On Monday evening, a gaggle of undergraduates traveled one block East of campus, hung up their coats, and climbed a twisting marble staircase. In they marched, giving up an evening of midterm studying to spend time with University President Lee Bollinger at his 116th Street and Morningside Ave. home for a Fireside Chat.
This one, though, didn’t pack the mansion as in the previous chats, perhaps because the date was postponed due to a death in Bollinger’s family.
Bollinger entered the room and perched on a wooden stool, taking swigs of sparkling water between answering—and asking—questions. He launched the Chat by saying that he was thinking about this weekend’s retreat with the Board of Trustees, as well as his upcoming spring break trip to open Columbia Global Centers in Paris and Mumbai. In the course of the evening, the free speech scholar hit on his perennial favorites: globalization and Columbia’s place in it, and Manhattanville and the University’s need for space.
The first student to ask Bollinger a question addressed the status of financial aid at the School of General Studies, a topic which tends to arise often in such settings. The GS student said he’d learned lessons from the “school of hard knocks,” yet despite working hard to get here, he discovered that “GS is really underfunded.” The lack of financial aid is crippling.
Bollinger said he would give a “clear and straightforward analysis” before outlining university finances—GS’s endowment is much smaller than the College’s—and the difficulties of diverting funds toward specific schools.
The GS question kicked off a stream of queries and back-and-forths, which touched on the Core Curriculum, generational travel habits, and the public component to the Manhattanville expansion.
A few nuggets of Bollinger and Columbia trivia also emerged:
— Columbia is discussing a World Leaders Forum engagement with French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
— A while back, Bollinger turned down the opportunity to expand campus into midtown, because he didn’t want “to forsake home” uptown.
— In high school, Bollinger was a foreign exchange student in Brazil.
— He reads “Shakespeare a little bit every single day.”
Stay tuned for the full story in Wednesday’s paper.