From a CU senior to prospective students

<p>With one semester left until graduation from Columbia College I am compelled to recount my experiences and reflections for younger students considering an application to or attendance at CU. As I write, I imagine a crowd of high schoolers, 16-18, that considers itself wonderfully well-informed about the admissions process. I was certainly like that - I obsessively read this forum; knew by heart the admissions stats at a hundred universities; college board was one of my top search items; I even attended info sessions at a number of universities to which I applied. In the intervening years I have discovered that I knew nothing. Can I, for a moment, dissuade you from the fervor that is this highly competitive process and offer instead a meditation upon the qualities of this specific university as taken from my time here? Can I be a sober voice in the midst of what I remember to be a drunken swirl of anxiety, posturing and clawing to the "top"? This letter is as much for me as it is for any readers I attract, for I would feel a somber burden if I allowed the mechanics of higher education to continue without offering even the slightest tone of noncompliance.</p>

<p>The first, and perhaps most important, thing that I can tell you about Columbia is that it does not care about you. To what this "it" applies I am not sure. Perhaps it is the administration, with its boundless prerogative of expansionism at the expense of students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community. Perhaps this indifference to your well-being is born from the detachment of a highly bureaucratized institution in which all functionary (non-academic) positions seem to be filled by competitive ineptitude contests. Perhaps it is simply the pulse of the city - New York, alas, New York - leaking into the classrooms. These are only speculations. The sensation, however, is real.</p>

<p>I can tell you that Columbia is unsurpassed in its love for colonialism and I can imagine no figure-head more descriptive of this penchant than President Lee Bollinger. Look to the name of the university: a celebration of the decimation of Native Americans by imperialist Europe in the foundation of America. Look to the emblem of the university: a crown with twin crosses that seems boldly dismissive of democracy in any theoretical or pragmatic sense. Look to the expansion of the university into Manhattanville: a project of systematic dispossession which has forcibly removed 5,000 people of color who were peaceable neighbors of the University for multiple generations. Look to the Global Campuses initiative: a project that has set up colonial outposts on every corner of the globe in order to make the events that transpire there into the objects of intellectual fodder for incredibly privileged students and faculty members. Look to Bollinger: who has personally demanded these latter two projects while earning one of the highest salaries in all of higher education ($1.7 million, I believe) and living in an decadent mansion provided by the university. Does not it seem odd that 5,000 people can be evicted from their homes by the orders of one man who stays for free in a $30 million mansion? It sits atop a hill overlooking Harlem, like a plantation owner's mansion surveiling cotton fields.</p>

<p>Let me give a personal story. My sophomore year I took a class with Bollinger that was about free speech. He swaggered, threw his hair; the fumes of his intoxication with himself were nauseating. The class was team "taught". And, oh, what teaching! Miklos Haszrati, a big shot from the U.N. whom I think PrezBo must have met at a cocktail party, was recruited to instruct the second half of the course. He had no teaching experience, an accent so thick I understood 20 words in 20 hours of class time and all of the intellectual might of a 10 year old who was dropped on his head a dozen times before reaching the terrible-twos. In the class Bollinger made disparaging remarks about the university's most generous benefactor the week after Mr. Kluge died. He also once made the point that he felt it his duty to "give the <em>impression</em> of free speech" on campus (his emphasis), which I assume means there is no place for free speech on campus. The case with freedom of speech is the case with most things here, I have found - a glittering facade that cracks when one assumes even the slightest disposition of criticism.</p>

<p>So, you want to go to college? Well, let's block out for a moment your dreams of falling in love, the desire for wild stories to tell those one-day grand kids and ponder the fact that college is school. Just like in all of the school you've attended up to this point, there will be teachers at Uni. And considering that you or someone to whom you owe a lot of kudos to is paying $240,000 ($60,000 a year, as my most recent fin-aid package totals) for this school, wouldn't it be nice if the teachers were treated pretty well? Drawing from a few articles in the Daily Spectator from this semester I can say that this is not the case. Columbia Professors earn almost 10% less per year than their counterparts at peer institutions. Retired professors are having their apartment contracts forcibly terminated by the university and new hires will be unable to secure housing once they assume emeritus status. Columbia on average offers tenure to only 30% of its tenure-track faculty, meaning there is a very good chance that at some point in the next 5 years your instructor will be kicked out after having slaved for 45 years of academic perfection to attain the solace of independent work. In short, there is a very good possibility that your teacher will be distracted by the fact that he (and it is probably a he) is being screwed over by their employer. Not exactly conducive to learning...</p>

