It should be pretty obvious to anyone at Columbia what this school desperately needs. Aside from the usual pleas for campus community, more competent administrators and advisers, and greater teaching accountability in the classroom, Columbia has one need that trumps all the rest.
We need to expand. We need room to grow as a university, in order to provide students and faculty with the necessary resources to be a great educational institution.
Columbia has proposed taking over much of the land in Manhattanville to fulfill this pressing need. The land could be used for science labs, an arts center, athletic facilities, and a whole host of other educational endeavors.
It sounds like a great plan, yet if you listen to loud members of the community and certain student groups, you'd think Satan himself wanted to set up a castle on the patch of land between 125th S, 133rd S, Broadway, and Riverside.
How could any Columbian reasonably be against this?
Having been through Manhattanville, I would have to say it's an area so decrepit that calling it a mere "dump" would be complimentary.
It's filled with shoddy abandoned warehouses and some storage and automotive businesses that have zero attractiveness. The area's had about as much success recently as the New York Knicks. Employment in the area has dropped 40 percent since 1984. Only 70 people live in the area, which is a remarkably small number given the amount of space we're talking about. To put that in perspective, more than twice as many people live in Watt.
The Columbia proposal would create nearly 10,000 additional jobs in the area, courtesy of an abundance of new businesses.
Doesn't that just sound horrible?
Community members and student activists who have become passionate about this issue claim that the area should be preserved, throwing out buzz words like "gentrification." But we're talking about cleaning up their neighborhood and using the space for something truly worthwhile.
It's not like Enron is moving into Manhattanville. We're talking about Nobel Prize-winning research.
This is not about a corporate behemoth gobbling up the area. This is about discovery. This is about innovation. This is about scientific research Columbia is capable of which could change the world, lead to groundbreaking advances in technology, cure disease, and solve some of life's mysteries.
This is about providing a facility that will allow Columbia to finally realize its potential to become a premier arts institution in a city whose art and culture are central to its identity.
This is about providing athletic space that will help Columbia foster much-needed school pride and community, and lead us on the path to winning teams that will make our students, alumni, and neighbors proud.
This is about the abundance of possibilities that new space presents our university. A new campus wouldn't only open up space in Manhattanville. Once some departments or services move to Manhattanville, the existing inadequate science labs and other services that would move north could be transformed into useful space in Morningside Heights.
Professors need more office space, so that we can continue to attract the best and the brightest academics to Columbia. Students need more housing to alleviate our alarming shortage. The school needs more classrooms, computer labs, cardio machines, and so on. That can all come with space.
This is what I'm passionate about. These enormous possibilities excite me. I want Columbia to be the great university that it should be.
I believe that a large and silent majority of students are very much in favor of Columbia's proposed expansion. Unfortunately, a group of not-in-my-backyard neighbors and students who want to preserve abandoned warehouses and failing businesses are trying to stand in the way of such progress.
Interestingly, this movement to expand is the brainchild of University President Lee Bollinger, a man who has done more for liberalism through his work on the First Amendment and more for minorities through his staunch defense of affirmative action than just about all of the expansion opponents combined.
I am sure that Columbia has been completely inept in dealing with its neighbors, because it's inept in dealing with most of its students. Columbia definitely needs to improve its relations with the community, and of course it needs to ensure that the handful of businesses and residents that will be forced out are guaranteed some kind of fair compensation.
But I think everyone needs to calm down and look at the incredible positive impact that Columbia's proposal will have. The creation of jobs, the cleanup of a downtrodden community, and new, first-class educational facilities mere blocks from our central campus are too much to pass up. Times change, and communities change. Let's move forward as a university, and not hold ourselves back.