Ahmadinejad at Columbia: A campus view

September 24, 2007, was a busy day for free speech on campus. Students of opposing political viewpoints organized and participated in peaceful rallies; the eternal questions surrounding the competing rights of speakers and listeners were vigorously debated; Lee C. Bollinger demonstrated that free speech includes the right to level harsh personal criticism at one’s guest (thus generating more debate); and the University, still smarting from last year’s Minuteman controversy, reaffirmed its role as a forum where even the most disagreeable speakers can expose their ideas to scrutiny.

“I’m very proud of my school right now,” said Jivan Kurinec ’09SEAS, who watched the 90-minute presentation inside Roone Arledge Auditorium. “We gave Ahmadinejad the respect to speak, and that speaks volumes about our character.”           

Not since Fidel Castro landed at Princeton in April 1959 had the visit of a foreign head of state to an American university caused such excitation. By 11:00 a.m., the Morningside campus was buzzing with a surreal carnival-like atmosphere that barely masked the tension over what some feared would be a deeply divisive event. Under an intense blue sky, students gathered on the Low Library steps and along College Walk carrying signs and banners that reflected the variety of strong opinions on campus. On the windows of Lerner Hall and elsewhere, photocopied images depicting hangings of gays and unchaste women in Iran were posted alongside handwritten messages espousing Iran’s expressions of sympathy toward the U.S. after September 11 and its tolerance toward its significant Jewish population. For many students, personal objections to Ahmadinejad’s religious fundamentalism and antiliberal policies were secondary to concerns that his vilification would increase the risk of a war with Iran.

Out on Broadway, barricades and satellite trucks lined the street for blocks, and at the gates at 116th Street a crowd of impassioned anti-Ahmadinejad protesters decried the University’s decision to provide a legitimate platform to a man who threatens Israel, funds terrorist groups like Hezbollah, and questions the Holocaust. Inside the gates, which were secured by campus police, thousands of students packed South Lawn, where a giant video monitor had been set up to carry the speech live.

While Castro was a charismatic figure who knew how to play to the American media, Ahmadinejad proved less dexterous. He parried Bollinger’s provocative introduction with a gentle lecture on basic courtesy, and won some applause by accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy and double standards with regard to nuclear power, terrorist labeling, military aggression, and the plight of the Palestinians. But when asked during the question-and-answer period about the executions of homosexuals in Iran, Ahmadinejad replied through an interpreter that, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.”

 The remark drew derisive laughter and boos from much of the audience and became the most talked-about of all his quotes. Some students felt that this denial of fact did more to discredit Ahmadinejad than anything else, validating the notion that free speech, among its other virtues, permits an objectionable speaker to hang himself with his own words.
Afterward, Sarah Brafman ’10CC called Ahmadinejad’s speech an “incoherent rant” and “educationally not valuable,” but felt that the University did the right thing in letting him speak. “We have to be the bigger people,” she said, adding that she would like to visit Iran to see the country for herself.

Michael Schwartz ’09GS, who opposed the University’s decision to have Ahmadinejad speak, seemed satisfied that no great damage had been done.

“All Ahmadinejad really accomplished was to create a lot of activism,” Schwartz said. “It will only hurt his cause.”

To view the speeches visit

— Paul Hond


Roar, Lion, More

It has been a long time since Columbia University was known as a sports powerhouse. Some have even taken pride in our less-than-fearsome reputation on the playing field, as if it attests to the university’s academic stature.

Over the past five years, however, Columbia has been fostering another kind of pride by rebuilding its athletics programs. It’s a long process, one that began with the formation of a special presidential task force to assess the needs of Lions varsity teams and the 2004 hiring of athletics director M. Dianne Murphy, as a direct report to President Bollinger. “Our belief is that everything Columbia does,” says Murphy, “should be excellent.”