<p>Another interesting article came out this semester which announced that the university's financial aid policy was "under review". Most things that come under review have already been decided upon, I have discovered. Review processes are performances administrators put on to abate insurgency in the student population. There is a strong possibility that in the near future Columbia's need blind assistance will be revoked or heavily modified in a manner that burdens undergrads with more debt. Given that Columbia's most generous benefactor recently passed away, leaving a total of $500 million to the university mostly for financial aid, one must question how any review process is required. Have the books been cooked? Creative accounting? To poor students: it seems like a rocky prospect to enroll if you are counting on getting significant help from financial aid, for as one quoted administrator said in a half-heartedly cryptic tone, "Policies are always susceptible to review".</p>

<p>Columbia also appears to be highly racist, or is at least run by racists. As I have already mentioned 5,000 black and Latino neighbors of the university have been forcibly removed so we can have a new gym and business school. But other facts configure in the constellation that permits me to make such a caustic assertion. In my four years I have had 1 non-white faculty member. The university makes no effort in recruiting minority faculty, but banks on having a few prominent intellectuals of color to distort a more accurate image of white-dominated knowledge production (as I asserted earlier: a thin facade). Do Manning Marable (the late and great) and Gyatri Spivak together make up for the fact that most students will never hear a lecture from a person of color? In the last year, two high-level administrators have left the university, Claude Steel (provost) and Michelle Moody-Adams (Dean of the College). Moody left in an uproar for undisclosed reasons, but the most frequently suggest reason is the looming possibility of revisions to the University's financial aid policy and the restriction of the autonomy of the College. Most recently, the Dean of SEAS, Pena-Mora, was the subject of two letters of no-confidence from his faculty. A New York Times article speculated that the reason why the complaints had been entirely ignored by the administration (and, yes, 100s of CU faculty members have been entirely ignored by the administration) was because the administration did not want to loose yet another high-level administrator of color given the University's reputation as a liberal institution and the fact that, well, until Steel, Moody-Adams and Pena-Mora were hired a couple of years ago there had Never Been a Person of Color in the Administration. Doesn't this place seem a little backwards?</p>

<p>Now, I suppose I could go on and on in this vein. I have four years of experience to reflect on, but I think by this point you get the gist of my impression. This isn't to negate the entire enterprise of learning. But the alacrity that most high school seniors display doesn't accord in any way with the reality they will encounter when they enter an academic institution. While I have been at Columbia I have made 3-5 close friends whom I would say are absolutely brilliant. I've met another 20-40 (depending on the day) who are incredibly gifted. But unfortunately most people on campus are quite boring and underwhelming. This isn't an issue pertaining only to Columbia. I'm sure that, quite to the contrary, Columbia has a very, very high concentration of geniuses, artists, philosophers. The problem is this: CU students who do not fit into that category very often assume that they do and many tacky, suffocating manifestations of arrogance ensue. Be prepared to wade through the muck and collect a few grains of gold from the people you encounter or, alternatively, spend the rest of your life as an overly-confident ******. </p>

<p>If you want to get a great brand name on your resume and land a job at an investment bank, then Columbia is probably the perfect place for you. The institution is just as vapid as your aims. But if you seek more than this empty life, then perhaps another path is best. Ideally, every high schooler would wake up the morning that admissions decisions come out and say, "We will be neither rejected nor accepted. Instead, we reject. We reject an application system that pits us brutally against our peers. We reject a system that commits real world harm to accomplish the lofty aims of research. We reject exorbitant amounts of students debt being piled onto our generation." I do not know if this will happen. I suppose you know more than I do. It is your body and your brain. This generation is comprised of your peers. How will you see it educated?</p>

