The departure of Emily Lloyd, Columbia's chief community spokeswoman, brings uncertainty to the future of Columbia's relationship with Manhattanville.
Lloyd announced her resignation over the summer. Loretta Ucelli, who has worked on the staff of former President Bill Clinton, was hired in April as vice president for Communications and External Relations.
Some, including Robert Kasdin, the senior executive vice president at Columbia, say that the departure will not affect the tie between the community and the University because the positions Lloyd represented remain the same.
"The values that the University brings to bear in its expansion into west Harlem are set by the Board of Trustees and the President of the University," Kasdin said. "Those values continue to be the same, irrespective of who's on the front line."
Many in the community who have collaborated with Columbia said that since Bollinger took office in 2003, Lloyd had been excluded from the inner circles of decision-making at Columbia.
"Her leaving was just the end of a downward slope," said Maritta Dunn, a member of Manhattan Community Board 9 and an advocate for businesses in Manhattanville.
Dunn said she is unhappy with the direction Columbia's efforts toward furthering community relations regarding the expansion have taken.
"Working with and working for is not the same--and they are not working with or for the community. What [they are] doing is presenting a PR front that gives that impression," she said.
Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, the chairman of the community board, said that Lloyd had built up a level of trust over time that was unique among the University's representatives.
"Emily Lloyd had gained the confidence of the community," he said, but added that "for the last year or so, the whole system undermined what Emily Lloyd did."
Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, whose district includes Columbia, agreed that Lloyd brought a sense of constancy to community relations. He added, however, that constancy wasn't necessarily a good thing, as it gave an ear to certain voices while excluding others.
"Change can be good," he said. "It's my hope that that change will be a positive one, and that there will be a relationship with the community that gathers better results for the community."
It is unclear whether there will be a single new face to replace Lloyd. When Columbia presented its expansion plans to the community in April, Kasdin played a very prominent role. Reyes-Montblanc predicted that in the future, Kasdin himself will emerge as the point person on expansion.
Ucelli also acknowledged that Kasdin's voice would be a significant one. What role Ucelli herself will play remains to be seen.
Tom DeMott, a major figure in the Coalition to Preserve Community--a group of residents that has raised concerns about the expansion--said he did not believe a change in the person who acts as the link between the community and Columbia will matter.
"The issue of the difference between Ms. Lloyd and Ms. Ucelli is insignificant. This is a huge four billion dollar expansion plan, and minor differences in personality are really a diversion topic," DeMott said.
No appointment or approach to community relations, DeMott went on to say, will change the underlying sentiment in the surrounding neighborhoods. He did note that Lloyd's departure marked the end of a round of town-hall style meetings with residents.
Regardless of any overall effect, many of the players in town-gown relations developed friendships with Lloyd.
"Personally, I happened to like Emily Lloyd," DeMott said.
Reyes-Montblanc agreed. "Personally, I will miss her," he said.