The Lions certainly are on the right track. Five Columbia teams won Ivy League championships last year and the football team posted a record of 5–5, breaking even for the first time in a decade. And now alumni seem to share Murphy’s confidence. On October 12, the University launched a $100 million fundraising drive, The Columbia Campaign for Athletics: Achieving Excellence, and announced that more than $46 million has already been raised. The campaign kicked off in Low Library on the eve of Columbia’s Homecoming Weekend with the announcement of the two largest campaign pledges yet made to the Columbia athletics campaign: more than $10 million from Columbia Trustees Chair William Campbell CC’62, the CEO of the software company Intuit, and $5 million from Robert Kraft CC’63, the owner of the New England Patriots. During a halftime ceremony at homecoming, the Lions’s football field was named in Kraft’s honor.

The athletics campaign, led by a committee of over a dozen alumni volunteers including several trustees, sets a goal of $100 million for “people, places, and programs.” That includes $20 million for endowments for coaching and administrative positions, $70 million for facilities, and $10 million for program funds for individual sports, including upgraded technology and other training enhancements, sports program endowments, and career development and services for student-athletes. “We’re going to fix once and for all some deep-rooted issues that have plagued Columbia athletics,” says Murphy. “It all starts with resources. The University now is committed to building world-class facilities that foster championship performances, to attracting and retaining the best coaches, and to providing an environment that will make Columbia the first choice for the best student-athletes.”

Since Columbia established varsity women’s sports programs in 1983, the number of student-athletes has doubled to about 800, while the square footage available for sports teams has remained roughly the same. To address the need for more space, the University plans to construct a new sports center at the Baker Field Athletics Complex at the northern tip of Manhattan. The center would feature meeting rooms, coaches’ offices, strength and conditioning facilities, and student lounge areas. A new boathouse and tennis clubhouse also would be built at Baker Field.

Fourteen outdoor varsity sports programs eventually would be relocated there from the Dodge Fitness Center on the Morningside Heights Campus, opening up space at Dodge. That would benefit students, faculty, and alumni who use the center’s courts and gym equipment and other varsity sports programs located there. If the campaign is successful, Dodge would be fully renovated, too.

As to the importance of coaching endowments, Murphy says look no further than Norries Wilson, who last year helped the football team break a three-year losing streak. Wilson, a former University of Connecticut offensive coordinator, was hired in 2006 to an endowed head coach position honoring Patricia and Shepard Alexander ’21CC, one of two such jobs at Columbia. (The other endowed coaching position is the Andrew F. Barth Head Coach of Wrestling, held by Brendan Buckley.)

“Coaching endowments, just as with endowed professorships, provide recognition of outstanding performance,” she says. “We need to have the best people and then hold them accountable.” Visit


All about the Hamiltons

As a first-year student at King’s College in 1774, Alexander Hamilton published essays espousing the revolutionary cause that were so eloquent statesmen frequently misattributed them to John Jay, a King’s College alumnus and statesman ten years Hamilton’s senior.

Hamilton, who coauthored the Federalist Papers at age 32, wouldn’t be the last shockingly precocious student to attend this institution. “We must always remember that any mind can make a contribution to society, no matter how young,” said Lee C. Bollinger, announcing the Columbia Campaign for Undergraduate Education at Hamilton Hall on September 8. “And just as parents can’t live healthy and rewarding lives if they haven’t nurtured their own children,  faculty at Columbia can’t live healthy and productive lives as scholars and as teachers if we neglect those who are youngest among us.”

The Campaign for Undergraduate Education, benefiting Columbia College and the School of General Studies, aims to raise $865 million for undergraduate students and the faculty who teach them. It accounts for nearly one-quarter of the $4 billion university-wide campaign announced last year; nearly $2.4 billion already has been raised toward that goal.

Specifically, it sets  a $400 million goal for financial-aid endowment at Columbia College, which will help secure the College’s need-blind admissions policy. It aims to increase by 10 percent the number of faculty in departments who teach undergraduates, in part by endowing 50 new chairs in the arts and sciences departments. In addition, the campaign goals include $15 million for financial-aid endowment at General Studies and $85 million for the Columbia College Fund, which is a major source of unrestricted support for scholarships, student activities, housing,
and renovations.

