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Fall Report on Campus Dialogue and Community Activities

Fall Report on Campus Dialogue and Community Activities

December 6, 2005

To the Columbia Community:

Once again, as with my letter at the beginning of the semester, I find myself with many important events and developments to share. At the very least, the letter's length reflects the impressive scale and significance of activities currently underway at the University. I hope that what follows contains some common points of interest to people throughout our community.

Last April, I announced the Kraft Family Fund for Interfaith and Intercultural Awareness, which was created to expand campus discussion about issues of faith and culture. Student programming supported by the Kraft family's generous gift has been ongoing since the start of the academic year, and hundreds of students have participated. Upcoming student programs include performances exploring the three Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; a benefit concert and panel discussion about HIV/AIDS, poverty, and human rights; and a one-day workshop to foster greater understanding among racial and ethnic groups.

The theme for the inaugural University programming series of the Kraft Fund will be "Religion in the Public Sphere," which will commence with a campus visit and lecture early next semester by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I, one of the world's great spiritual leaders. His All Holiness is the "primus interpares," or the first among equals, of the world's Orthodox Church leaders. He has gained international recognition for raising awareness of environmental and social issues. I can think of few people better suited to usher in the start of this new interfaith and intercultural program at Columbia, and I am grateful to have him join us here.

The University programming reflects the hard work of a committee of distinguished faculty: Carol Gluck, the George Sansom Professor of History and professor of East Asian languages and cultures; Eric Kandel, Nobel Laureate and University Professor; Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism and Henry R. Luce Professor of Journalism; and Robert O'Meally, the Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English and Comparative Literature and director of the Columbia University Center for Jazz Studies. These faculty members have worked closely with students this semester to develop program themes and content.

This fall, two new presidential advisory bodies were established - the President's Council on Student Affairs and the President's Advisory Committee on Diversity - to increase dialogue and collaboration among students and senior administrators on key issues affecting the University. The President's Council on Student Affairs, which met for the first time on December 5, includes Provost Brinkley and me, student representatives from our undergraduate, graduate, and graduate professional programs, and deans of students and other administrators. The President's Advisory Committee on Diversity adds another dimension to our ongoing efforts to promote diversity at Columbia. At the first meeting, the students were most interested in the work being done by Jean Howard, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Vice Provost for Diversity Initiatives, and specifically her efforts to work with the faculty at SEAS. This work will be formally started with a lecture by Charles Vest, MIT's President Emeritus. The details will be announced soon, and I hope you will be able to join us at President Vest's upcoming lecture.

There have been numerous informal gatherings, as well, for discussions of University issues. In October, I met with a small group of undergraduates at the President's House to talk about their thoughts and concerns, in the first of several fireside chats planned for the year. The topics included community service, the University's proposed expansion into Manhattanville, the Core Curriculum, University business practices, and financial aid. The next fireside chat is planned for Thursday of this week.

While the search for Columbia University Medical Center's new Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences and Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine continues, I, together with the search committee, have held town hall meetings at CUMC. In these discussions, faculty, students, and staff have illuminated challenges and opportunities at the Medical Center that have helped to inform the search process. I will continue to report on the search as progress is made.

As is always the case at Columbia, our community has responded generously to national and global challenges. In the wake of the recent earthquake in South Asia, it was heartening to see green donation boxes sprout up around our campus, as what began as a single relief committee formed by Columbia's Organization of Pakistani Students spawned a host of coordinated efforts. This kind of outreach speaks powerfully to our students' compassion, sense of personal responsibility, and predisposition for thoughtful action.

And then there has been the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. With Tulane, Loyola, Dillard, and Xavier each planning to reopen in January, I want to recognize just once more how Columbia was among the first universities in the nation to enroll students from these schools. Provost Brinkley recently hosted a town hall meeting with Tulane President Scott Cowen and Tulane students at Columbia and their parents to update them on developments and answer questions about the school's reopening. President Cowen also took the opportunity to thank Columbia for taking good care of Tulane students this semester. I, too, wish to thank everyone from across the University who worked to accommodate these visiting students and make them feel at home during their stay at Columbia.

I also would like to acknowledge and thank the many individuals throughout our community for their support of the hurricane relief effort. Irwin Redlener, M.D., the director of the Mailman School of Public Health's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, came to personify Columbia's contribution through his intellectual leadership and that of the Mailman School in delivering health care to people in devastated areas. In the same spirit of compassion and involvement, nearly 50 different student groups on campus, including CU Relief and Barnard Unites for Katrina 2005, also have pitched in, raising money and collecting relief supplies.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University and Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs held a half-day conference in November to examine a broad range of scientific, political, and economic issues raised by Katrina. In October, the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, the Urban Technical Assistance Project, and the Institute for African American Studies hosted a day-long symposium that convened more than a hundred panelists comprised of practitioners and academics from a wide range of fields to discuss the implications of the hurricane for U.S. urban policy decisions.

Columbia Law students Laila Hlass and Anna Arceneaux - from Mississippi and Louisiana respectively - helped launch the Student Hurricane Network, a national movement to address the numerous difficulties faced by evacuees, raise awareness, and inform policy-making decisions on housing, economic development, voting rights, and other issues. The network includes law students at Columbia, Brooklyn Law School, New York Law School, the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, New York University, Fordham, Rutgers, Harvard, and Yale. During the upcoming holiday break, about 25 Columbia students will be among a group of approximately 100 law students from the Northeast traveling to Louisiana and Mississippi to work with community organizers.

Helping improve education at all levels in society also has been an important theme this fall. In October, I announced our commitment to collaborate with the City of New York in developing an innovative new public science, math, and engineering secondary school on the site of our proposed Manhattanville campus in West Harlem. Work on this important initiative will begin in earnest in the spring to ensure that the school will be ready to open in September 2007 in transitional space. And Teachers College sponsored a two-day symposium on the "Social Costs of Inadequate Education" as part of its extraordinary efforts to focus on the deep inequities that continue to undermine our educational system. Lastly, I also would like to acknowledge the School of Business's Class of 2005 for pledging its class gift of more than $500,000 to the School's Loan Assistance Program, which helps business school graduates who pursue careers in the public and nonprofit sectors pay their student loans. Through this generous gift, the Class of 2005 is helping to ensure that their classmates who wish to apply their learning in service to the public are not precluded from doing so by the financial burden they have incurred in the course of their studies.

As we enter the holiday season, I would like to point out that there are countless ways to address needs in our own neighborhood through Columbia's many community service programs. I would like to take a moment to mention one here - the Columbia Community Service Campaign. Each year from November to May, this campaign raises funds from Columbia faculty and staff that go directly to local organizations, which serve thousands of people in our neighborhood, including the elderly, the infirm, single mothers, families with low incomes, the homeless, and the hungry. More information about the Columbia Community Service Campaign can be found at http://www.columbia.edu/cu/annualappeal/. Please be generous.

I wish everyone the very best in the final weeks of the fall semester.

Sincerely,

Lee C. Bollinger