Students enjoyed gummy bears and gumballs with University President Lee Bollinger at Tuesday night’s fireside chat, the first of the school year. Bollinger spoke extensively about Columbia’s network of global centers and took several questions relating to student life on the Morningside campus.
“We ought to do as much as we can to provide as much sense of community as students want,” Bollinger said when asked about the administration’s community-building efforts.
“Columbia has long had a feeling within it that there isn’t a strong enough sense of community,” he added, suggesting that Columbia’s urban location and the stereotypes of an independent student body have added to this phenomenon. “But we should never use why community might be less important to do less.”
Bollinger said that he always makes an effort to involve students in activities around campus, reserving at least half of the seats at World Leaders Forum events for students and including student representatives on committees.
The very event at which Bollinger was speaking was one of the rare instances in which he invites students to his Morningside Drive home. Each semester, he holds two of the so-called fireside chats—one for undergraduates and one for graduate students—in the second-floor living room of the elegant 100-year-old house.
Karishma Habbu, CC ’13 and Columbia College Student Council president, said that many students see their relationship with administrators as an “‘us versus them’ mentality.” These barriers have broken down, she said, when administrators, faculty, students, and alumni have come together for a dialogue, such as on the dean search committee for Columbia College.
In the committee, “incredible conversations took place and we got to understand one another and see where we were coming from,” Habbu said. “I would like to see more of those conversations where we bring together people from various parts of the University.”
Arielle Radin, CC ’13, asked about the administration’s efforts to reduce stress on campus after the Daily Beast ranked Columbia the most stressful college in the country last year. Many in attendance said that the competitive nature of Columbia’s own students, as well as its New York City campus, adds to the intense atmosphere.
Bollinger, who seemed surprised that students agreed with the Daily Beast’s assessment, challenged students “to figure out what things really matter to you.”
“I think New York City can be a stressful place—you just feel like all this stuff is going on and you should take advantage of it,” he said.
Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger said that his office is making an effort to better understand the “self-imposed culture” of stress.
Bollinger also took the opportunity to explain how students can take advantage of the eight global centers, encouraging students to develop research projects that would take them abroad. “We cannot count you among the educated young people if you have not been introduced to that world” of the global perspective, he said.
Bollinger also answered questions about student advising—an issue that he said has come up at every fireside chat he has organized for the past few years—and the Arts Initiative. Although he said that he understood why many on campus are concerned about the University’s support for the Arts Initiative after it was transferred from his purview to that of School of the Arts Dean Carol Becker, he stressed that the University is “doing everything we can to support it.”
The last question of the evening turned the discussion back to Bollinger as a student asked for “parting words of wisdom.”
“My view is this is a time of your life that in all probability … will never happen again,” he said. “You’re living in an environment where ideas are taken far more seriously, just ideas … and knowledge is taken far more seriously in itself than any other place in the world, not just Columbia, but great universities in the world, and things are valued in ways that you will not encounter again.”