• Comments (0)
  • Email
  • ShareThis
  • Print
  • Text Size A A A

21st-Century Campus

Columbia Magazine Spring 2017

I attended Columbia in the early-to-mid-seventies, when New York City was experiencing difficult times. I loved entering the Morningside campus. It was like stepping into another world — peaceful, noble, and filled with knowledge. To this day, I’ve never perceived it as closed off or gated. It’s a traditional campus inspired by classical architecture in a vibrant urban setting. 

I also like Renzo Piano’s concept for the Manhattanville campus — open and accessible to everybody (“Manhattanville,” Spring 2017). But I do question whether its utopian openness might hit the hard wall of reality, given the intensely urban environment and the neighborhood. But these things can be addressed pragmatically with time. 

Having two nearby campus locations, one traditional and one contemporary, could be the best of both worlds.

James Bruno ’74SIPA 
Cazenovia, NY

Renzo Piano appears to envision his Manhattanville campus as a kind of public amusement park. Time will tell how that works out, but there’s no question that his view of Morningside is a modernist’s opinion and debatable accordingly.

If McKim’s Morningside is “intimidating,” so was Penn Station. Intriguing is more like it. Exploring the campus as a New York City high-school kid, I remember thinking, “I’ve got to go here.”

John F. G. Leighton ’52CC 
Redondo Beach, CA

Renzo Piano stresses that there “will be no clear boundary” between the University and the city. He reminds me of what Jane Jacobs wrote in her 1961 masterpiece The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “Columbia University in New York is taking a constructive step by planning sports facilities — for both the university and the neighborhood — in Morningside Park, which has been shunned and feared for decades.” The irony is that the proposed gym, often described as having a second-class “backdoor” for the Harlem community, was the trigger for Columbia’s 1968 rebellion. I hopefully note that Columbia is not repeating the errors of the 1960s.

Henry W. Rosenberg ’73CC 
Northampton, MA

While Columbia’s Morningside campus features some undeniably beautiful architecture, its insular, fortress-like design, devoid of interaction with the street, has always left the neighborhood with a windswept, vacant feel. 

The new Manhattanville campus is certainly a step in the right direction: Renzo Piano’s design features publicly accessible buildings on an open street grid. But missing from all the beautiful renderings (and explicitly promised in early conversations about the campus) is ground-floor commercial space. We see lobbies and quads that say “students welcome,” but nowhere are restaurants, cafés and shops that say “neighborhood residents welcome.” 

This is a real shame. Ground-floor retail and dining would provide vibrancy and foot traffic at all hours of the day and night, long after labs and classrooms have emptied out. Just as important, these shops and cafés would provide employment opportunities for local residents.

What good is a publicly accessible campus with no place for the public?

Munier Salem ’15GSAS 
Brooklyn, NY

The Manhattanville campus will offer retail, restaurants, and services for both the campus and the local community. For example, the Jerome L. Greene Science Center’s ground-floor corridor will house a restaurant, a café, an indoor climbing facility, and a community wellness center. The education lab there is already open and giving local students hands-on experience in science. — Ed.

A simple map of Morningside Heights and Manhattanville would have given your readers some notion of where the new buildings will fit into the current landscape. As it is, there are many fanciful drawings, with no demonstration of how and where they’ll be secured to terra firma.

Separately, although past University presidents and most graduates don’t donate enough money to get their names on buildings, was there any thought given to naming a new structure after McGill, Sovern, Bollinger, Eisenhower, or Obama? You’re condemning twenty-first-century students to historical amnesia if they don’t know how Columbia became what it is today — between Nicholas Murray Butler and whoever gave the money for the new neuroscience center. Surely, Columbia has produced artists, scientists, politicians, leaders — graduates — whom you could exalt?

Sarah White ’71BC, ’73JRN
Williamstown, MA

The Spring 2017 issue of Columbia Magazine proved to be the best in recent memory in content, style, and presentation. Certainly, the coverage of the Manhattanville project was a dominant factor; it was undoubtedly spectacular in concept and implementation. 

The Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, with its emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration, particularly piqued my interest. It reminded me of our Philosophy Hall seminars a half-dozen decades ago dealing with the “mind-body problem.” I hope the current Columbia philosophical fraternity will be welcome at Manhattanville to share in their own way.

William J. Bonville ’51GSAS
Grants Pass, OR

The new buildings that “adorn” our campus, as well as the proposed ones, are all neo-modern, ugly, and conceived without regard to the old-fashioned but beautiful and timeless existing campus. The interiors are cold, aseptic, and without any pretense of being warm and comfortable. Is this how we carry on the amazing legacy of Columbia University?

