The venue

The venue

PrezBo held one of his famous fireside chats; this time, for graduate students. He served us pretty good burritos and nachos, as well as the smallest cupcakes Bwog has ever seen. Wonder what he said? Presidential party crasher Artur Renault has got you covered.

People were very confused at my name tag, which said “Bwog,” where theirs stated their school affiliation. My standard answer to “What school is B.W.O.G.?” was “I’m getting a doctorate in squirrel studies.” I got mixed reactions.

Soon we were ushered from the large, old, hardwood-floored room with the buffet into a large, old, hardwood-floored room with chairs specially placed so we could talk to PrezBo.

On Gillian Lester: A law student asked about Gillian Lester, new dean of the Law School. PrezBo expressed his and the community’s happiness at having Lester, who is currently acting dean of Berkeley Law. PrezBo says she has “teriffic ideas,” focusing mainly on global questions, and is interested in integrating the law school with the rest of the University.

On Manhattanville: The upcoming Columbia campus was the topic PrezBo spent the most time on, by far. He told a brief history of Columbia’s need for space ever since the mid-20th century. Attempts to expand were stifled, like when an attempt to build a gym in the 60’s caused massive protests right around the President’s house. But he went on at length about how great the facilities were. These include a Mind, Brain, Behavior building, the Lenfest Center for the arts, the Forum (an area for all kinds of meetings and lectures), and a business school building to replace Uris (which is “by 100% consensus inadequate for the business school”). The first two will be done in two years, the others “possibly five.” He emphasized that “we have wonderful relationships with many members of the community”

On tuition prices: “Columbia struggles with and works on diversity,” PrezBo began his answer, going on a tangent focusing mostly on race and ethnicity, briefly mentioning the Supreme Court’s decision of the previous day, about which, unfortunately, nobody he called on asked questions. When finally reaching the topic of tuition, he says the problem varies across schools. Financial aid comes mostly from endowment, and naturally some graduate schools have wealthier and more generous alumni, leading to higher capacity to provide financial aid.

On sexual assault: When asked about sexual assault (an especially hot topic given recent events), PrezBo said nothing new. He reiterated how serious an issue this is to his administration and how hard he is working to fix it. He explained that today, in his board meetings, there is nobody present who directly represents the students; this is a problem he hopes to remedy with the creation of the Executive Vice President for Student Affairs post. PrezBo also voiced his concern about the fact that people don’t know who to call when something happens given that there are so many options. Providing a lot of options was exactly their intention, he explained, but he recognizes that that has made many students feel lost.

On anonymous comments: A student asked about anonymous comments in online student publications. “They are…disturbing,” replied PrezBo. As a free speech scholar, he values community members’ right to express themselves, but he also believes that people need to be able to answer for what they say. “A community is defined by what its members say,” he said, “and when people say bad things anonymously there is no response.” He admitted that doesn’t actually read these comments (for shame), but he claims this is a problem that he may need to address.

On globalization: “Globalization is such a banal word, a buzzword,” said PrezBo, describing a word he had used about twenty other times during the chat, “but there’s something real happening here.” PrezBo explained his plans to improve on World Leader’s Forum events to be better integrated with actual classes. He admitted he still has no idea what the global centers are supposed to do, but is happy about their existence and potential, and he encouraged us to step away from traditional study abroad trips to Europe and East Asia and try something more different and shocking, like Africa or Syria.