“Fireside chat” something of a misnomer

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Armin Rosen was shocked to see PrezBo wearing a digital watch last night. He reports on the festivities at 60 Morningside.

Although most of the attendees to last night’s fireside chat were excited just to set foot in the palatial and impeccably air-conditioned residence at the corner of 116th and Morningside, Rajash Ramakrishnan, SEAS ’07, wasn’t buying into the hype. “Is free food, free propaganda a sufficient response?” he replied when asked what kind of expectations he had for the evening’s event. Roughly two hours later, Ramakrishnan felt vindicated. “This wasn’t a forum to answer questions,” he said afterwards. “It’s free food. Let’s enjoy the free food.”

And enjoy the free food I did. The menu was delightfully lowbrow, and the spread of mini burgers and pigs-in-a-blanket succeeded in icing what might have been a combative crowd of concerned students.

As for the propaganda…this fireside chat represented a crucial opportunity for Bollinger to speak candidly on the single most controversial thing he has ever done or will ever do as Columbia’s president. If judged only as performance it was an unqualified triumph, as Bollinger repeatedly hit on all of his talking points. Basically: when he scolding Ahmadinejad he was speaking not as a university president but as a concerned individual who felt very strongly about everything he said; that we’re “still trying to understand what it means to engage world issues in a meaningful way;” that pandering politeness has no place in serious debates that demand our passion and emotion. The last point wasn’t without a certain irony, since the audience was totally arrested by politeness. Indeed, it took six or seven questions for anybody to even bring up Ahmadinejad by name.

If judged as a candid exchange of questions and answers, last night’s interaction fell somewhat short. PrezBo pled ignorance when he was asked whether Columbia’s relationship with pharmaceutical companies conflicted with the goal of bringing cheap, generic drugs to the third world, and he deferred to Dean Colombo on a question about the sluggish progress of freeing up space on Lerner 6. While Columbia remains a bureaucratic nightmare and while PrezBo has turned himself into a lightning rod for lefties and righties alike, you would never have been able to tell. He stayed on message, which can be summarized thusly: the world is changing, and interconnected. Globalization, the Internet, the global society, Kluge, Jeffrey Sachs. How do we prepare you all? By having debates! Lots and lots of debates! That, and Manhattanville will save mankind.

The participants seemed oddly satisfied by all of this.  Perhaps they were blown away by getting closer to Prezbo than they’d be ‘till graduation (likely; one girl even personally thanked him afterwards for his work on Gratz v. Bollinger). Or perhaps everybody at Columbia actually is happy about everything, and nobody’s pissed about tenure, expansion, GS financial aid (to be fair, somebody did ask about GS financial aid, but Bollinger’s reply that it is up to GS to raise its own funds was far from satisfying), bureaucracy, racism, or the embarrassment to our university that is the Hamilton elevator.  It certainly seemed that way, at least in the broadest possible sense: “Is this the kind of campus you’d want to be part of?” PrezBo asked participants at one point. Something tells me he wasn’t disappointed by the response.


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  1. btw  

    It's Rajesh Ramakrishnan, SEAS '08. I hope you got his quote right, at least.

  2. btw

    I've never seen Prezbo without a digital watch. He's a runner. It's his MO.

  3. FUCKING  

    hate Prezbo. Hate him.

  4. purple  

    Stop being so over the top, it's not necessarily the "most controversial thing he will ever do". Spec/bwog were a pain at the fireside, they snapped pictures for a solid ten minutes, and then scribbled furiously at everything Prezbo said. It was a small room, and yet there needed to be a press corner?
    That being said, Prezbo definitely walked by the Ahmadinejad criticism, which was a weak move. Let's not ignore the fact that his talk on Manhattenville was interesting.

    I would also blame his weak responses, on shitty questions. Let's actually use our academic skills to formulate a question rather than leaving an open ended critique for him to ignore. The question about ARV drugs was so poorly formulated that Prezbo (and half the room) didn't know what was even being asked.

  5. follow up  

    Also, way to give a shitty understanding of GS finanacial aid. They have merit based financial aid because it was established post WWII as part of the gi bill and thus had huge government funding. It's a money maker for Columbia, and the majority of gs students lacked the credentials that their undergrad peers needed to get in. They are a continuing education school, and thus don't warrant need based financial aid, when the majority of them have had time to work. Yeah, Prezbo walked by issues, but once again, students asked him dumb questions or unrealistic ones. Also, it's not his perview to deal with Lerner six, he deferred to Columbo who gave the candid albiet unsatisfactory answer that petty politics and a shortage of space for offices had prevented it opening up.

    • gser

      GS, like all undergrad colleges at columbia, operates at a net loss wrt tuition. Income has to come from outside, which is the biggest reason the school asks you for donations after you graduate.