Leo Glass ’56CC 
Monticello, NY

Given the Trump administration’s proposed cutbacks in the funding of medical and energy research, it seems timely to ask what contingency plans Columbia has made to prevent the new Manhattanville campus from becoming a costly white elephant. If research faculty cannot secure grant money, who will occupy the new buildings and pay for their upkeep?

Peter Feibelman ’63CC 
Albuquerque, NM

Roaring Nineties

Thank you for the lovely profile of the remarkable nonagenarian David Perlman. May I suggest you devote an equally inspiring article in each issue to others in this age bracket?

Hagith Sivan ’83GSAS 
Philadelphia, PA

PR Strategy

Your laudatory article about New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (“Speaking Up,” Spring 2017) mentions that she advocated for Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican terrorist who attempted to bring about independence for Puerto Rico. The fact is that the US has offered independence to Puerto Rico several times, and the electorate has overwhelmingly rejected it — and with good reason. Becoming an independent nation would bring with it significant losses, not least of which would be the right to American citizenship, which allows Puerto Ricans to travel freely to the continental US and back, and work without visas, documents, or green cards. Mark-Viverito’s career in New York would likely have been difficult, if not impossible, if she had had to deal with immigration issues.

Robert Reimers ’61SEAS 
Gardner, KS

Banner Year

I remembered the most important answers to your quiz about Columbia’s first coed graduating class (Finals, Spring 2017) — that the 1987 valedictorian, salutatorian, and president were all women, and that the class was 45 percent women — because I’ve repeated these facts countless times to demonstrate Columbia’s commitment to coed education after two hundred years of single-sex admissions, and to express admiration for the righteous ways women took their rightful place on campus. 

I’ve also repeated the story of how someone apparently gained access to the roof of Butler Library and unfurled a banner to compete with the frieze of all-male writers (Herodotus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, et al.) — this one of all-female writers (including, if memory serves, Sappho, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Brontë, and Dickinson). I believe the Spectator ran a photo. Brilliant!

Clyde Moneyhun ’76CC 
Boise, ID

For your enjoyment, we’re reprinting the photo you remember, from September 1989, above. The banner was the handiwork of Laura Hotchkiss Brown ’89GS. — Ed.

Public Opinion

Regarding the debate over where on the Morningside campus to install Henry Moore’s abstract sculpture Reclining Figure (“Angle of Repose,” College Walk, Spring 2017), good luck teaching students who think it improper to place a contemporary sculpture in a neoclassical setting. That’s been done all over the world. 

Also, be concerned about the willingness of students to sign a petition for almost anything. Here at Pitt-Johnstown, about a third of the student body signed a petition to defund the student newspaper because it publishes the campus crime report.

George Fattman ’64JRN 
Johnstown, PA

Talking Black

As a Columbia medical student in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it drove me crazy when my Black patients would say, “Hey, doc, can I aks you a question?” Now, more than three decades later, I learn the reason in the spring issue of Columbia Magazine. In “English in Black and White” (Booktalk), linguist John McWhorter explains, “Aks and ask are both from Britain. The fact that ask became standard is just an accident. Black people say aks because slaves worked on plantations with people who said aks, that’s all.” Better late than never, and thank you!

Robert D. Wagman ’81PS 
Toronto, Ontario

As a veteran of Professor Emeritus Charles V. Hamilton’s Black Political Science class and a former member of Manhattan Community Board 9, I applaud and support the reasoning you present in the Spring 2017 issue for capitalizing the letter “B” in “Black.” Thank you for your journalistic courage and integrity.

P.S. The Spring 2017 issue is among the best — if not the best — I’ve read in the past forty years.

Richard Sussman ’76CC 
Nyack, NY

Coed Before Coeducation

It is worth noting that while the College graduated its first coeducational class only thirty years ago, the engineering school was coed long before (Finals, Spring 2017). Although not many women chose engineering in the 1950s, there were some in each department. I believe I was the only woman graduating in electrical engineering in 1958.

Suzanne Palocz ’58SEAS 
Cranbury, NJ

Tough Love

Judging from the interview “Weighty Matters” (The Big Idea, Spring 2017), Michael Rosenbaum has made impressive contributions to obesity research and education. But I wonder if the good doctor may be allowing his benign nature to displace the sterner counsel that is needed to fight this hugely destructive disease. When asked “What would you tell a relative who needed to lose weight?” Rosenbaum answers that it’s not the person’s fault: being overweight is a biological disease, so by inference, blame is unwarranted. 

I agree that it’s desirable to avoid needlessly injuring an afflicted person’s feelings, but I think we are still obliged to raise public awareness of unhealthy behavior, and to strongly urge individuals to take some responsibility for what they do to themselves and their kin. We ought not to be purely understanding when we see (as I have) a mother feed her five-year-old Pop-Tarts and Coca-Cola for breakfast. We should not react only with tolerance when a young man gorges himself till his weight triples and he succumbs to diabetes and heart disease. 

