Lecture Hopping: PrezBo takes the pulse
Written by Bwog Staff
President Bollinger, evidently aware of recent ferment among the masses, decided to turn his Freedom of Speech class today into an open airing of grievances. An anonymous Bwog correspondent was taking notes.
The whole conversation was not overly serious. No students were really accusatory, and none of the answers were really defensive. He actually didn’t give answers to most of the complaints, but just kept calling on students and hearing new ones–it all seemed like it was more about him getting his finger on the pulse of the student body than it was about addressing our concerns directly. But no one really cared, because we as a class have a pretty good rapport with him–he’s kind of condescending and nit-picky sometimes, and he never lets anyone get away with anything, but he always does it with a knowing smile, and the class is always lighthearted. He has an acute sense of self-awareness and uses it well.
How the class starts:
Bollinger: (Calls out names as usual.) OK. Any Questions? (No one raises hand.) Anything about the University? (No hands.) How many of you like the University? (About 75% of hands go up.) What can we do to improve it?
A bunch of points were raised, some important, some trivial. No one brought up expansion, or the one-sidedness of the liberal faculty, or the recent hate crimes and the state of tolerance on campus. Also, no one said anything that related to Ahmadinejad or Horowitz or anything in that realm. The suggestions they DID make:
– There’s too much bureaucracy. “It seems like there are too many steps to getting anything done,” said one kid. Events are too hard to plan, said another. Bollinger re-states the issue, says “Hm,” nods, and points at another student.
– We should have more time off for Thanksgiving so that students from far-off places can go home. Bollinger’s response, with a wry smile: “Well, I’ve let you know that we won’t have class on that Wednesday. I’ve done my bit. (Class laughs.) I’m a good guy.”
– The Jewish high holy days make it almost impossible for Jewish students to be both Jewish and students in September, and there’s a disparity in how sensitive different professors are to that fact. Bollinger: “Well, who would you talk to about that? Why wouldn’t you go to Austin Quigley, or Peter Awn, or Jerry Navirtil? Why wouldn’t student government take on the issue?”
– Advising sucks, the mostly-senior class generally agreed. It seems that if you want to go into consulting and finance, you’re golden–but if you want to go into any other field, you’re on your own. Bollinger: “Advising is always a big problem. But what’s the issue here? If you want to go talk to someone about life after Columbia, is it hard to do? Is it hard to do because the kind of people who do this have too many students and its hard to get an appointment, or is it that they don’t know very much about the fields?”
Students: A bit of both. The pre-law and pre-medical offices, for instance, are combined, which they probably shouldn’t be, and it’s a pretty small office. Our alumni connections are also pretty weak for all careers outside of consulting and finance. One Student makes the point that the best, most real way to fix this is to strengthen alumni-student connections in other fields. Also, the point is raised that it is sometimes even hard to make jobs out of internships because, unlike many other schools, academic credit is not given to Columbia students for internships, and as such, we have to cut down hours at internships.
– New topic: Study abroad is hard in general; bad advising office, tough requirements for transfers, etc. Bollinger’s response: Asks how many of us studied abroad (about half), how many didn’t (about half), and how many wanted to but couldn’t (about 80% of the last half). “One of the things I’m pushing is to create very short, brief opportunities abroad. So you could go visit one of Jeff Sachs’ Millennium Village for a week, for example. In our modern age, you really can fly somewhere, stay for three days, and learn a hell of a lot. How many people would find that kind of opportunity attractive?” (90% of class raises hand.)
-New topic: Bollinger: “The fact that no one has raised coursework–is that because everyone is completely happy with the way that works?” (Starts calling on students). Someone brings up a point about how TAs are inconsistent in quality. Some gigantic douche changes the subject before Bollinger has a chance to respond to say that he is very concerned with the “Lack of court space for pickup basketball,” describing a time when he tried to play pickup basketball and the baseball team was practicing on the court. He brings up what he refers to as “all sorts of non-basketball related activities” overtaking the basketball space. The class laughs and silently hates him.
Soon, the conversation changes to the Core. One student says that he understands and believes in the philosophy behind the Core, and says that the Core is a great thing–when it’s well done. But any given student’s experience with the core is determined almost exclusively by his individual professors, and the quality varies so widely that you can’t count on core classes being a good experience. Bollinger asks how many people agree. About 75% of the class raise their hands.
Bollinger: “Almost everybody I know believes that the Core is one of the great achievements of higher education, especially the curriculum of Lit Hum and CC–to a certain extent. But staffing the Core is a very big problem. It’s a difficulty for the institution, and somehow we haven’t figured out how to do that better. But now I want to know what you think of this thesis: The problem with the core is that it is almost completely western. You will undoubtedly, almost every single one of you in one form or another, be dealing with China, India, and the international scene. That will be a part of your life no matter what you do, and that needs to be reflected in the Core. Most of the time, it is relegated to Major Cultures. But then again, Major Cultures are dealt with in bigger classes, and it’s not treated with the same attention to detail, and it segments the world, and it’s an us-and-them mentality. There are many ways to say this, but I want to know what you think of this critique.”
The class generally agrees and disagrees–on the one hand, our world is more international and that needs to be reflected. On the other hand, we don’t want to lose what’s good about the Core now. The discussion doesn’t really seem to be going anywhere. Finally, after a litany of complaints, he says “OK, I got it.” It’s about 4:55.