When the annual John Jay Awards honor five distinguished members
of the Columbia College family tomorrow night, Professor of English
and former Associate Dean of the College Michael Rosenthal will not
Despite a long tradition of attending the awards dinner at the
Plaza Hotel--usually sitting at the head table with the president
of the Columbia College Alumni Association--Rosenthal has chosen
not to attend tomorrow's event. He decided to stay home, he says,
so as not to support a decision with which he vehemently disagrees:
the selection of a parent of an alumnus as an award recipient.
Tomorrow's dinner will honor four College graduates: Stephanie
Falcone Bernik, CC '86, E. Javier Loya, CC '91, Phillip M. Satow,
CC '63, and Jonathan S. Sobel, CC '88. The fifth recipient, Peter
M. Kalikow, is the father of Nicholas Kalikow, a member of the
College class of 2002. The selection of the elder Kalikow, who
graduated from Hofstra University, marks the first time the
prestigious prize has been awarded to someone other than an
Rosenthal, along with former College Alumni Association
President Harvey Rubin, has raised vocal oppositions to Kalikow's
selection. They say it breaks the awards' 25-year commitment to
honoring alumni, as envisioned by former Dean of the College Arnold
"It was defined by being given to a College alumnus for
distinguished professional achievement," Rosenthal said. "I am
puzzled by why an award with a historical focus would change that
Nobody argues that Collery designed the award to honor an
alumnus, as it has done 142 times in the last 25 years. In 1979,
the first year the College awarded John Jay prizes, Collery told
Spectator that the award would "go to those alumni who have made a
mark in the world." But members of the 2004 selection committee say
that the alumni focus was never meant to be binding.
"For a member of the College family who had achieved
professional distinction--it was as flexible and as fluid as that,"
Columbia College Alumni Association President Charles O'Byrne said.
"In Arnold's time parents weren't even on the map."
And that, O'Byrne and others say, is the real point of honoring
Kalikow this year: to, for the first time, recognize the
contributions parents have begun to make to a university they did
not attend. Unlike during Collery's time as dean, parents now serve
on the College's board of visitors, contribute a significant amount
of money in donations, and regularly participate in the life of the
College and the University.
"In discussions this year it was felt that it would make a very
important statement to recognize a parent," Associate Dean of
Alumni Affairs and Development for Columbia College Derek Wittner
said. "Parents are a very important part of the family, and we're
thankful for that. Arnold Collery would be the first to reward them
for what they're doing."
But Rubin was quick to point out an alternative spin on the same
explanation. He attributes the decision to honor Kalikow as
"strictly about money," arguing that a wealthy, well-connected
parent would likely be able to contribute at a higher rate than
Kalikow is the president of H.J. Kalikow & Company, a major
New York real estate firm, as well as the chairman of the New York
State Metropolitan Transportation Authority and a former owner of
The New York Post. He has long participated in a variety of
philanthropic organizations, and in 2002 donated over $80,000 to
New York State Governor George Pataki's campaign.
"It should be pretty apparent that Kalikow either has in the
past or plans to donate money to Columbia," Rubin said. "That's the
motivation behind giving him the award."
Though Rosenthal was reluctant to attribute Kalikow's selection
to potential financial gain alone, he said he was concerned with
"the notion that this was at all a fundraising event." He asserted
that Collery's idea of the John Jay Awards was not an opportunity
to raise money from attendees or recipients, but rather an event to
celebrate College alumni in order to build up a base of supporters
and raise funds over the long term.
Yet O'Byrne and Wittner both pointed to fundraising as a major
goal of the annual ceremony. O'Byrne distinguished the John Jay
Award dinner from the Hamilton Medal ceremony, which he equated
with the Nobel Prize. The presentation of the less exclusive John
Jay award--five to six people earn John Jays every year, compared
with one annual Hamilton Medal recipient--is the College's one
fundraising event, he said.
And Wittner added that providing support for Columbia College--
either financial or otherwise--should be a qualifying factor for
the John Jay Award.
"Because someone has money and is willing to be generous does
not make him a bad person," Wittner said. "We hope it is one
objective of the award to take advantage of the community in New
York to support us. If we can appeal to corporate New York through
honors, why wouldn't we?"