University President Lee Bollinger hosted the first graduate student fireside chat of the semester on Wednesday evening, opining on Donald Trump and Antonin Scalia and fielding questions on Columbia's financial aid allocation and the integration of the Manhattanville campus into the Harlem community.
Bollinger shared his thoughts on both the legacy of Justice Antonin Scalia's famously originalist interpretation of the Constitution and Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
While discussing Justice Scalia, Bollinger stated that he felt an originalist approach to law was both impossible in practice and impractical in the context of long-term national change.
"The thought that you would have a founding basic document for a society that is rooted in the beliefs of people who lived 200 plus years ago is a little nuts," Bollinger said.
When asked about Trump, Bollinger was quick to say that the purpose of the chat was not to discuss his political opinions, but he left students with one insight into his political preferences.
"I frankly think it would be a real pity if the United States had Donald Trump as president," Bollinger said.
However, Bollinger did see one benefit to Trump's campaign.
"It's the kind of thing that academics love to have," Bollinger said. "That is, where people don't understand what's happened, why did this happen, what is going on."
On financial aid
In response to a question on the University's development of new fundraising initiatives for financial aid, Bollinger returned to a recurring subject in previous fireside chats: the disparities in financial aid within the University.
"Financial aid varies, of course, around the institution. Columbia College has very strong financial aid, and General Studies does not have such strong financial aid, relatively speaking." Bollinger said.
Bollinger attributed the disparities to the varying demographics of alumni from each school, noting that each school's dean is responsible for tapping former students to raise funds.
"Of course the rich and wealthy factor here because some alums from some schools are more wealthy than others, and that creates our own internal income inequality problems," Bollinger said.
Bollinger named financial aid for international students as an area of particular concern.
"As we become more and more global as a university, one part of that is that we have more of our students coming from abroad and our financial aid for international students is not nearly as strong as it needs to be."
On large lectures courses
One student asked for Bollinger's thoughts on the tutorial model used in universities throughout Europe, specifically questioning whether a free college education could match the level of American private schools.
Bollinger responded by praising Oxford University as the "best experience from a student standpoint that I know of educationally."
He also deemed one-on-one interaction with faculty to be especially important.
"To my mind, to go as an individual young person into a meeting with an expert in the field and explain your ideas ... and have somebody say 'have you thought about this? have you thought about that?'" Bollinger said. "That kind of ongoing discussion over time is the real testament to a great education."
"I also believe you can get a great education in a big lecture class too." Bollinger said. "But I think it's less likely."
Bollinger also spoke to the importance of the Manhattanville campus for the University's continued intellectual growth, focusing on the need to enhance the University's ability to remain competitive and integrate into the Morningside Heights and Harlem communities.
The first buildings on the Manhattanville campus are slated to open in the fall, bringing the first phase of a project considered one of the cornerstones of Bollinger's presidency to a close.
Pointing to Columbia's relatively small endowment compared to other Ivy League universities as an obstacle to maintaining the University's high level of academic performance, Bollinger said that Columbia required the expansion in order to continue "on a trajectory to be greater."
"You have to have a number of things. You have to have money, but you have to have the space," Bollinger said. "The space became the problem."
After detailing the process that led the selection of Manhattanville as the location for the campus, Bollinger said that the proximity of the site to the main campus made it ideal for expansion.
"I felt we needed to embrace Harlem as our home," Bollinger said. "Upper Manhattan was as close as we could get."