Columbia’s long-awaited hiring statistics for Manhattanville indicate promising results: In the first three years of construction, minority-, women-, or locally owned firms have completed more than two-thirds of the work. These figures exceed the stipulations of the Community Benefits Agreement that the University signed in 2009, which stipulates that 35 percent of contracts should go to MWL firms. That both the expectations were surpassed is impressive, and it represents an important step toward building trust between Columbia and Manhattanville residents.
However, we have to wonder whether these results accurately depict the University’s hiring practices for Manhattanville. As Executive Vice President of Facilities Joe Ienuso told Spectator last week, the numbers released cover only non-specialty projects, meaning they do not include “a big bulk of the work” at the site, like the slurry wall and the energy plant. Ienuso said that there are “not many, if any, minority or local firms that do that work” (“Administration releases Manhattanville hiring statistics,” Feb. 11). While we understand that there may not be as wide a selection of contractors from which to pick for specialty work, we hope the University is staying true to the spirit of the CBA and that it is selecting MWL firms as often as possible.
Columbia released the numbers only after City Council candidate Vince Morgan, SIPA ’06 and an outspoken watchdog of the expansion, called for an investigation, and after the Empire State Development Corporation announced that it would conduct a review of hiring practices in Manhattanville. We are pleased that an entity separate from the University will look into whether it is meeting its stated goals, but we are concerned that a report from the ESDC will not adequately satisfy the expansion’s critics. The ESDC is the same agency that, in 2008, deemed Manhattanville “blighted,” paving the way for Columbia’s controversial use of eminent domain in acquiring parts of the 17-acre campus.
This is far from the first time Columbia’s implementation of the CBA has been called into question. In late 2011, the West Harlem Development Corporation, which, as outlined in the CBA, is charged with injecting $76 million of Columbia’s money into the local economy, faced a barrage of criticism over its effectiveness. In response, it hired an executive director, located a permanent office, established a functional website, and began allocating the funds.
We hope that the University itself takes a more transparent approach in order to paint a fuller picture of hiring practices across all aspects of Manhattanville. That should include releasing a report on specialty projects’ hiring statistics and detailing the availability of MWL firms in these areas of construction. It could also mean asking another third party to monitor hiring practices, considering locals’ distrust in the ESDC.
We are glad to see construction at Manhattanville moving forward as fast as it is, and we just hope that we can finally put any and all legal concerns behind us in order to focus on welcoming an exciting new campus.
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