<p>I came for an education. And I certainly got an education. There was the one where I got a GPA and wrote a lot of papers and won research grants and fellowships. Then there was the other one I receive by watching the ideology of the university unfold. I can not shake the feeling, my Latin-script diploma being readied for the presses, that the piece of paper I am to receive will also leave a trace of blood on my hands. Blood, which like knowledge, cannot be revoked once its implications are unfurled.</p>

<p>Let the abundant amount of detail I have provided be the evidence that I am not a troll.</p>

<p>I wonder if I should use some of this for the Why Columbia question.
On a more serious note, thanks for the heads-up. Better I learn this before I apply than after I enter, if by chance that happens.</p>

<p>I do agree to a degree that Columbia does not care about you. Most of the non-teaching employees I've dealt with are very impatient to go over things to help you. (Think how a typical New Yorker treats someone from out of town.) Sometimes, they give you a cold, short answer like "NO" without telling you any alternatives. Or when they get tired of explaining stuff to you, they make you go ask someone else. (i.e. don't bother me, go bother someone else.)</p>

<p>You'll get a great education for sure. But you'd better be very independent to survive and do well there. </p>

<p>I don't agree with you that University acts like a racist and doesn't recruit minority. I mean, check how many Asians are on the campus (unless you don't count them as "minority").</p>

<p>This is not a troll; it's Christopher Hitchens writing from beyond the grave. Putting aside the merits of the charges, this is a good read.</p>

<p>Thank you for this very interesting read.</p>

<p>Good words. Are other ivies better? I have heard of many stories like this before about ivy league colleges. I know Columbia is located in one of the most urban and hectic place in the world. Will Yale, located in New Haven, CT, or Dartmouth, located in Hanover, NH, or Brown, located in Providence, RI, be different?</p>

<p>This is a very sad entry, especially sad for the person who wrote it. </p>

<p>It is a poorly argued screed, devoid of the kinds of critical thinking skills that he or she should have developed at Columbia. It is also suggestive of someone who is deeply unhappy and very angry. Perhaps psychotherapy would have been a better investment of his or her time and money. This person's unhappiness has little to do with Columbia and will continue for some time after he or she graduates from the university. </p>

<p>That anyone reading the OP's entrry would take it as anything other than the rant of a very immature and unhappy person would be a mistake.</p>

<p>At the very least, Columbia taught you how to write.</p>

<p>But clearly it wasn't so awful that you felt you needed to transfer. What gives? Thanks for another "headsup" post, I guess.</p>

<p>On the point of racism as manifest at Columbia:
It is certainly true that the Columbia undergraduate population is comprised largely of minority students. This does not tell the whole story because the university has many other groups who are deeply invested in the institution. For example, when this fact is combined with the adjacent reality of a negligible minority presence on the faculty (my primary meditation in the original post, btw...respondents should read more closely, please) the overall effect is by my evaluative standards, negative. Black, Latino, Asian American and Native American students will never be given the opportunity of seeing someone of their own background and social makeup in the acts of either knowledge production or teaching. Because the production of knowledge through research and the education of students are the two most important functions of the university, one is left with the definite impression that in the most crucial aspects of its being the university does not value the opinions, styles or methods of individuals who come from under-represented populations. Minority students are allowed to learn how white people create and use knowledge, but never to see how someone of their own ethnic or racial background would act if given the same opportunity. Most black and Latino people who work at the university can be seen emptying trash, mowing the lawn or serving coffee. These positions are vital to the functioning of the Columbia community, but are clearly liminal in terms of the essential mission of the university. They are also remunerated at a significantly lower rate than professorships, fellowships or research. The voices of minority populations have been excluded from the most essential functioning of the university. </p>

<p>It does not appear that Columbia wishes to change this for the coming generation. For example, African Americans comprise only 1-2% of graduate students in ALL PhD programs. This means that in 15-20 years there will be no more minority applicants available for professorships than there are currently. Given the large presence of minorities in the undergraduate communities of Columbia and comparable academic institutions, it seems unlikely that there are no qualified candidates for admissions to PhD programs. The problem, then, seems to be situated in the systematic structuring of the university itself.</p>