“The single biggest goal of the campaign is to preserve the inclusive character [of Columbia] by building endowment for student financial aid,” Nicholas Dirks, vice president for arts and sciences and the dean of its faculty, and Austin Quigley, dean of Columbia College, wrote in a letter announcing the campaign to alumni. “All admitted students deserve full access to the Columbia educational experience and to a full range of career choices, unimpeded by a heavy burden of debt.”

The University, in an effort to minimize college debt for those with the least ability to pay, last fall initiated a policy by which grants, rather than loans, are issued to Columbia College and to engineering undergraduates whose families earn less than $50,000 a year.
A successful undergraduate campaign also will mean more sections of the College’s Core Curriculum will be taught by full-time faculty and the University will hire more academic advisers and career counselors, offer students more paid internships, research opportunities, and study-abroad options, give more financial aid to international students in the College, and renovate undergraduate dining facilities. As part of the campaign, the University also is reaching out to alumni interested in mentoring and helping students network. Visit


Freedom on their minds

History textbooks teach that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks sparked the conscience of America by leading the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. But the true heroes of that 400-day protest against racist transportation policies were the “thousands of average black people” who took part in the boycott, says Manning Marable, a Columbia professor of history, political science, and public affairs.

The notion that ordinary black Americans in the civil-rights-era South were dedicated activists, not simply victims, is at the heart of a new Web-based teaching resource that Marable has developed for high schools. “The Amistad Digital Resource for Teachers,” which Marable soon will release in collaboration with the Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia (EPIC), is an online archive of visual and audio materials documenting the experiences of relatively unknown figures. The content covers the period from 1954 to 1975 and is based on Marable’s 2003 book Freedom on My Mind: The Columbia Documentary History of the African American Experience.

“It makes history come alive,” said Marable, who has tested the product in focus groups. “There’s a real ‘wow’ factor, and teachers love it.”

Starting in December, high school teachers across the country will have free access to, where they can download maps of civil-rights riots and demonstrations, FBI documents, rare photos and film clips, personal correspondence, oral history interviews, and songs that chronicle the civil-rights and black-power movements. In a chapter about the bus boycott, for instance, students can read a letter from a local black women’s group informing the mayor of Montgomery of its members’ plan to walk to work.

 “Most kids learn that Rosa Parks sat down on the bus because she was exhausted,” said Kate Wittenberg, director of EPIC. “But it was an extremely well organized movement, all planned out, preceded by letters to politicians. The primary sources tell the real story.”

Public schools in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Florida today require extensive teaching about black history, and Marable says the Amistad project will provide their teachers new lesson ideas, as well as links to historical societies, libraries, and museums. “Most history and social science instructors,” he says, “have never taken related courses and are not trained or sufficiently knowledgeable to teach black history.”

Marable and Wittenberg are sending out national mailings to superintendents’ groups and district leaders to encourage them to use the Web site. “The technology is there to support the content, scholarship, and teaching,” according to Wittenberg, who said the digital resource is not meant to replace textbooks, but to supplement them.

The Ford Foundation provided a $91,000 grant to create the product prototype, and EPIC now is seeking an additional $2.5 million in private funding to expand the content to cover four centuries of African American history. The Web site is being built by Columbia’s Center for Digital Research and Scholarship. It draws from Columbia University archives and Marable’s own research, among other sources.


Pedals, chutes & leaves

Cycling is the most popular means of transportation in rural Africa. The problem is, the aluminum bikes shipped in from China and India are too flimsy; Africans want to be able to carry on their bikes farm equipment, heavy jugs of water, and passengers.

Columbia earth science professor John Mutter and geochemistry researcher David Ho say they have a solution: Africans could build slightly larger, tougher bicycles out of bamboo, sisal, and other organic fibers, and save money in the process. Bamboo, which is lightweight and surprisingly sturdy, grows throughout sub-Saharan Africa. That presents a lucrative business opportunity for locals, Mutter and Ho say, and a chance to improve quality of life across the continent.

