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Yan Cong / Staff Photographer

College of Physicians and Surgeons student Dustin Tetzl talks to University President Lee Bollinger.

Connie Yip, a student at the School of Nursing, walked away from University President Lee Bollinger's house with a takeout box of arugula salad and a lead on some Columbia grant money.

Yip was one of about 50 graduate students at Bollinger's final fireside chat of the semester on Tuesday night. Bollinger spoke at length about his personal history with affirmative action litigation and took questions on monetized online courses, the University's perennial space crunch, and a potential conflict with New York University over St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.

Bollinger acknowledged that it is "more than a rumor" that NYU has been discussing a merger with Continuum Health Partners, which owns St. Luke's-Roosevelt.

"I know [NYU President] John Sexton really well," he said. "We've been friends for a long, long time. I am completely confident that if NYU purchases St. Luke's, they will not hang purple flags outside with Columbia right across the street."

St. Luke's-Roosevelt, which is located at 114th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, is an academic affiliate of Columbia, and many medical students train with Columbia doctors at its two hospitals. A medical student asked Bollinger if he is worried about NYU getting too close to Columbia's turf, but Bollinger responded that Columbia medical students shouldn't worry about being edged out by NYU.

"If my good friend John Sexton does this, then we will be looking for property in Washington Square," he said with a smile.

Yip wanted to know if Columbia's $30 million plan to increase faculty diversity—which Bollinger announced last week—might include funds for a staff member to work on LGBT issues at the Columbia University Medical Center. Yip said that CUMC's uptown campus lacks a space for LGBT students.

Bollinger suggested that Yip speak to University Chaplain Jewelnel Davis, who was in attendance at the fireside chat. Davis told the audience that her office can give grants for such initiatives, and she distributed her business card to several students after the chat.

"I'm impressed by Columbia's commitment to diversity, but sometimes I wish it could be implemented in a more visible way," Yip said.

Bollinger spoke for 15 minutes about his support for race-conscious admissions practices at universities, in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision to hear a case that may undo Bollinger's 2003 landmark victory for affirmative action. In the 2003 cases Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger—which were argued together—the court held that affirmative action is constitutional, as long as admissions processes do not quantify the advantage given to minorities. Bollinger won the Grutter case but lost the Gratz case.

The cases was brought against Bollinger when he was president of the University of Michigan regarding admission to the undergraduate college and to the law school. Both schools practiced race-based affirmative action under Bollinger, and he said on Tuesday that defending the admissions practice was a challenge.

"It looked bleak," he said. "I can't tell you how many people told me, ‘You're going to lose this case,' and things like, ‘You deserve to lose this case.' But I made a decision that we would fight this and we would do everything we could to defend the policy."

"It wasn't just about the University of Michigan," he added. "Every university in the country had policies that would be affected by this decision."

Christopher Mitchell, SIPA/Social Work, asked Bollinger the question about affirmative action. Mitchell said he was impressed by the personal insight Bollinger offered in his response.

"Bollinger kept referring back to things he'd studied himself or written about," he said.

In one of the fireside chat's lighter moments, Journalism School student Pamela Lin asked Bollinger about his reading habits. Bollinger said that despite his scholarship on globalization and interconnectivity, he starts off his day by reading four print newspapers: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times.

Bollinger chose a doctoral student in philosophy for the last question of the evening—a question, he said, that he could not answer. The student wanted to know if the Manhattanville campus might provide office space for graduate student teaching assistants.

"Currently, all the [philosophy] grad students share one room for TA-ing, and I think it was converted from a bathroom," the student said.

Bollinger said that he was sorry to end "a very nice evening" without a satisfying answer.

"We still have faculty with inadequate offices. The fact that grad students don't have offices is terrible. That's the only thing you can say about it," Bollinger said. "We work in a context where so many people feel they don't have adequate space."

leah.greenbaum@columbiaspectator.com

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misstated the ruling in the Gratz vs. Bollinger case and the position of Bollinger at the University of Michigan Law School. Spectator regrets the errors.

St. Luke's Hospital Lee Bollinger fireside chat Diversity affirmative action
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