Last night, PrezBo emerged from his cave for an hour to chat with undergraduates and squint in photos. Editor in Chief Rachel Deal brings you a report of what was said, along with a cute pic she took with the President of the University himself.
Last night, PrezBo took some time out of his busy schedule of commuting back and forth from his vacation home in Vermont to entertain questions from a select group of undergrads at his semesterly Fireside Chat event. Also in attendance (in order to assist with questions) were GS Dean of Students Tom Harford, Dean of Undergraduate Student Life Cristen Kromm, Vice President of University Life Suzanne Goldberg, University Chaplain Jewelnel Davis, and Director of Media Relations Caroline Adelman.
Overall, President Bollinger’s demeanor was lighter and more playful than it usually is when he is engaging with students in a formal setting. Nevertheless, he still gave some answers that felt insufficient.
The discussion focused around questions about creating a greater sense of community on campus and reducing stress for students, which President Bollinger said he believed to be related topics. One of the first questions was from Nathan Rosin, CCSC Vice President of Campus Life, who asked what PrezBo thought about the lacking sense of a cohesive Columbia community.
“I’ve heard this from the beginning,” President Bollinger said in response. He explained some of the challenges that the University has faced in creating a greater sense of community, saying that in high-power academic institutions in general, students end up spending a lot of time alone anyway. Furthermore, because we’re in New York City, students are pulled away from campus. He cited the creation of the Office of University Life as the most significant step he has taken in trying to change the current situation. Goldberg, who heads the office, talked about how they have created programming for undergraduates’ “intellectual lives” (like lectures), various task forces, and this semester’s “Yoga Tuesdays” on Butler lawn.
Later on, another student brought up stress on campus, and she cited three specific problems: instances of faculty and staff promoting and reinforcing stress culture, the usage of prescription drugs such as Adderall, and insufficient mental health resources. President Bollinger responded to the issue of students’ stress by saying, “I hear that you [all] take too many classes.” Some people laughed at this, but another student then brought up that students have to take high numbers of classes in order to graduate because of the curriculum’s numerous requirements. PrezBo and Goldberg both seemed to agree that, as Goldberg said, “stress is part of academic and intellectual maturation.” Dean Harford, though, acknowledged students’ feelings of stress, and also added on that General Studies students’ financial burden can be particularly stressful.
PrezBo is a First Amendment scholar, so naturally one student asked if he was concerned about the future of free speech on Columbia’s campus. “I’m not deeply worried,” Bollinger said. He mentioned the “vigorous debates” that take place on our campus, and though he said that he did not believe that someone who is “offended” should be “protected by the institution,” he did also say that he dislikes “the effort to characterize it as a problem of ‘safe spaces'” because he believes it over-simplifies the matter “enormously.” When the next student who asked a question apologized for it being “uncomfortable,” PrezBo assured her that she was in a “safe space.”
There were also questions about partnering with Iranian academic institutions, repurposing Uris, coping with the Syrian refugee crisis, and the growth of the administration in relation to shrinking numbers of tenured professors.
In the end, President Bollinger asked if he could ask us a question. The discussion then turned toward the current presidential election, with PrezBo asking the students what we think “has happened to America.” After an hour, he thanked us all for attending. I ran up front to get a picture with him (the journalists were quarantined in the back row), and he actually (sort of) smiled for the camera.