?” he asked the assembled students, who all replied, more or less, that it was. “Well,” he acknowledged, “I don’t know what to say.”
But he had anticipated most questions. When someone asked about the problems facing the Arts Initiative, he had an polished answer at the ready: the arts are “underinvolved” in the university, so he’s committed to the Arts Initiative; yes, it was started in his office but has since been moved to the School of the Arts; yes, the University will remain committed to the initiative; no, the rumors about the School of the Arts defunding the Initiative are not true; but of course, in this economy you have to acknowledge that budgets will be cut; and so on.
The economy did not dominate the discussion, but it came up repeatedly. After one student questioned why Columbia wasn’t more pre-professional—teaching students the skills that employers wanted to see—PrezBo asked whether students were concerned about their job prospects and student loans. “Be honest about this, I know everybody wants to say they are [in debt, but] how many view the debt you will have as [something that] really worries them?” he asked the audience. Surprisingly few hands went up. In general, observed one student who proudly declared he had taken a sociology class, students at Columbia are “pretty much guaranteed to be in the middle class” when they graduate, despite the recession. “Part of our education, though, is looking beyond our own perspectives,” noted another student, who had probably taken an anthropology class. “I feel like the weight of what might be happening to people our age at other schools should be felt by us.”
After the jump: global centers, evasive answers, and the problem with fireside chats