In celebration of the University's 250th anniversary, Spectator is ranking the 250 greatest Columbians through the ages, from number 250 to number 1. The project will culminate with the selection of the single most influential alum in May.
Jonathan Cole, CC 1964
Cole is one of the world's foremost sociologists, studying the historical and social aspects of science and leading efforts to overcome challenges faced by women in science. Cole has taught at Columbia since 1966, and he served as University Provost and dean of faculties from 1989 until last semester, when he was replaced by Alan Brinkley. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Susan Ellen Mesinai, GS 1965
Mesinai's interest in human rights led her to become a consultant for a Swedish-Russian working group investigating the fate of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swede who saved the lives of at least 20,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II. Wallenberg disappeared in the Soviet Gulag in 1947, but no official record of his death has ever been found. Mesinai is also the founder of the ARK Project, a human rights organization that searches for foreign prisoners of the Gulag.
Suzanne Vega, BC 1981
With poetic lyrics and quiet melodies, Suzanne Vega paved the way for the rise of female singer/songwriters and the Lilith Fair sound in the 1990s. Her most successful record, both commercially and critically, was her sophomore effort "Solitude Standing," released in 1987. With the help of the single "Luka," it rose on the charts and earned Vega three Grammy nominations. She had a surprise hit when British DJ duo DNA remixed "Tom's Diner," written for Morningside Heights' own café.
Edward Koren, CC 1957
Koren is best known for his 900 cartoons in the New Yorker. He has also published in The New York Times, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, and GQ. A Guggenheim Fellowship winner, Koren taught at Brown University for many years before retiring to focus on his art. He has also illustrated two children's books. Koren's exhibits are popular abroad as well as in the United States.
Paul Gallico, CC 1919
Gallico was one of the best known sportswriters of his generation and wrote over 40 novels. He started his career as a film critic, but transferred to sports reporting because his reviews were "too smart alecky." He became the sports editor of the New York Daily News, and was once knocked out by Jack Dempsey while covering a story. He started the Golden Gloves amateur boxing competition. Gallico was also an excellent fencer and a deep-sea fisherman.
Benjamin J. Buttenwieser, CC 1919
. A longtime University Trustee, Buttenwieser was an investment banker, philanthropist, and civil leader in New York City. He served as president of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and Lenox Hill Hospital, and was active in numerous civil liberties and social justice issues. Buttenwieser was also a trustee of the New York Philharmonic. Columbia now has a scholarship funded by the Buttenwieser family and an endowed professorship in honor of his father, Joseph Buttenwieser.
Herbert Hyman, CC 1939
A pioneer in the study of mass media and communication, Hyman is probably best known to students of sociology as the man who coined the term "reference group," to refer to the groups against which we evaluate ourselves. Hyman did a large amount of his ground-breaking communication research at Columbia in the 1950s. His work culminated in the publication of his influential book Political Socialization, which focused on how political values relate to social structures. His other books include Survey Design and Analysis and the Enduring Effects of Education.
John Tauranac, GS 1963
The chief designer of the award-winning New York City subway map of 1979, Tauranac now teaches New York history and architecture at NYU's School of Continuing Education. He has written numerous works about the city, including The Empire State Building: The Making of a Landmark, Elegant New York, and Manhattan Block by Block: A Street Atlas. His latest project, Manhattan Line by Line: A Subway and Bus Atlas, is due for release this month.
Naomi Foner, BC 1966
Foner is another member of one of Columbia's most famous families, which includes her brother Eric, a professor of history, her son Jake, a 1999 CC dropout, and her daughter Maggie, CC '99. Foner is an acclaimed screenwriter whose credits include the Oscar-nominated 1988 screenplay for Running on Empty. She also wrote and produced Losing Isaiah, which was directed by her husband, Stephen Gyllenhall, and starred Jessica Lange and Samuel L. Jackson.
Robert Lax, CC 1938
A confidante and classmate of Thomas Merton, Lax was a prolific writer and poet who remained little-known throughout his career. At Columbia, Lax and Merton met through working on the Jester staff. Lax converted to Catholicism from Judaism several years after Merton and appears frequently in Merton's autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain. His book of poems Circus of the Sun metaphorically compares creation to the circus and was hailed by The New York Times Book Review as "perhaps the greatest English language poem of this century."