This story is part of a special issue examining the Barnard-Columbia relationship, 30 years after Columbia College decided to go coed and Barnard decided not to merge with Columbia. Check out the rest of the issue here.
It’s been five years since Barnard College renegotiated its contract with Columbia University.
According to Barnard Chief Operating Officer Gregory Brown, it was an easy negotiation. He called dealing with the Barnard-Columbia contract “one of the more pleasant things we have to do, the financial types.”
“In early years, I was told that a lot of the discussion was about academic quality, but the only thing we talked about was money. I think that speaks to the strength of the relationship,” Brown said. “That’s one of the great parts of how things work with Barnard and Columbia—the agreements are 15-year agreements, and that, again, speaks to the maturity of the relationship.”
Barnard and Columbia have been legally affiliated for more than a century, but according to Brown, the contract has remained fairly static for the last 30 years—ever since Columbia College decided to admit women and Barnard decided not to merge with Columbia. In the most recent renegotiation, administrators adjusted the formula for how much Barnard pays Columbia for women’s sports teams and reached an agreement on the use of online periodicals.
Still, the schools’ relationship, legally and in practice, remains a source of confusion for many students. Legally, it comes down to the contractual agreement, but in practice, many students believe the schools still need to work on forming a cohesive undergraduate community.
Drawing the divide
Officially, Barnard is a women’s college—it only admits female students, and many of its programs and offices are geared specifically toward women. But its close relationship with Columbia has left some wondering if Barnard can really be considered a women-only institution.
“Being a psychology major at Barnard does make me more aware that I am part of a women’s college,” Alexa Hammel, BC ’13, said. “Other majors lend itself to feeling like you are part of a coed school.”
Barnard College Dean Avis Hinkson, BC ’84, believes that the Barnard experience is neither completely coeducational nor completely single-sex. Barnard, she said, is “somewhere in the middle.”
“I think it’s pretty clear that you’re not going to a women’s college that is off in some remote location, nor are you going to a school like Radcliffe, that you look around and think, ‘What women’s college?’” she said.
Barnard President Debora Spar said that while the relationship can be confusing for outsiders who step on to Barnard’s campus and see male students, she believes that at its core, Barnard can be considered a women’s college.
“We truly have the best of all worlds. It is a coed environment in many ways—if you walk into the Diana, or going to classes, it is a coeducational experience,” she said. “But it’s an environment for women, where women are in all of the leadership positions. It’s unique.”
Regardless of the degree to which Barnard is a women’s college, Barnard and Columbia students must interact every day, and those interactions can get complicated. Amelia Keyes, CC ’15, said she saw a “difference in understanding” of the course material between Barnard and Columbia students in an international relations class last semester.
Rachel Ferrari, BC ’13 and vice president of Barnard’s Student Government Association, said that “power dynamics between Barnard and other undergraduate student leaders can be somewhat challenging.”
“At times I question my own power and influence simply because I’m on Barnard’s side of the street,” she said.
“The fact of the matter is that CU’s policies affect us directly,” she added.
Michael Laracuente, CC ’13, questioned the necessity of the “mean, stupid jokes” he has heard about Barnard students.
“I do see [students] sometimes jokingly perpetuating the stereotypes that Barnard girls are dumb,” Laracuente said. “I don’t think that’s true from my experience. I’ve never felt that way with any of my Barnard girl friends.”
From administrators’ perspectives, at least, the relationships from one side of Broadway to the other are strong.
“We have nothing but good relationships with the folks at Columbia,” Spar said. “I have no formal channel of interaction [with Columbia], but there is always an open conversation when we have an interest that concerns both of our campuses.”
The business deal
Barnard—which has a yearly operating budget of about $160 million—currently pays Columbia about $5 million per year for cross-registration privileges, and for the use of resources like libraries.
This is the academic component of the schools’ relationship, which Brown said allows Barnard and Columbia to avoid duplicating some academic resources. For instance, he noted, only Barnard has an urban studies department, and only Columbia has a computer science department.
“There’s a very long history that predates coeducation of what’s called an interoperate relationship, which is basically the business deal,” Brown said. “I think that for both Barnard College and Columbia College in particular, that part of the relationship means that we don’t have redundancy in staffing. We each are doing what we should be doing so that our students have everything.”
“We have a consortium relationship that allows students to exchange courses in both directions,” Hinkson said. “As part of that contractual relationship we have with Columbia, our Barnard degree is also included in the conferring of degrees at Columbia University. But we have our own endowment, board of trustees and president.”
While Barnard currently pays Columbia about $5 million annually for academic resources, the size of the payment goes up every year by the percent that Barnard or Columbia College’s tuition increases, whichever is lower.
“It sounds high in some ways,” Brown said, referring to the $5 million figure. “But in other ways, if you think about if both sides of the street were to offer the number of things that we’re not having to offer because of the deal, our expenses would be higher.”
Spar said that because of the schools’ academic relationship, Barnard students have the best of both worlds.
“The relationship is admittedly a complicated one, a unique one and one that may take a few sentences to explain to the outside community,” she said. “I think it's phenomenal that Barnard students have all of the advantages of a small liberal arts college, and a women’s college, but our students get to participate in the larger university community.”
Another formula determines how much Barnard should pay Columbia each year for female athletics, as Barnard students make up about 13 percent of the athletes on Columbia’s women’s sports teams. Barnard and Columbia also share some housing and dining services, and Barnard pays Columbia for its phone and Internet services.
The Barnard-Columbia contract also governs tenure procedures. Professors who are tenured at Columbia are automatically tenured at Barnard, but professors who are tenured at Barnard must also go through Columbia’s review process before gaining tenure there.
Brown said that Barnard has an “incredible faculty,” which he credited in part to the rigor of the double tenure process.
“Unlike most other liberal arts colleges, their tenure process is not only what a liberal arts tenure process looks like, but it’s also a research university,” Brown said. “So they really do have to keep up their research, their teaching, and their service.”
The contractual partnership doesn’t determine everything about the schools’ relationship, though, and students work to figure out that relationship on a day-to-day basis.
For some Barnard students, a source of concern is Columbia College students’ use of the term, “the college,” to describe their school. Hinkson recalled being taken aback during her senior year when, in a Barnard class, a female Columbia College student introduced herself as a student in “the college.”
“I very strongly felt that you’re taking a Barnard class, and ‘the college’ here means Barnard,” Hinkson said. “And if that’s not what you mean, then I would hope that you would articulate it.”
Hinkson said that in the last 30 years, significant progress has been made toward bringing the Columbia and Barnard student bodies closer together. But there is always room for improvement, she added.
“In the nature of any relationship, it can always be better, and we have to seek out opportunities to bring the concerns to the table and hopefully identify ways to resolve them,” she said.
Laracuente believes that community-building programming for first-years might break down barriers and eliminate stereotypes.
“Until they actually meet people and they have personal experiences with them, they’re not going to change those ideas,” he said.
Similarly, Ferrari suggested that the New Student Orientation Program be revamped to help students see that the University “is one undergraduate community, and you have smaller communities at your own schools.”
When Hinkson first took offense at the expression, “the college,” it was the first year that Columbia admitted women. For Ferrari and other Barnard students, the use of that term remains a problem, almost thirty years later.
“If someone says ‘the college’ to me, even if they’re a dude, I say, ‘Oh, which one?’” Ferrari said. “If you can recognize that there’s two, three, four colleges, maybe we’d have a little better view of each other.”
Sammy Roth contributed reporting.
Check out the rest of the coeducation special issue here.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Rachel Ferrari's class year. Spectator regrets the error.