    • Also

      GS isn't a continuing education school, maybe you're confusing it with CCE? GS is what it claims to be, a college for non-trads: university employees, commuters, older students, part-time students, etc.

      Bollinger is correct in that GS is responsible for its own financial aid funds, it takes a 1,000,000 donation provide full-tuition for a student (assuming depreciated interest of ~$40,000/year). Columbia College has many, many endowed funds providing scholarship money for its students. So there's a lot of it.

      GS only has a few, but there is a fair amount ($15,000/year max merit aid for non PALS students) of money floating around for a 60 year old school. Add on a few Pell Grants and TAPS, you can leave with 'only' 20-30,000 in debt.

      Less than a year's salary. It sucks, but better than 100,000 like some kids I know, however. Don't forget to donate to your alumni fund, GSers!

  6. Guys  

    60 Morningside, not 600.

  7. the

    real question is why pellegrino isn't served at all student events?

  8. P.S.  

    EXACTLY! Of course he was wearing a digital watch; perhaps Bwog wouldn't understand, as they spend entirely too much time on the ramps snarking it up on this rag while everyone is out in streets taking action (e.g. exercising).

    Surely you hoped that he had worn a Rolex, and surely that makes you a lame little douche.

    • hmm

      I think the point about the digital watch was that it was in contrast to the idea of a "fireside chat"-it's not very old-fashioned. Bwog was just trying to be cute, not critical, but it didn't quite work.

  9. Tao Fan  

    I was having a discussion about the flaws in GS earlier tonight with a student that most certainly fit the non-traditional mold and never would've had a shot at Columbia if it weren't for the school and happens to be doing really well in all of his classes.

    Anyway, I tend to think that it has a lot to do with the type of student recruited to GS. CC has 200 years on GS and I'm willing to bet, overall, a far wealther student body, or at least far more wealthier students (to use something Tao once discussed in Spec) who in turn already have the funds to contribute post-graduation. GS just doesn't have enough of those students that can quickly turn around and give back to the school, coupled with the jump that CC has on the school, it's really difficult to compete in terms of aid. GS almost never benefits from the largest gifts that come through here.

    So not to turn this into a GS debate, the school definitely serves a purpose for those that otherwise wouldn't have a shot at an ivy league education. There are some fantastic people going through it along with some not so fantastic people that don't make it to graduation, not unlike the other divisions. I only wish people would get past the whole "they're all 60 years old" nonsense. Most I've met are in their early to mid-20s and a few in their 30s.

  10. why do  

    motherfuckers feel its necessary to blast the fucking bass on their goddamn is it hip hop? at fucking 4 in the goddamn morning? can bwog please run a story on these assholes. whoa, the volume just went up.

  11. Anonymous  

    Bwog and Spec bastardized what would otherwise be a good event. Nuff' said

  12. Bob U  

    People (especially wannabe journalists) have a strong urge to criticize authority figures, even if those figures are actually doing their job well.

    There are lots of problems with the Columbia bureaucracy, but Bollinger himself seems an admirable president. Let's consider some of this policies:

    1. Focus on making Columbia better known globally and giving Columbia a more cosmopolitan and global outlook (by having events like the World Leaders' Forum, more international students, etc.).

    This policy shows real long-term vision. In the next few decades, more and more students from India, China, etc. will be choosing between US universities and universities in Europe or in their own countries. At present, even if they choose the US, they prefer the US colleges which they have heard of in their countries, and that means Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Caltech, Wharton, before Columbia. Yet Columbia is not only a top research university, but it is in the most cosmopolitan city in the world with a significant contingent of international students (2nd largest in the country). So Columbia should take advantage of its location and position itself as a global player.

    2. Manhattanville

    Columbia needs more space: it is an enormous priority. A few blocks a way is a neighborhood with very few residents and a number of small businesses. Columbia pays these people way over the odds for their property, offers to bring a huge number of long-term jobs into the area, sets up a school which is 50% local students, and offers to make lots of new green spaces in an area that lacks them. This is the most obvious win-win situation ever. Even if some residents or businesses don't really want to leave, they only need to go a few blocks away to find an area very much like Manhattanville. This is important to note! Columbia is only building on a few blocks of land. Is it really so bad that people have to move a mere few blocks away to some other part of Harlem. Columbia kids forget that Harlem covers quite a big area. Building on a few blocks of land won't gentrify the whole of Harlem or force the former residents of Manhattanville to move out to the Bronx.

    The people who don't like Manhattanville are deluded into seeing Columbia as a nasty multinational corporation that only cares about its profits and will screw people over in order to get them. Just because Columbia is run by old white men doesn't mean that it is evil.

    3. Inviting controversial people.

    Awesome. PrezBo is willing to take risks and receive flak in order to give Columbia students the richest possible College experience. He is willing to stand up to criticism and do what he believes in.

  13. haha  

    Lee C. wore that sweater last fireside chat too. hee hee.

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