“Fireside chat” something of a misnomer
Written by Bwog Staff
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.