In June, the two men traveled to Accra, Ghana, with friend Craig Calfee, a premier American bicycle maker, to show craftsmen how they could build bamboo bikes Calfee designed for them. No power tools are required, so villages without electricity could produce them.

“Hey, I can make one of these!” was the reaction the scientists kept hearing, they say, upon demonstrating the building process to Ghanaians. All that’s required to make the frame is bamboo, sisal fibre from agave plants, glue, epoxy, and ordinary hand tools. Steel components still need to be imported, and even bamboo bikes will be costly for locals. But at roughly $90, they’ll be at least 25 percent cheaper than conventional bicycles.

Mutter and Ho, whose project got seed funding from Columbia’s Earth Institute, are trying to convince humanitarian groups and U.S. government agencies to susbsidize local efforts to build and purchase the bikes. Meanwhile, Ghana’s Ministry of Lands, Forestry, and Mines is encouraging the formation of local bike manufacturing businesses. “The bicycle isn’t the ultimate solution to poverty in Ghana,” says Mutter, “but we hope it could help in a significant way.”


They are the Eggmen

The story line, like those of most children’s books, is simple enough. Two penguins pair off, build a nest, and take turns warming an egg. The egg hatches, the family is complete, and all three penguins live happily ever after. 

Except in Justin Richardson’s And Tango Makes Three, which is based on something that actually took place in the Central Park Zoo in the late 1990s, Tango, the baby penguin, has two daddies. That’s right: a zookeeper gave two male chinstrap penguins, Roy and Silo, a fertilized egg to hatch after he saw the pair trying to incubate a stone. While their unconventional family captured the hearts of many New Yorkers, And Tango Makes Three recently sparked a firestorm of outrage, drawing the largest number of formal written complaints to schools and public libraries last year, according to the American Library Association.

Richardson, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia, and his partner, Peter Parnell, a screenwriter, came up with the idea for Tango after reading about the penguins in the New York Times several years ago. When their book was published in 2005, Richardson and Parnell anticipated an angry backlash from conservative groups and parents. “Instead,” says Richardson, “we were met with a flood of starred reviews, great support from booksellers and librarians, and not a peep from the Right.”

Later that fall, however, the Chicago Tribune reported that the famed penguin couple broke up when Silo paired off with a female. Michael Medved wrote a column in USA Today lambasting Richardson and Parnell for excluding this in their “propagandistic story book for kids,” although the split had occurred after the book was published. Soon, the book was being yanked off library shelves in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina, and Massachusetts. The protests generated lots of press, and consequently, booksellers couldn’t stock enough copies to meet demand. “Every time the book gets banned somewhere, our sales spike,” Richardson says. “You can’t buy this kind of publicity.” Today, Tango is in its tenth printing.

Richardson and Parnell are not outspoken activists, preferring to let Tango “speak for itself.” Their decision to write the book was, in part, a personal one. “When we first heard the story of these penguins, Peter and I were trying to have our own child,” says Richardson. “We wish we had a kindly zookeeper who could give us an egg, but it’s a bit more complicated for humans.

“We continue to ‘sit and sit and sit,’” he says, quoting from the book. “Hopefully, we’ll have our own happy ending.”



Paris match

More than 500 alumni took part in a remarkable series of events in Paris this September that served to launch the Columbia Alumni Association in Europe. Under the rubric “Who Are We?: A CAA Forum on Globalization, Arts, and the Media,” panelists wrestled in front of sold-out audiences with the implications of the new global age for the media, the arts, and identity. Kofi Annan, former UN secretary-general and 2001 Nobel laureate for Peace, delivered a special address. Other speakers included Joseph Stiglitz, Orhan Pamuk, Jeffrey Sachs, Lee C. Bollinger, and new School of the Arts Dean Carol Becker. Above, Richard Sambrook, director of the BBC’s Global News Division; Michael Oreskes, executive editor of the International Herald Tribune; Ipek Cem ’93SIPA, Turkish businesswoman and journalist; and Nicholas Lemann, Journalism school dean, discuss the future of journalism.