<p>Finally, one might observe that Lee Bollinger became famous as a lawyer by arguing affirmative action before the supreme court. Most students, I am sure, ogle the prestige of this fact without inquiring into the various motives at play in this transaction of legal authority. At the time he argued the case Bollinger was president of U Michigan. While there, his chief functionary position was to maintain the stability of the university. A revision of the school's admissions practices would have had reverberations throughout the campus. Thus, regardless of the substance of argumentation, Bollinger's motivation would have been to win whatever was in the best interest of the university's fiscal and legal well-being. Imagine the sort of settlement the university would of had to pay out had it lost! Additionally, Bollinger was motivated by self-interest. Argumentation before the supreme court - no matter the case or outcome - puts a lawyer into an elevated league that demands higher payment from clients. Had his case been against affirmative action, I am sure Bollinger would have argued just as feverishly. Lawyers have the unique position in society in which they can put their opinion up for sale along with their specialized training and intellectual competencies. I don't think Bollinger goes to sleep at night thinking, "How can I do good in the world for minority populations?" Its probably more along the lines of, "I'm really pleased that I was able to wage a career off the backs of minorities while at the same time making it appear as though I care about them. That sure was a win-win situation for me!"</p>

<p>On the comparative advantages of other highly regarded universities:
I have only been a student at Columbia. However, I have spoken with a number of students at Yale, NYU and Harvard. I think that many of the problems that I have recognized with Columbia permeate it's peer institutions as well. NYU is perhaps the most comparable because I feel that the problems of any large academic bureaucracy are exacerbated by being located in NYC. For example, the dispossession of minorities for the sake of university expansion is particular to being located in a restrictive space. For obvious reasons, it will be 100-200 years in the future until Yale or Harvard has to forcibly remove its neighbors.</p>

<p>As to Yale, I can speak with some greater particularity. I contacted the dean of Yale College because I wished to apply as a graduate student to study under her tutelage. She is a leading academic in my field and the opportunity to work with her would be tremendous. She set up a meeting between one of her current graduate students and me. After we'd discussed the admissions process to some length he sexually assaulted me and made a number of comments derogatory to women: "I only work with my advisor because she thinks like a man. Most women just b*tch about tiny points and can't conceptualize more expansive theories of society." When this occurred, I was outside of the U.S. in a country with a particularly corrupt police force, thus I was unable to file charges. From this interaction, I would conclude that the culture of old-boy's club biggotry is going strong at Yale as well, the the problem stemming directly from the leader of the college where students using this website would enroll. Given my personal opinion that systematized biggotry, whether homophobia, racism, religious discrimination, misogeny, etc. have similar bases I would intuit that additional structural-social problems also occur at Yale. I have decided not to apply to work with her.</p>

<p>My general disposition is that the structure of the University (used here as a general term applying to all of higher education) needs to be revised. The specialization of knowledge to create differentiated academic departments occurred between 1850 and 1930, with a number of disciplines even being born at CU (Anthropology and PoliSci). The structure of the university, at least in intellectual-cognitive terms, hasn't been altered much since this categorical differentiation of knowing. Thus, the structure through which we as students learn was determined during an epoch that encompassed slavery, Jem Crow, the denial of suffrage to minorities and women and a host of other dirty skeletons that have yet to be fully outlived. In case you didn't know: Columbia did not allow entry to women until the 1980s, and it was not until the campus revolt of 1968 that Jews were allowed to live with Christians or blacks with whites in campus dorms. Columbia is pretty slow in changing to the reality of democracy. In fact it is explicitely undemocratic (I've read the university charter a number of times, along with anual financial reports of the university detailing how expenses are allocated). </p>

<p>I'm sure that the issues I've highlighted will manifest at ANY institution, but I can only speak with absolute confidence and particularity for the case of Columbia. The micro-violences in which I take interest will manifest differently in different individual communities.</p>

<p>On the merits of my own sanity:
If the best by way of critique that you can muster is to question my sanity, then I feel no threat, but must insist upon referring you to the writings of Foucault who has written extensively upon this exact categorization. He is much more effective than I could ever be in smashing your petty claims. I realize that it is difficult for many people to re-evaluate the terms upon which they accept the validity of the university. I can only offer earnest reflections based on years of experience with both the admissions process and being a student. The diagnosis of psychoses is a very fun little pictures. Such brutalities committed against any individual who dare diverge from normative societal standards! You seem to me a bit dictatorial, wrapping your prejudices in the gauze of institutionalized medicine, while, of course, actually lacking any credential that could possibly merit anyone taking seriously your opinion.</p>

