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Columbia Spectator Staff

For some students at the School of International and Public Affairs, the choice of Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citigroup, as graduation speaker is both inappropriate and uninspiring. Pandit, who has received four degrees from the University and is a trustee, became Citigroup CEO in 2007. Some students said that in light of the recent economic crisis, a representative from the banking industry is an unsuitable pick, particularly for a school that teaches public policy. "Part of the reason a lot of people come here is to understand some of the problems about poverty or development ... and one of the biggest things that's happened during our time is ... the financial crisis," Ahsan Kamal, SIPA '10, said."Banks and the whole bank industry ... have a very sort of direct relationship with the crisis." Dean of SIPA John Coatsworth said in an email to SIPA students who expressed concern that the choice reflects the school's efforts to draw speakers from a broad variety of fields that graduates will enter. "Over the years, we have tried to select a range of speakers who reflect the diversity of our students and the changing issues of the time," Coatsworth said. "Over a third of SIPA graduates find work in the private sector. In recent years, approximately ten percent of all graduates have taken jobs in the financial services industry alone, and a much larger proportion take positions in the regulatory agencies and central banks that will play crucial roles not only in resolving the current financial crisis, but in establishing policies that will prevent similar disasters in the future." Some argue, though, that Pandit is not a model leader for students. Xiao Yi Chen, SIPA '10, said, "Based on everything that's happened, you can't help but get the sense that he's not very good at his job. And that's the main reason I can understand why a lot of students are angry." This isn't the first time that SIPA students have expressed dissatisfaction with the school's commencement speaker choice. In 2008, when the school invited Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Fainaru, many students complained that the choice did not live up to the school's prestigious reputation. Coatsworth also said the school asks "SIPA students to express their preferences for commencement speakers, but we also consider other factors." But Kamal said, "What we don't understand as a student body is how you can—in the midst of that crisis—have a representative from that industry come and speak to the students who are directly concerned with these issues." Coatsworth defends Pandit's actions in light of the financial crisis, citing the fact that Pandit "reduced his own salary to one dollar per year, and designed the recovery strategy Citi has followed since." Coatsworth also said of Pandit, "He is unusually thoughtful and forthright on the role of Citi and other banks leading up to the crisis, most recently in testifying before Congressional committees," and added that the bank "has repaid all of the $45 billion in TARP funds it received from the U.S. government."

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