In brief

Stringer on board with Manhattanville

At a September 26 press conference, Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer announced his support for Columbia’s proposed expansion into the old Manhattanville manufacturing area of West Harlem. Stringer’s endorsement under New York’s Urban Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) came as part of an agreement under which the University will donate $20 million to start an affordable housing fund, pay for open-space improvements in West Harlem, including a $500,000 playground and schoolyard enhancement at the Roberto Clemente School at Broadway and 133rd Street, and make other civic commitments. For instance, Columbia will seek to develop public parkland at 125th Street and 12th Avenue. Columbia has already committed to ensure that residents in the proposed expansion site will be relocating to equal or better affordable housing in the area. The University also is negotiating with the West Harlem Local Development Corporation on a range of other community benefits.

After Stringer submitted his favorable recommendation to the City Planning Commission, Columbia’s plan moved to the Department of City Planning for a 60-day review period. After the Planning Commission votes, it will be submitted to the City Council and, if approved, sent on to the mayor.

Degrees of rhyme

Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Paul Auster all found inspiration at Columbia. But one thing they couldn’t have got here was an undergraduate degree in creative writing; the College offered the major for the first time this fall. Thirty-five students were admitted to the by-application-only program, for which 25 new courses have been created, including workshops in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, playwriting, and screenwriting. The School of General Studies previously offered a creative writing major, but the new course of study, which serves both the College and General Studies, is modeled after the University’s rigorous MFA creative writing program.

Administering care

Columbia University Medical Center recently appointed two senior administrators. Lisa Hogarty was named chief operating officer at CUMC and Anne L. Taylor was picked as vice dean for academic affairs at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Hogarty, who served as Columbia’s executive vice president for student and administrative services the past five years, will work alongside CUMC head Lee Goldman in overseeing all medical center operations beginning December 1. As executive vice president, she instituted an electronic medical-records system for student health services that reduced patient wait times by half. Prior to joining Columbia, Hogarty spent nine years in executive positions at Continuum Health Partners and Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Taylor, a cardiologist whose research focus is heart disease among African Americans and women, currently is associate dean for faculty affairs at the University of Minnesota Medical School. At Columbia, she’ll lead faculty recruitment, appointments, and development. She joins Columbia on November 23.

Financial returns

Anne Rollow Sullivan, formerly the senior associate dean for finance and administration at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, has been hired as Columbia’s executive vice president for finance. Sullivan was Columbia’s assistant vice president for administrative planning and financial management from 2003 to 2005. In her new position, Sullivan oversees the office of the university treasurer, the office of the university controller, procurement, internal audit, and management and budget. She also will sit on the board that oversees Columbia Investment Management Company, which administers most of the university’s endowments.

Sullivan has a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She succeeds Al Horvath, who stepped down as EVP for finance this past summer.

For art's sake

The art history and archaeology department has received one of its largest gifts ever, a $5 million pledge from Leonard and Louise Riggio, the parents of Stephanie Riggio ’06CC, a recently graduated art history major. The gift dedicates $3 million to create two endowed professorships in art history, one in African art and a second yet to be determined by the department. The remaining $2 million will underwrite graduate fellowships, undergraduate summer internships, thesis research and travel, as well as lectures, symposia, and publications.

Professor Zoë Strother, an expert in Central and West African art history, has been named the Riggio Professor in African Art. “Our gift recognizes the depth and quality of Columbia’s excellent program in art history, as well as our family’s desire to become part of this important legacy,” says Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble, Inc. The $3 million he and Louise are donating for professorships is being matched by University Trustee Gerry Lenfest LW’58 as part of the Lenfest Challenge, a fund he established in September 2006 to spur the endowment of 25 chairs in the arts and sciences.