Ok, so there wasn’t an actual fire in the fireplace, but there was a lot of great food and – much to Bwog’s delight – PrezBo arrived predictably late wearing desert boots! Since some of you have been to a fireside chat yourself, or have at least read our regular coverage on Bwog, we won’t rehash the mansion swag or the aura of his presence. But PrezBo did say a couple of important things last night:

One of your fellow students of course asked about ROTC. Although he summarized the history of the ROTC debate briefly and eloquently, PrezBo refused to give a personal opinion on the question. “I really don’t want to get too deep into the ROTC question because I want to see how it’s debated in the community,” he said when a second student asked about ROTC. He was so interested in hearing the opinions of the students present that he welcomed a few comments from students and then asked for a show of hands: with the understanding that no changes in curriculum would be made to accommodate ROTC, how many students would welcome ROTC back to campus? About 80% of the students raised their hands. Only a few were opposed, and an equal number declared themselves undecided. You can investigate the ROTC debate for yourself here. Read on for PrezBo on a hypothetical 5th year and Kaplan after the jump!

PrezBo was also eager to address accusations made by, among others, the makers of the documentary film Inside Job, which documents the fact that several Columbia professors, especially economists, have been paid big bucks to consult for companies that benefit from the free-market system and from de-regulation. The film argues, as PrezBo put it, “how can that not have an influence on their scholarly work?” PrezBo believes professors have a right to engage in activities outside of Columbia, as long as they disclose any activities that might bias their academic work. Whenever PrezBo writes on free speech, for example, he acknowledges openly, “I am a member of the board of the Washington Post Company.”

In fact, PrezBo’s position at the Washington Post Company recently prompted the College Democrats to publish a petition demanding that PrezBo resign or push reforms at Kaplan University, a for-profit educational institution owned by the Washington Post Company and accused of unethical recruitment policies by the federal Government Accountability Office. PrezBo said he believes that “the role of for-profit educational institutions in the world today is interesting and problematic–there’s a lot of potential good and a lot of real good that comes out of their existence, and I’m glad to be associated with [Kaplan] in all of those activities.” Many for-profit institutions like Kaplan are “trying to serve a population of people who would otherwise not be able to be educated in the other systems we have in this country,” said PrezBo, and therefore these institutions have “to some extent, a noble mission.”

Right before leaving, PrezBo dropped a bomb on the audience. In a hypothetical situation, he asked, “if you were offered a fifth year at Columbia, where you would travel to each of the university’s Global Centers we’re setting up around the world,” studying a single topic related to globalization, such as a specific global health issue, in any discipline you wanted, and producing a long research paper for publication at the end of the year, “how many of you would sign up?” Without skipping a beat, an excited voice from the back asks, “Who’s funding it?” Laughs, and PrezBo says that “for the purpose of this let’s just assume it’s paid for.” Every hand went up, and PrezBo seemed somewhat surprised but very pleased. “You’d give up a job opportunity for this? $100,000 a year? Because that’s the opportunity cost for you.” More laughs, but before anyone could ask a question, PrezBo was on his way out the door. So, PrezBo…where do we sign up again?

Image via columbia.edu