Every semester, CC, SEAS, and GS students enter a lottery to attend Prezbo’s Fireside Chat. The chosen few get to dress up (or dress in “Prezbo Casual,” as one attendee put it), eat delicious hors d’oeuvres, and, if they’re lucky, ask Prezbo their burning questions. Bwog’s Managing Editor, Maddie Stearn, covered the evening’s activities, and reports back on what did (not) happen.
Within 1 minute and 59 seconds of the event’s start we were on the subject of the Global Centers. As someone who had predicted that all questions would lead to the Global Centers (do I win a prize for being right?), I was still shocked. Reviewing the previous minute and 58 seconds, I can confirm that none of the topics connected to the Global Centers. The first question was about Prezbo’s music tastes (classical with a little bit of rock, and no he will not curate a playlist), and the second was about student contributions to financial aid packages. The evening was almost magical in the sense that only supernatural powers could transport us from the subject of financial aid to the Global Centers that quickly.
In Prezbo’s defense, he was not (entirely) responsible for the derailment of the conversation, and he did eventually answer the financial aid question. When the other administrators in the room introduced themselves, Janelle Davis, University Chaplin and Associate Provost, provided some impromptu information about the Global Centers, since “there [weren’t] going to be a lot of questions from [students].” This was because Prezbo announced at the beginning of the event that he would be asking some questions. Acknowledging that this was “a little unfair because [the students] should be able to ask questions first,” he said that the audience could ask “four or five questions” before he took his turn. How generous.
Prezbo, of course, pounced on the topic of the Global Centers, but somehow found his way back to financial aid. Describing the concept of the student contribution, he said that “there are two reasons behind it. One is it allows [the school] to distribute financial aid more broadly…and second, I think that there is [sic] some advantages of working and having a sort of investment in the institution and investment in your education.” Prezbo added that the first reason is the primary defense behind the student contribution, but he’s “not going to take a position.” Prezbo’s lack of position is only surprising in the context of the rest of the evening, during which he ardently agreed with popular concerns regarding financial aid.
Like many successful politicians, Prezbo has the privilege of being able to agree with students without actually divulging how their concerns can be addressed. He mentioned of his own accord the need for more financial aid in the School of General Studies, the School of the Arts, and the need for loan forgiveness in the Law School (primarily for students who go into public service and cannot pay back their loans). I do not doubt that he truly believes that financial aid needs to be reassessed–he pointed out that he “increased [financial aid] in [his] time as President very significantly”–but he also did not elaborate on any plans to address the situation. Prezbo is not in any way alone in employing this tactic; it is simply worth noting that he uses this technique in the same way that Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders do (albeit more subtly).
Throughout the evening I gained very little insight into Prezbo the person–apart from noticing that he harbors some thinly-veiled disdain for Bernie Sanders. I would say that I learned far more about the other audience members, since Prezbo spent the second half of the event asking us questions about the U.S. Presidential Election. He often referred to the Fireside Chat as a “discussion,” and I would actually agree with that characterization. The evening did remind me of a discussion section, complete with students battling to offer the most insightful analysis of U.S. politics. Oh, Columbia. Prezbo was an excellent facilitator of this discussion, although I was not alone in my disappointment that he did not take more questions. On the bright side, the hors d’oeuvres table had takeout containers alongside the plates, which was some brilliant foresight from whomever planned the event. Kudos.
Unintentionally Uncomfortable Photo via Maddie Stearn