Columbia prides itself greatly on being "Columbia University in the City of New York." That is the name displayed on the University's home page—it is one of the major selling points given to prospective students, and we are told that it is what allows the University to be a truly global institution. It is also, however, a source of contention, both historically and in the present day. Columbia's relationship with the surrounding community is a problematic one, and considering the University's current expansion plans, the contention will only increase moving forward. If Columbia wants to be a part of, and not apart from, the city of New York, it must address this problem with greater and more focused attention. If it wants to change the tone of its community relations, Columbia must strengthen its commitment to its own outreach programs. For example, the University presents the Double Discovery Center, a secondary school enrichment program, as proof that its community relations and intentions are good. However, the program is not supported financially by Columbia, and many community residents don't know what it is or how they can utilize it. That is not community engagement. More problematically, individual schools' or programs' attempts to fully interact with or support the larger community are undermined by the decentralization of the University. In addition to the Double Discovery Center, the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering, Community Impact (an umbrella organization for roughly 25 programs and 100 partnerships), and various programs at Teachers College all work to reach out to and support the community. However, they all do so separately. Program leaders themselves have said that their capacity to have an impact cannot possibly rival that of the University itself. Simply put, Columbia has more resources than any single one of its schools or programs does. Effective community engagement cannot come about simply by pointing at one or two little-known programs as examples. Columbia should be able to point to itself. The University may not be able to financially support each individual program, but it can provide a central organizational structure to maximize their potential. This is not to disparage any one group's efforts. It is to say, however, that good relations come from actively and attentively working on building these relationships. Columbia should give its many programs a common—and, therefore, more efficient—resource base and a stronger presence within the University. That there are people on every corner of campus working with community members isn't good enough. They could each do more as individuals if the University did more for them collectively.
Columbia Spectator Staff