NSOP CONVOCATION 2012—Sometime before my parents told me goodbye and sometime after Dean Valentini told us about Pantone 290, I saw President Lee Bollinger take the stage for the first time. I had done some summer Google research, so I was anticipating a highly paid and expensively groomed orator. PrezBo delivered.
I don't remember much, except that it was sunny outside the convocation tent—and that Bollinger told us to find friendship in and guidance from the books that we would read in class. At the time, I didn't catch the subtext of his message. Four years and many Core classes later, however, I now get it.
Prezbo was saying, "If you need someone to talk to, try Mr. Darcy; I'm going to be busy colonizing Southwest Harlem."
Well, I actually have no idea what PrezBo has been busy with—at least on a day-to-day level. I only know that I haven't seen him. Since that speech in August 2012—before my freshman year technically even started—I have not seen Lee Bollinger in the flesh once. To answer your question: No, I haven't laced up for any Fun Runs. Still, it's not like I haven't been around.
So after all these Lee-less years, I set a goal for senior year: See President Bollinger once on campus before meeting him on the graduation stage. On the hunt, I've set several personal attendance records: three basketball games, two quarters of two football games, a dance recital, Race for the Cure, Bacchanal, a good number of lectures, a handful of protests, and John Jay's surf 'n' turf night. The result? A Beckett-esque sort of Waiting for Prezbo, a search for a man who just isn't there.
Alright, maybe I lied. I did see him once. He was introducing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet at the World Leaders Forum. He used the word "global" three times, accidentally called Bachelet the President of Colombia, and made some nice remarks. When the event was over, security barred anyone from exiting the main doors for a couple minutes. I assumed this was to give Bachelet some security, but the crowd quickly realized she had exited through the back. When the doors opened, we saw PrezBo's silhouette walking away in the distance, given a head start to escape the rest of us.
So I've spent many days sitting on the Steps, scanning the campus and hoping to see Bollinger in and out of Low. I even camped outside his house on 116th and Morningside Drive, and I still didn't see him.
After talking to friends and classmates about this search, I realized this is a common plight. It seems that if you want to interact with President Bollinger, the only way may be to attend his fireside chat and hope to ask a question—and that of course takes winning an actual online lottery. You can also try running for University Senate or camping out in Low for eight days.
President Bollinger, I know you're busy building a global empire in your image, but have you thought that your campus may still need you? What's the point of having a figurehead worth $4 million a year if he never shows his pretty figure? This campus is filled with students who have legitimate beef with this school and legitimate suggestions to make it better—why not take that seriously and meet with some of them? I'm not even asking for you to fix all the school's problems right now, I'm just asking for you to be physically present and occasionally available.
I know you're incredibly busy raising gobs of money, but your approach may be shortsighted. If you want alumni to give down the road, undergrads have to feel like a real part of Columbia while we're here. And when the president makes the 1.5-block commute to the office in a chauffeured Audi and then walks through campus trailed by a bodyguard, we're not off to a good start.
You've done a lot for this school and for constitutional law, so imagine how much it would mean to the community if you simply showed up to more of our events. Imagine what you could learn if we had non-lottery avenues to talk to you.
So let's do it. Let's have you show that gorgeous figurehead of hair of yours to the undergraduate community. I hear you used to throw parties for undergrads when you were president at Michigan, but I'm not asking for that much. Instead, here's a simple proposition: I have $28 of Flex and a completely punched Brownie's sandwich card I need to get rid of before I graduate. Pick a time and place, and we'll get a communal table.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in philosophy. He is editor in chief of The Gadfly, Columbia's undergraduate philosophy magazine, and a DJ for WBAR.
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