Capital illustration by Trenton Duerksen

Our very own former editrix Eliza Shapiro has a story in Capital New York today about Columbia’s recent troubles, the long standing battle between the College and the University, and the particular existential dread of academia. The article is part of an ongoing reporting project with Bwog-friends Claire Sabel, Mark Hay, Sam Schube, Sarah Ngu and Nico Gurian. Some excerpts from the piece:

In late October, Columbia professor Andrew Delbanco took the podium at Columbia’s Casa Italiana, an imperious building best known for its rumored funding from Benito Mussolini, to tell an audience of donor-alumni and administrators that the school’s leadership was betraying them.

“I believe there is today a real threat to the Core,” said Delbanco, who is best known for his biography of Herman Melville and outspoken criticism of American higher education. “Not sudden abolition as much as slow attrition.”

Delbanco was referring to the most recent outbreak of the longrunning tension between Columbia College, home of the liberal-arts-heavy Core Curriculum that has long defined the institution’s brand of education, and Columbia University, which, under the leadership of President Lee Bollinger, is creating a new campus in West Harlem for science laboratories and its professional schools.

Bollinger has had a clearly articulated, and truly grand, vision for Columbia since he arrived, but the current perception largely aligns with what one administrator said: “He is a visionary with bad process.”

If Bollinger’s plan succeeds, Columbia will be a top-tier research institution that will rival Harvard and Stanford, a goal that has been the justification for a costly and protracted battle for a new 17-acre campus in West Harlem. The Manhattanville campus will be a school apart from anything Columbia has ever been, and that’s the whole point: it will be shiny and new and focused on research and professional training.

While the actual number of tenured and tenure-track faculty, as opposed to adjuncts and graduate students, teaching Core classes has remained consistent over the last five years, the percentage has dropped off significantly, Mercer said: “We have more students and a lower percentage of faculty teaching them.”

Staffing levels at humanities departments have largely stagnated after a university-wide hiring freeze following the 2008 financial crisis. The faculty see a great deal of money being donated to the school, yet most of it was earmarked for Manhattanville. Valentini plans to initiate a “major fund-raising campaign” to create an endowment for the Core, which is, in his words, “as big a statement as one can make about its importance to the college.”

“The college is healthy, but the university is ill,” Mercer said.