What needs to be done? We’ve seen that, to some degree, health authorities and doctors have been effective in discouraging smoking. Surely they must do the same and more about “weighty matters.” Perhaps Rosenbaum will agree that to mount an effective campaign against obesity, we need tough love as well as sympathy. 

Irwin Shishko ’51GSAS 
Delray Beach, FL

Trump and Immigration

While I’m not surprised that students and the liberal-left faculties of many otherwise learned universities took part in the attacks against President Donald Trump that followed his election and inauguration earlier this year, I was disappointed that Columbia Magazine gave prominent attention to these negative reactions by both the Speaker of the New York City Council and the president of the University. Both based their vitriolic reactions on the administration’s tightened regulation of immigration. Both failed to recognize that entry to any country by those born or residing elsewhere is not a right but a privilege granted by the receiving nation. 

Societies have always set standards upon which acceptance and recognition are based — standards relating to health, morality, financial self-support, intent, and, above all, security. One would not open the door to one’s home without applying standards of acceptability. Columbia University would not admit a student who has not met the academic, social, or moral standards it has established to protect both its reputation and the safety of its student body.

Columbia’s president, its faculty, its student body, and the editors of its magazine should recognize the difference between rights and privileges.

Avrum Hyman ’54JRN 
Bronx, NY

Baggage Charge

I applaud Steph Korey and Jen Rubio on their success with a clever idea to redesign luggage with the needs of modern travelers in mind, including a built-in phone charger (“From Bags to Riches,” Network, Spring 2017). But clever and smart aren’t the same thing. Even corporations with deep pockets have had serious problems with batteries. If I were an airline or the National Transportation Safety Board, I would look very carefully at the safety of high-capacity batteries in luggage.

On another topic, B-school teaches us a lot about the bottom line and little about social responsibility. Why did Korey and Rubio immediately run to Asia for design and manufacturing? Was there any effort to find those services right here in the USA?

Roger Rhodes ’96BUS
New York, NY

Kudos for Steph Korey’s success with Away bags. I am wondering, though, if the built-in battery on the carry-on models creates an issue when there is no overhead space and the bag must go into the belly of the plane. Aren’t lithium-ion batteries disallowed there? 

Bob Fately ’82BUS
Las Cruces, MN

The folks at Away tell us that their battery complies with all FAA, TSA, and DOT regulations. It can be carried on any flight and checked on any flight except those originating in Asia. Visit www.awaytravel.com/battery for more information. — Ed.

Lost at Sea

Thank you for the short piece on Chilean president Michelle Bachelet’s visit to the Marcus G. Langseth research vessel (“Chilean president visits Columbia research ship,” Bulletin, Spring 2017). In the inset photograph, however, you failed to recognize one of your own. Emilio Vera studied at what was then called the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, earning his PhD in 1989. Now an associate professor of geophysics at the University of Chile in Santiago, Vera worked with Columbia to conduct this scientific cruise. 

Juan M. Lorenzo ’91GSAS 
Baton Rouge, LA


Columbia Magazine has become a must-read end to end, with no skipping! Thank you for what has become an exciting and inspiring publication. It makes me proud to be an alumna. I am halfway through the Spring 2017 issue and had to get up to write this, to offer kudos to what I am sure is a very hardworking team. 

Christine Welker ’89CC
Rhinebeck, NY

I just read the Spring 2017 issue and truly couldn’t put it down — so many well-written and fascinating articles! Bravo for a job well done.

Jennifer Lawson ’74SOA
Washington, DC

Your Name in Lights

Alumni magazines inevitably highlight success and achievement, but why not also randomly pick out alums and do profiles of them? You may connect with a wider audience by showing alums who are just regular people who may have their own definitions of success and their own hopes, aspirations, fears, and failures, too. 

Sin Hang Lai ’01GSAS
Norwalk, CT


In the Finals quiz in the Spring 2017 issue, the correct answer to question eight, “Which team won the first women’s Ivy championship for Columbia?,” should have been the 1989 fencing team, not, as we wrote, the 2006 soccer team. We regret the error and encourage quiz-takers to give themselves the point.

Questions? Comments?


Send your thoughts to:

Columbia Magazine 
Columbia Alumni Center 
622 W. 113th Street, MC 4521 
New York, NY 10025

Or e-mail us at:

Letters may be edited for brevity or clarity.

Log in with your UNI to post a comment
  • Email
  • ShareThis
  • Print

The best stories wherever you go on the Columbia Magazine App

Maybe next time