Bwog’s David Berke ventured into the PrezBo abode for the latest fireside chat.
President Bollinger hosted another fireside (though there is no fireplace) chat this evening, bringing undergraduates to his mansion for an hour-long discussion of campus concerns.
The catered event, with ornate hors d’oeuvres and apple cider poured from stylish silver dispensers by black-tied staff, showed no signs of budgetary cutbacks. After fifteen minutes of hobnobbing in the wood-paneled parlor, students were ushered to their seats.
Bollinger stood in a confident contrapposto pose, a hand on his hip. He kicked off the evening with a sweeping statement about the state of the world.
“It’s an interesting time,” he began. “In one sense, there’s a profound crisis…on the other hand, there’s a new wonderful administration bringing hope.” More after the jump.
He related the current economic downturn to student’s own lives and job prospects, noting the increased interest in public service produced by the unforgiving job market.
For the question and answer portion of the chat, concerns about financial aid and tuition dominated the discussion. The first questioner asked if PrezBo foresaw any student loan forgiving programs to help graduates cope with the dire economic climate.
“So far, we are not in the crisis deeply enough to rethink policies at the level,” he responded, adding that University coffers are already strained to the limit. At times, PrezBo was starkly candid about financial issues. Responding to why the University pockets the extra money it makes when students study abroad, he responded, “It’s because we have become dependent on your money, and we don’t want to give it up.”
The crowd appreciated the candor, laughing at the remark.
He gave similarly well received but bleak answers to questions about freezing tuition and upping General Studies financial aid. Since most questions were monetary, the chat became repeated variations on the study abroad answer.
Intermixed were inane queries about the difficulties of founding a club baseball team and if the administration wanted to squash Greek life (The answer was no, but, even if they were planning to decimate Greek life, do you think they would say it?).
The two most interesting questions were about selecting Commencement speakers and Ivy leaguers’ roles in fomenting the credit crunch. Bollinger hinted quite heavily that the University, as well as alumni within the administration, is lobbying to persuade Obama to give Columbia’s Commencement address. In response to the question of Ivy League culpability for the financial crisis, Bollinger’s tortuous answer evaded a strong stance, instead emphasizing that the situation “is everybody’s fault.”
During the course of the hour, Bollinger also promised a dramatic improvement in academic advising and expressed contentment with progress of the athletics program. As during the last talk, Bollinger seized on a nebulous question about his “goals for the University” to kvell over the Manhatttanville expansion.
The chat ended early with many unanswered questions: “My wife and I are going out,” Bollinger explained. Apparently Thursday is not only a weekend night for students. Before he left, Bollinger brought down one of his new puppies to trot for the crowd, which cooed over the peppy dog. He only displayed the dog for a couple of minutes, quickly departing for his night on the town.