A Message from Provost Jonathan Cole
In its almost 250 years, Columbia University has moved four times, from the site near Trinity Church in lower Manhattan to Morningside Heights on upper Broadway. It has been a university on the move, full of gritty intellectual energy, in search of additional space to accommodate socially mobile people with original ideas who were interested in creating new educational fields and programs. It has spent little time looking backward or taking pride in its formidable contributions to the development of new knowledge, disciplines, and courses of instruction.
The essays in this seriesappropriately titled "Living Legacies," with its emphasis on Columbia's enormous current vitalitywill focus on, and celebrate, the monumental creative energy of Columbia scholars and scientists and their influence on the growth of knowledge. Written in some cases by those of us who have stood on the shoulders of these giants, the essays describe how Columbia has helped shape the modern world.
Great Moments, Leading Figures
While almost everyone else has been anticipating the millennium year, a hardy and resourceful band of Columbiansfaculty, administration, Trustees, and alumnihave been looking beyond the year 2000 to 2004, the 250th Anniversary of the University's founding. A presidential committee co-chaired by Professor Kenneth T. Jackson, Barzun Professor of History and Social Science, and Chairman Emeritus of the Trustees Henry L. King '48C has been making plans to celebrate the 250th Anniversary in a variety of ways: through academic convocations; special seminars held in the professional schools; exhibitions at key sites in New York City (e.g., Trinity Church, the Museum of the City of New York, the New York Public Library); production of a documentary film; a Web site devoted to Columbia's anniversary; the installation of plaques to commemorate important sites on our campuses; etc.
Nor are more familiar genres for recording and interpreting Columbia's history being neglected. The writing of an official "scholarly" history has been entrusted to Professor Robert A. McCaughey, who has taught history at Columbia and Barnard for many years. Since he holds no Columbia degrees, McCaughey has no umbilical tie to the institution, but he knows the place well, and besides a specialization in educational matters, brings his own perspective to the subject from his dean and vice president at Barnard. McCaughey's efforts will be assisted by a University seminar on Columbia history which has a wide metropolitan outreach, and by the participation of undergraduate and graduate students in a special seminar he is conducting. Oral histories are also being recorded for this purpose. Distilled from all these materials and findings by John P. Rousmaniere '67GS '68GSAS will be an illustrated history often described in the anniversary Committee as a "coffee table book" for more relaxed readers of Columbia history.
The thought of having a series of essays on great moments and great figures in Columbia's intellectual, scientific, and educational history, what we call here "Living Legacies," emerged in discussions of the anniversary's Publication Committee, the plan being to focus attention on special developments in the recent past (mostly twentieth century) that should be celebrated not just as a part of local history, but indeed as having national and even international significance.
Essential to this plan was the idea of having the essays written by scholars of great distinction, able to speak with authority in their own fields but also, in most cases, on the basis of a personal association with the event or scholars or scientists involved in it.
A special committee was formed to head up this project, and with the cooperation of the publishers and editors of Columbia Magazine, a plan has been adopted for a series of special installments to be inserted in successive issues of the Magazine leading up to the year 2004 and possibly beyond. Eventually we expect these essays to be gathered in a separate published volume, as a complement to other publictions of the 250th Anniversary.
The focus on the recent past and on special figures has more to recommend it than just the obvious advantage that short essays have over a long history book as convenient reading for busy people. Life at Columbia reflects the extraordinarily rapid changes in twentieth-century America. Thus, though in terms of age Columbia is among the oldest of Ivy League institutions, there is little ivy on its walls or ancient moss underfoot and little sense of living tradition or institutional memory. With frequent changes of administration, rapid turnover in the faculty, and with alterations even in faculty structures to the point that few understand what a "faculty" stands for in terms of its educational mission and responsibilities (as distinct from tenured professors defending their own special interests), it is no wonder that many students, faculty, and even administrators have lost touch with any sense of community history and often wonder what can be done to reconnect with the past. Now there is little even for the wishfulness and wistfulness of nostalgia to feed upon, with the possible exception of the enduring loyalty of the College alumni to the Core Curriculum and to the great teachers they had.
Where are those to be found who can still engage in the belated effort at recovery of lost memory, not just for sentimental purposes (legitimate though these be in themselves) but for the very serious business of understanding who we are as an intellectual and educational community, heavily engaged with a much larger world? A measure of the challenge is that the consciousness of this lack and need was first expressed by a relative newcomer (Eric Kandel), while the burden of meeting it has fallen to an old-timer like myself, whose earliest memories of the place, going back over seventy years, are not of the scientific giants Professor Kandel writes about but of the almost forgotten giants of the gridiron at Baker Field in the late twentiesRalph Hewitt, Ralph Furey, Hubie Schulze, and, a little later, the Rose Bowlers Cliff E. Montgomery and Al Barabas (none of whom will appear in these pages). Sic transit gloria Columbiae!