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A Q&A with Bollinger: deans, donations, and developments in Manhattanville

  • JUST LOOK AT THAT HAIR | University President Lee Bollinger at a speech. In an interview Friday, he shared his thoughts on Columbia's latest deans, progress on the Manhattanville expansion, fundraising, and more.

On Friday, University President Lee Bollinger sat down with Spectator to discuss what recent deanship appointments will mean for the future of the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Journalism School, as well as faculty housing, Manhattanville progress, fundraising, and more. Here are the highlights.

Q. The Morningside Post recently reported that Merit E. Janow, a professor of international economic law and international affairs, will be named dean of the School of International Public Affairs. Can you tell us more about the dean search and what you’re looking for? 

A. I can’t say anything about the individuals. What I can say is that we had a wonderful search committee, spent a lot of time looking at inside and outside candidates, and are reviewing a long list of possibilities. The process is for the committee to give me three unranked names, and I’m chairing it, so I’m in the thick of it. We’re now at the final—what I hope will be the final—stages. You can’t have somebody who is an extremely famous person who wants to just use it as a platform and then delegate everything to everybody else—it just won’t work. We’re looking for somebody who represents policy in the best sense—has been involved in it but really understands the contributions that the academic world can make.

Q. What was your response to the $100 million donation to the Business School from investor Ronald O. Perelman for the school’s Manhattanville facility last week?

A. This is, of course, a great dream of the University. Uris is clearly not adequate for the needs of the Business School, and really, Uris should be available for Arts and Sciences to use for other things. The Morningside Heights campus should really be for the arts and sciences. And so, I’m really pleased that we’re moving ahead on this—we’re talking about $600 million for two facilities, and the gift is a really great step forward. 

Q. When can we expect to see these two buildings? 

A. At a normal progression, actual construction at the site would not begin for another year and a half to two years.

Q. Any other updates on progress in Manhattanville?

A. Well, the Lenfest Center for the Arts is on its way. The shape of the building is a given, the floors are a given, the uses of them is a given, but we’re still thinking about the color, the placement of windows—the fun stuff. So, in the three-year period from now, we’ll have the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Institute, and then Lenfest, and then sometime shortly after that, six months to a year, what I’m now calling the Forum building—the conference center—would be available.

Q. What is the University doing to address the shortage of housing for faculty?

A. Well, we’re always working on this. We’ve bought a couple of buildings, one building on 110th or 111th Street—I actually lived in it for a couple of months. The stock of housing has been increasing. Our effort to make the stock we have more effective for recruiting faculty and maintaining faculty has also improved. Remember also that Manhattanville has residential facilities. So there’s a lot happening here.

Q. What are the plans for housing in Manhattanville? 

A. We will have some residences assigned there. It can’t be undergraduate because there are some restrictions with the city, but it can be graduate, and it can be faculty. We’re not ready to begin those buildings—we don’t have the money to. But it’s in the long-term plan of the institution. 

Q. Is there a desire to consolidate the School of General Studies endowment and that of Columbia College in order to make the available financial aid more equitable?

A. The answer to that is no. Universities, this one included, are basically the same—a long time ago, they decided that in order to raise money, for fundraising, it would be done through schools at colleges, individual departments, and so on. I think it makes sense. I wouldn’t at this point in the life of this institution say, “Let’s change that, money can only be raised for financial aid for the entire institution, and then it will be split among the various schools.” I wouldn’t do that. When you look at it over a long period of time, some schools are going to end up very rich compared to other schools, and it’s just the nature of this. That’s what’s happened here with the college and General Studies. I, personally, have been very committed to financial aid for GS. When I’ve put money in for the college, I also put it in for General Studies, and have really worked hard with GS Dean Peter Awn to raise more. But it is the case that we are significantly short on the financial aid resources for General Studies that we believe we should have. 

Q. What was your reasoning behind appointing Steve Coll as dean of the Journalism School? 

A. There were extremely qualified candidates, but Steve stood out. Steve is somebody of enormous journalistic accomplishment and experience, and he has lived through, with respect to the Washington Post, one of those periods where the question of online and its impact on journalism was debated heavily. He’s not only a significant journalist, but he’s had the experiences in journalism that make him relevant to what’s happening now, which is, where is the profession going? How do we think about sustained journalism around the world? 

Q. After Coll told Spectator that he wanted to make the master’s program two years long, there was some pushback from faculty who were surprised by that. What are your thoughts on that?

A. My belief has been that journalism schools need to focus more on depth of knowledge: a knowledge base for journalists. Is one year enough? No, two would be better. The problem is, the salaries you people are going to make is pathetic compared to the cost that we charge you here, right?

Q. So charge us less while we’re here!

A. [Laughs] Well, there is another solution. We should have financial aid, or loan forgiveness, like the Law School has. We do that for people going into graduate school in philosophy or in history. Those jobs afterwards don’t tend to produce high incomes either, but we think it’s important for the world to have philosophers and to have historians, so we raise money and put money into it to develop it. We should do the same for the second year of journalism, I think. There is an ongoing debate about it. I think Steve was just referring to that debate. He would favor the two years, but that doesn’t mean that he can just come in and do it. You have to bring everybody along, he knows that.

Q. Could you speak to the selection of Mary Boyce as dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science? 

A. She went through a very rigorous and very open process—it was a very different process than anyplace else at the institution. There were public meetings with faculty and with students, a number of meetings with the search committee, and by the end of that, it was clear that she had enormous support from every sector of the school and the University. She obviously comes from a place where she is very much aware of what the highest quality is. 

Q. What about Don Goldfarb, interim SEAS dean, who was also a finalist for the position?

A. He’s a first-rate Columbian, wonderful scientist, wonderful teacher, and really filled in when we needed him and did so with great accomplishment and grace. 

Q. What are your thoughts about the ongoing debates in the undergraduate councils over changing pass/D/fail policies?

A. I think it’s a good debate. Any time you have students and faculty working on issues like what should the curriculum be, how free they are to be able to experiment, that’s good. I don’t have a position.

Q. And how is the search going for the executive vice president of arts and sciences?

A. We’re now towards the end of that process. I’ve got three or four candidates, and of those, several are outside candidates.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Abby Abrams, Jeremy Budd, and Sammy Roth contributed reporting.

news@columbiaspectator.com  |  @ColumbiaSpec

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