Connect with us

All Articles

“The College is Healthy, But the University is Ill”

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.

Write a comment

Your email address will not be published.



  • awkward bro says:

    @awkward bro “the college is healthy, but the university is ILL!!!” Christina Mercer

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous A possible “endowment for the Core”? That’s actually a pretty big deal and could mean a TON of funding. The question remains though, how would it get used? Salaries for Professors? More extensive interaction with resources outside the classroom? How can money be used to fight the “threat to the core”?

    Please share. I’m actually curious.

    1. Eliza says:

      @Eliza It’s still in its infant phases — there isn’t anything much to report yet as it’s still next to hypothetical. We’ll report more as soon as there’s more to say, stay tuned!

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous thanks for replying bwog, but I actually meant for students to respond to the hypothetical. Let me rephrase:

        If the core were to be endowed, what would you [meaning students of the core] like to see the money go towards…hypothetically.

        1. poop says:

          @poop Hire more core professors!

          I have heard so many horror stories about Lit Hum sections halfheartedly taught by grad students or anthropology professors or ethnomusicologists. This isn’t to knock grad students or anthropologists or ethnomusicologists – some of my best friends are anthropologists and ethnomusicologists – but Lit Hum and CC are not just “liberal arts” classes; they’re literature and philosophy, respectively, and (especially in the case of Lit Hum) fairly specific kinds of literature and philosophy. More importantly, these are the flagship classes of the core curriculum. With the number of unemployed Philosophy PhDs floating around the job market these days, there is literally no reason for CC to be taught by anyone who doesn’t specialize in Philosophy – let alone by professors in tangentially-related disciplines who don’t want to “waste their time” in these classes; same goes for Classics professors (or, minimally, some sort of comparative-literature professors) for Lit Hum. The job market for Classics and Philosophy grad students is unbelievably bleak – 50% graduation rates, 50% placement rates out of the very best schools. We could be improving the quality of undergraduate education here at Columbia, while simultaneously providing desperately-needed jobs to the dying disciplines of the liberal arts (cf. all that shit that went down at CUNY Albany, and universities closing down or defunding language and literature departments across the country in favor of expanding business, advertising/marketing/PR departments). Hire more professors!

          Disclaimer: I was taught Lit Hum by a prof in a very small, nonliterary department, and it was terrible; I was taught CC by a professor specializing in classical philosophy (!) and it was possibly one of the best experiences of my college career.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Mercer has is backward: the University is doing fine; it’s the College that’s being enervated.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous I see what you did there.

  • CC 2011 says:

    @CC 2011 Dammit, everyone saw that science/engineering had problems so all the humanities to steal the show. I know, yay core, boo McKinsey, but they’re stacking students three deep in engineering classes. CC enrollment is up 10% in the past four years? Masters enrollment in SEAS has more than DOUBLED in that time period, and since pretty much every CS class is “graduate level” by junior year, I didn’t have a class with fewer than 150 people my last two years. Undergrad gets squeezed hard, Columbia gets a fat tuition check and maybe some real money if the kid invents something.

    It’s no surprise undergrad engineering and humanities all around are getting squeezed when graduate engineering generates such insane amounts of money:

    -Columbia is in the MPEG-2 patent pool, so they get a royalty for every single song or video download sold to anyone anywhere, and for every device that records or plays it back

    – Stanford got $336 million dollars from its 10% share of Google (Larry Page invented PageRank, but anything you do as a grad student is owned by your university, they gave Google an exclusive license in exchange for 10% equity).

    – MIT makes more every year in patent royalties than from tuition

    Don’t worry about reports, just follow the money.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous You answered your own question. The wave of the future and jobs, and money and patents is through science and math and engineering. So it sounds like Columbia is following the correct path. I also agree with above that I am sure if we poled the french department, and the english department, and the political science department, etc, they would say they want more money and professors too. Sounds like the students and the faculty need to go to a different school to find out what budget cuts and program cut backs are really like.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Pretending as though those who bemoan the loss/decline of the Core are doing so for completely altruistic reasons is disingenuous. I take issue with the fact that Ms. Shapiro assumes the Core and the professors who teach in CC are sacrosanct. If their departments were flush with cash and undergraduates were still receiving a poor, diluted education, I am pretty sure that at least some of them would not be crying foul. Vendettas and conspiracies, when no one knows the truth or has read the document, only serve to be more divisive than is necessary.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Columbia is positioning itself for the next few decades. It has its eyes on Harvard. For better or worse this is the economy of the times. Humanities are dead. Columbia still has the humanities core that no other elite college has.

