On this cold fall night, Bwogger Anish Bramhandkar was lucky enough to make the trek over to East Campus to sit in on the most recent incarnation of President Bollinger’s Fireside Chat.  While the mood was decidely somber in the President’s Mansion because of the state of the economy, it seems that PrezBo was also in a hurry to go watch tonight’s Presidential debate.

Tonight was PrezBo’s own “Big Block of Cheese Day,” in which he took in tens of Columbia students into his palacial party space to listen to them chirp about the same things as last time, and to give them a long-needed lesson in economics.  Upon leaving his dusty jacket in the dimly lit foyer and ascending the magnificent marble staircase in his battered sneakers, Bwog happened upon a lacy table set out with bits of dead animal.  Meat on a stick, meat on a bun, cleverly disguised cubed meat, and deep-fried meat with meat-based sauce.  Oh, and some dry vegetable skewers and classy PB&J finger sandwiches.

His sudden appearance from an inconspicuous side elevator brought a hush upon the crowd.  PrezBo shook hands with those immediately around the elevator (Bwog’s first!) and slipped into the “parlor,” wearing a light yellow sweater that only a man of his hair could pull off.  The first part of the discussion was “PrezBo’s History of the World Economy since 1990,” with interjections about freedom of the press.  Bwog found it to be one of the most comprehensive explanations of the current financial crisis it has heard in a while.

Good at provoking discussion (he preferred to call it “controversy”), Bollinger stated that whether or not a market economy is the best way to organize society is a “very live question.”  In addition, we ought to consider whether major institutions have failed this type of economy, and to be aware of the tendency for human excess.  On a broader scale, why is it that the world continues to fail on the big problems: genocide, poverty, and new superpowers.  Poising his hand delicately on the stool next to him, he proclaimed, “These are the vicissitudes of human society.”

An exchange student brought up Bollinger’s reception of Ahmadinejad for the gadzillionth time and PrezBo wearily responded with the same talking points about academic freedom and public debate.  He later defended America’s “dual” educational system of private and public institutions, saying private institutions boast academic excellence and public discourse, whereas public institutions uphold the American principle of universal education.

On Manhattanville, PrezBo drew chiselled fine lines in the pavement about eminent domain and precedent-setting and on financial aid, he promised us that Columbia was already “stretched” with its expanded aid program in anticipation of donations that may no longer arrive, due to the economic crisis.  He’s increased our yearly donations by $300 million since he started as president, making us third after Stanford, but there are still some “adverse economic effects on the University.”  

Despite these problems at home, he wants to work to make Columbia a more international institution in a more globalized society.  He named a number of initiatives and projects Columbia has going in other countries, while defending Columbia’s decision to not open international satellite campuses, saying they are “limited” in scope as they are often in developed countries that can afford them.

On a lighter note, PrezBo didn’t sign the Amethyst Initiative to lower the drinking age to 18 because, frankly, he “didn’t feel any great passion or strength of position” on the matter.  However, he concedes that the drinking age “should probably be 18.”  Plus, we’d probably binge drink anyway, we admitted.

Tired of repeating himself and depressed about the ugly brown carpet covering the gorgeous wood floor, PrezBo peppered the crowd with questions about the upcoming election, and why everyone supports Obama.  “Not only is he a CU grad, but he’s all into that like global citizen stuff and yeah,” we responded.  Appropriately, the debate was scheduled to begin in forty-five minutes, so PrezBo then sent us off into the crisp night.