The Pellegrino splashed into champagne glasses and the trays of mini-burgers (already doused in ketchup) were stacked high on a circular table. Students and administrators milled about, waiting for Bollinger’s first Fireside Chat of the semester to begin. Expectations for the Chat were high, as many students were anxious to voice their concerns about last semester’s slew of Major Controversies, among other things. Adam Nover, SEAS ’10, wanted to know, “Why we can’t give money to the middle class like Harvard.” Paige Thompson, CC’10, was concerned with space issues and possibly renovating older buildings like Pupin. At 6:20 PM the finger sandwiches were running low and there was still no sign of PrezBo. “If he gets fired, he gets evicted from this house right?” said Nover to a friend.
Mere minutes later, PrezBo, dapper as always in gray-blue sweater and white collared shirt, entered the room and the audience quickly filed into chairs. The Fireside Chat began with something of a State of the PrezBo address, in which he discussed things that have been on his mind and his hopes for the future– both immediate and distant. PrezBo stated that the Gym Controversy of 1968 is a major cause of Columbia’s inability to expand before December 21, 2007. “Instead of hiding from the controversy of the Gym, say ‘Remember the Gym,'” he said.
PrezBo also assured the audience that while no current students would still be undergraduates when the Manhattanville campus is completed, plans for Phase One (the construction of a New York City public high school and SIPA, Business School, and School of the Arts buildings) has already begun. He also said that the northwest corner’s Interdisciplinary Science Building will be the last new structure erected on the Morningside campus.
As this is Fireside Chat and not Fireside Monologue, the floor then opened up to questions. Q&A began with a question from GSer Ira about increasing support and academic opportunity for members of the LGBTQ community. “I can certainly make statements or raise money,” PrezBo explained. But according to Bollinger, at the end of the day it’s the faculty in individual disciplines who decide how and in what manner things are studied and funds are allocated.
Next, a SEAS student and PrezBo entered a discussion about the erection of the Manhattanville campus and how much science you’re getting per dollar. SEAS questioner suggested that building a campus outside of New York, where real estate prices aren’t astronomical, might result in more lab space and more classrooms. PrezBo explained that “one of the great things about the Morningside space is how intensely populated it is.” Except residents of virtually all Columbia dorms and members of perhaps every student group scrambling for space might disagree.
The Chat went on as PrezBo mentioned he was currently re-reading Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and briefly explained the history of ROTC on law school campuses.
Ahmadinejad’s first mention came at 7:06 PM, as someone asked PrezBo to re-hash the history behind M.A. invitation. “I did not personally invite Ahmadinejad to speak,” Bollinger explained, instead attributing/crediting/blaming Profs. Coatsworth and Bulliet. PrezBo opined that students “should be exposed to people who have power around the world. Even very very bad people.” He paused. “I trust you.”
After Ahmadinejad, the denouement. One girl quizzed Bollinger about why he wanted to be a University president. “I was a perfectly happy scholar,” he began. Another told an inappropriately complicated story involving her Comp. Lit./Sustainable Development double major, Morgan Stanley, and Stanley Fish. PrezBo told her that he thinks the “humanities are where life is.” Bwog observed a few SEAS kids looking down at their laps.
PrezBo instructed the audience to complain, and complain we did. “Middle class trap!” yelled one girl, referring to financial aid troubles. Two international students also reported that they’d like to see need-blind financial aid to those from overseas. Others cited housing for GS students, another for a stronger (read: competent) advising system. “I think we know we’ve got a lot of work to do on advising,” PrezBo said. One girl wanted to know if PrezBo had any “favorite quotes that helped with life’s difficulties.” There was silence, then laughter. PrezBo, as it turns out, didn’t have any favorite quotes that have helped him through life’s troubles, but if Bwog had to choose one for him it might be the following, found in chapter five of PrezBo’s book of choice, The Magic Mountain: “Six months at most after they get here, these young people– and they are mostly young who come– have lost every idea they had, except flirtation and temperature.”