<p>And if I am insane, then all the better. At least I am not dull, bowing blindly to the institution with profuse supplications.</p>

<p>You are not insane, you are bitter and unhappy. Your mind is unsubtle and filled with bias; your perspective smacks of gross immaturity. The world will always disappoint you and, for that, you are sad. You seem to have the victim card always at the ready; another indication that you'll find the world and everyone in it to blame fo your woes.</p>

<p>I think all of your charges, other than that CU administrators are often bureaucratic and indifferent, are easily debatable and even refutable. You are obviously self-aware that you are a talented writer--and I agree and hope Columbia has played a major role in developing that talent. But it seems to me that you have missed the larger potential of your college education--the ability to expand your intellectual horizon and think critically. Reading your post, I believe you have let certain negative emotions running over yourself, emotions that based largely on a sense of victimhood. I cannot deny that you have unpleasant experiences, perhaps more than your fair share, at Columbia. But let them color your entire outlook is a different thing. I have seen many bombastic personalities popping up in our society (especially on TV) in recent years; those people are strong on emotions, but short on facts and reasoning. I was hoping a really good education could overcome that. But based on the example of you (and some others), my hope is somewhat abated. The good news is that life dose not end at college graduation, everyone, including you, and me, at much older age, can still shed our immaturity and whatever prejudice we are so assured of at this point.</p>

<p>I think we need to stop "ganging up" this guy like this. I am a real Columbia fan, and the day I get my acceptance letter from CU will be the best day of my life. I really think Columbia is a right fit for me. On the other hand, people can have different views; I really don't think it is fair for five guys to completely "gang up" the person who posted his or her honest opinion.</p>

<p>This post was exceptionally well-written and very thought-provoking; really, you've made me (and probably a lot of those reading) question not only the way I regard Columbia, but also how I perceive and search for colleges. Of course, its very controversial stance and claims are polarizing; I know you expected that, and this thread could very well devolve into a war pitting the Chip Dillers of college admissions and higher education against those who see merit in your argument. </p>

<p>Your argument, though! Is it really an argument? I would say not, not that that diminishes its validity; quite the contrary, in fact. I don't believe you've penned a logical, traditional persuasive piece, by any means. This pulls at the conscience of the reader, not the brain, and that's the only way to reach the most rabid of the Ivy-seekers, those who live and breathe college admissions. I like to think that I'm not part of that group, but, then, I'm writing on this site. </p>

<p>I've sort of rambled here, I suppose. Readers, please, don't be so quick to dismiss CUSenior's post, merely because you cannot easily reconcile its message with the pedestal you (and, I will admit) have put the Ivy League (and one of its best, Columbia) upon. </p>

<p>Oh, and OldScarecrow, calling the two posters who've evidently contradicted your idyllic view of Columbia University "sad", "devoid" of critical thinking, and in need of psycho therapy (!) is an entirely unveiled ad hominem attack that does nothing but dull the aura that surrounds the Ivy League for those who haven't matriculated there.</p>

<p>I read the first 10 or so paragraphs of your posts and then skipped to the reply button.</p>

<p>You say that Columbia is keeping incompetent minority department leaders to maintain the facade of racial progressiveness, which you argue is racism. Then you say that the lack of minority faculty at Columbia is also evidence of racism. Why would Columbia so willingly give power to minorities in leadership positions if they do not trust them in lower faculty positions?</p>

<p>You say that because Bollinger would most likely have argued against affirmative action just as fervently as he argued in favor of it, he is manipulating racial issues for his own benefit. This does not make sense. All lawyers are obligated to argue for their side of the case, no matter what they personally believe in. There is no manipulation, only execution of their duty.</p>

<p>Those were the two arguments that I questioned the most in the few paragraphs that I read.</p>

<p>What's the big deal about the race? Columbia should admit the best students available, not admit the students to fill the race quota. I don't get it.</p>