We got to chill with PrezBo last night while he talked to students and answered questions at the Fireside Chat. Alma Bwogger Rachel Deal was there to tell you what he said and to get a pic with the man of the hour (who, as always, was squinting in the photo).
Last night, President Bollinger sat with students and answered questions at his semesterly Fireside Chat with the help of an array of administrators. In attendance were Vice President of University Life Suzanne Goldberg (who scuttled in late carrying a bike helmet), GS Dean of Students Tom Harford, Vice President for Campus Services Scott Wright, Dean of Undergraduate Student Life Cristen Kromm, University Chaplain Jewelnel Davis, Vice President for Public Affairs Scott Schell, and Director of Media Relations Caroline Adelman.
The first question of the evening was unexpected–a member of the Columbia Vegan Society asked about meat consumption in the dining halls, saying that they had been trying to come up with new solutions with Dining, but he claimed that the Head of Dining had threatened “retaliation” if the Vegan Society were to stage a protest. PrezBo was confused, saying that he did not think anyone in the administration would threaten to retaliate against a student, and then Scott Wright talked about Green Mondays and the addition of 200 vegetarian entrées to the dining hall menus this year.
The next question elicited a familiar response from PrezBo–a student asked him to name one trend that is cause of optimism and one for concern that he’s noticed throughout his time as an academic administrator. PrezBo said he was optimistic about a “will to take on controversial issues in your generation.” He said he was concerned, though, about students caring more about “making money” than engaging with the world in a “public service way.” He did admit, though, that such a drive to make money makes sense with the insane amount of debt with which students are faced. He then delved into a longer speech about how he doesn’t understand the current generation of students–”What the hell is going on with you?” he asked. He then asked the students in the audience to attempt to explain their “generation,” which felt kind of uncomfortable.
The next student asked what Columbia would be able to do if DACA comes to an end. Suzanne Goldberg talked a lot about how Columbia was both publicly taking a stand against it as well as privately trying to pressure lawmakers, but if nothing changes, PrezBo did say that the University does have to “abide by the law,” an answer that felt disappointing.
There were also questions about PrezBo’s personal interest in the federal subsidization of journalism (which he admitted was not very viable) and about the Global Centers, but one Columbia College senior asked about Manhattanville and how the people in surrounding public housing complexes were being affected. PrezBo did not at first answer the question, going back to the previous question about journalism, but then seemed to get somewhat dreamy and distant, reminiscing on how he first started planning the Manhattanville campus. He gave the whole spiel–how the University’s lack of space was holding it back, how he was in talks with Donald Trump to buy land down by Lincoln Center (which PrezBo decided not to go through with, causing Trump to go on public attack), and how “few people” lived in Manhattanville, a “mainly industrial” area before Columbia decided to develop it. Though perhaps less population dense than Morningside Heights, Manhattanville has a density of 92.4 residents per acre. University Chaplain Davis doubled down on PrezBo’s statements, though, saying that Manhattanville used to be a “pretty desolate place.” Scott Schell, too, brought up the “economic development benefits,” saying that the new campus was hiring people from the area to both build and staff the new buildings. These explanations felt hollow and unconvincing, though, and every administrator seemed to want to jump in with another reason to justify the expansion.
Though President Bollinger seemed to be in good spirits, his answers were not always satisfactory. At the end of the discussion, as students crowded around him, one GS student brought up to him how difficult it was for GS students to afford tuition. He didn’t really have an answer for her–he said it was unfortunate, and that the University was trying to find new solutions, but that there was nothing at the moment that could be done. I took my picture with PrezBo, grabbed some cupcakes for the road, and headed out.
Alma Veggie and Almus Prezbo via Rachel Deal