  • And says:

    @And GS is just GS

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous tautology is just tautological

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous I can only hope that an equal amount of effort goes into reporting on the mess that is the SEAS administration and its recent treatment of the undergraduate population.

  • alum '11 says:

    @alum '11 wow bwog, stop deleting my comments.

    anyway, my personal experience is that the core sucked and so i could give two hoots about it. personally i think they should cut it down. they can follow it up my abolishing the gpa like brown and instituting a Satisfactory/No Credit system. INSTANT BLISS = HAPPY ALUMNI!

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous ahh okay i see bwog didnt delete my original comment my bad. can someone delete my followup comment now lol

      1. ... says:


    2. and all I can do says:

      @and all I can do is wonder… will I, too, be one of those cranky, disillusioned alums still leaving unhappy comments on bwog?

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous nahh i’m just bored while i sit in this cubicle earning my 100k keep. maybe i’ll watch some porn. heck maybe i’ll actually FINALLY READ the illiad…yeah no

        1. I pity you.. says:

          @I pity you.. You sold your soul, right as the soul market was bottoming out…

          1. Anonymous says:

            @Anonymous thats okay, i don’t really believe in souls. just show me the $$

      2. even worse says:

        @even worse in addition to being cranky and disillusioned, it looks like you’ll also be an entitled and insecure asshole.

    3. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Brown’s pass/fail system significantly hurts its graduates for jobs. That is a known fact.

  • alum '11 says:

    @alum '11 bleh the core sucked. they should just have an open-curriculum like brown or amherst. then follow that up by abolishing gpa and implementing brown style Satisfactory/No Credit system.


    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous …sooooo why didn’t you go to brown?

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous i didnt get in, duh

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous Is that… even possible?

          1. Anonymous says:

            @Anonymous happened to me. waitlisted by brown/dartmouth, got into cornell/columbia

    2. ugh says:

      @ugh ungrateful poophead. columbia is partially responsible for putting what little tangible or useful knowledge you have in that vacuum of a brain that helped you get that job. complain, complain, complain, that’s all some of you can do. columbia core sucked? you want some cheese with that cool story bro?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Wow. This is a really solidly clear and impressive piece. Kudos to all involved.

  • tag win says:

    @tag win existential dread > buffy musical. I like where your head’s at.

  • did anyone else says:

    @did anyone else first read the “ill” in the title in the lil’ wayne sense of the term?

    1. So yeah says:

      @So yeah People
      Everywhere are learning to
      Count on lil’ wayne
      Songs to provide them
      Ultra-hip influences
      Considering that he is the only
      King of rap at the current moment
      So nobody can disput his title.

      1. That was says:

        @That was A sick

    2. How about RUN DMC? says:

      @How about RUN DMC? (One) day when I was chillin’ in Columbia College
      Just mindin’ my business, takin’ the Core to get knowledge
      This dude walked in lookin’ strange and kind of funny
      Went and took over the school, but raised lots of money

      He had great hair and was from U Michigan
      He asked this old lady, “Yo, yo, are you the College dean?”
      The lady said “Yeah”, smiled and he smiled back
      Then he bought Harlem for the grad schools and she got sacked
      You be illin’

  • Have Your Say

    What should Bwog's new tagline be?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

    Recent Comments

    My cat understands when i say its too early. He huffed and walks away (read more)
    My Cat Doesn’t Care About My Education
    September 26, 2020
    same with dr. price's cat (read more)
    My Cat Doesn’t Care About My Education
    September 26, 2020
    My cat will interrupt my classes, not because he is hungry, but because he just wants some attention. However, I (read more)
    My Cat Doesn’t Care About My Education
    September 26, 2020
    idk man hunger games sounds kinda sick (read more)
    What Should CU’s Admissions Criteria Really Be
    September 26, 2020

    Comment Policy

    The purpose of Bwog’s comment section is to facilitate honest and open discussion between members of the Columbia community. We encourage commenters to take advantage of—without abusing—the opportunity to engage in anonymous critical dialogue with other community members. A comment may be moderated if it contains:
    • A slur—defined as a pejorative derogatory phrase—based on ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or spiritual belief
    • Hate speech
    • Unauthorized use of a person’s identity
    • Personal information about an individual
    • Baseless personal attacks on specific individuals
    • Spam or self-promotion
    • Copyright infringement
    • Libel
    • COVID-19 misinformation