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  Michele Moody-Adams
Cornell philosopher Moody-Adams picked as College dean

Michele Moody-Adams, a professor of philosophy and vice provost for undergraduate education at Cornell University, has been named the next dean of Columbia College. She’ll assume the position officially July 1, succeeding Austin E. Quigley, who will step down after 14 years as dean.

Moody-Adams is a scholar of moral relativism, ethical theory, political philosophy, and judicial philosophy. She has taught at Cornell since 2000 and directs its Program on Ethics and Public Life, which aims to make philosophy relevant to contemporary social issues. As a vice provost at Cornell, Moody-Adams has been responsible for ensuring the coherence of undergraduate curricula and instruction. She is credited with expanding academic support programs for first-generation college students and encouraging faculty members to live in residence halls in order to integrate the living and learning environments.

“It’s important to get faculty involved in the lives of students outside the classroom and outside the laboratory,” says Moody-Adams, “so that natural mentor relationships can take place.”

Alumni are valuable as mentors, too, she says: “One of the most successful programs I oversee at Cornell links students with alumni, who can provide students with a type of knowledge and expertise that no one else can. Sometimes students want advice about how to navigate their institution, not from a faculty member, but from an objective third party, someone who’s been there and has come out the other end better for it.”

Moody-Adams says she was drawn to Columbia College in part because its Core Curriculum balances the need for intellectual tradition with innovation. “To quote Alasdair MacIntyre, a tradition about which people do not argue is a dead tradition,” she says. “A living tradition is one where people are debating, they express their disagreement, and they are confident that the tradition is strong and rich enough to survive as they argue. I became a philosopher in part because I believe that the great traditions of Western philosophy have much to teach us in the current moment. The tradition has shortcomings and failings, but there is also immeasurable wisdom there, and that includes the idea that we can disagree rationally about a tradition itself. The Core Curriculum at Columbia recognizes that.”

As a scholar, Moody-Adams is best known for her 1997 book, Fieldwork in Familiar Places: Morality, Culture, and Philosophy, in which she argues that moral disagreements across cultures can be resolved. Relativists such as Bernard Williams, she writes, mistakenly assume that traditional cultures are closed systems, and impervious to other peoples’ values. Moody-Adams insists that most traditional societies have at one point or another incorporated foreign values into their own and therefore have proven that they are capable of engaging in moral conversations with outsiders.

A native Chicagoan, Moody-Adams earned BA degrees from Wellesley College and the University of Oxford and received her PhD from Harvard with a dissertation supervised by philosopher John Rawls. Moody-Adams taught at Indiana University in Bloomington before being recruited to Cornell, becoming vice provost in 2004.

The search committee that selected Moody-Adams was led by Columbia historian and anthropologist Nicholas Dirks, vice president for arts and sciences. It included, in addition to faculty members, alumni Geoffrey Colvin ’74CC, Jonathan Lavine ’88CC, and Lisa Landau Carnoy ’89CC, and undergraduates Adil Ahmed ’09CC and Sarah Weiss ’10CC.

“Moody-Adams is highly regarded for being open and accessible to students at Cornell,” says Ahmed.

Moody-Adams’s husband, James Eli Adams, also will come to Columbia, as a visiting professor in English and comparative literature. Adams is a scholar of Victorian literature and culture, and has been a faculty member in the English department at Cornell since 2000.

“I am so pleased that Michele Moody-Adams is the person who will succeed me as dean of the College,” says Quigley, who will remain on the College faculty as the Brander Matthews Professor of Dramatic Literature. “She has a splendid record of achievement and all the abilities needed to sustain the momentum of Columbia College’s progress.”
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— David J. Craig

Gerry Lenfest ’58LAW chats with history professor Christopher Brown and College senior Destin Jenkins at a February 26 ceremony honoring this year’s recipients of the Distinguished Columbia Faculty Awards. Lenfest created the awards with a $12 million gift in 2005, as part of his longtime commitment to supporting excellence in the classroom. To read about this year’s awardees, including Christopher Brown, visit  
Donors respond to Lenfest challenge for faculty endowment

Professorships in chemistry, art, religion, and economics are among 25 new faculty positions being created in the arts and sciences, since 23 donors have come forward to complete a $37.5 million matching program initiated by University Trustee H. F. “Gerry” Lenfest ’58LAW.

In 2006, Lenfest pledged to match, one-to-one, 25 gifts of $1.5 million for new faculty endowment, a challenge that inspired other donors to contribute a total of $37.5 million. The matching program was completed in January. The resulting $75 million will provide $3 million of endowed support for each of the faculty positions in perpetuity. Eleven of the chairs are occupied, with some recipients already teaching in Columbia classrooms, and searches are under way to fill many of the remaining 14 chairs.

Giving in support of named professorships allows donors to memorialize their connection to Columbia, typically in a field of personal interest, while linking their names, or those of family members, to eminent professors who hold the chair they created.

Matthew Grossman ’98CC, who gave $1.5 million to support the new Jerome H. and Matthew S. Grossman Professorship of Development Economics, is one such donor. “I wanted to do something to honor my father [Jerome H. Grossman ’61CC],” he says. “The Lenfest program was a perfect opportunity — without the match, I wouldn’t have been able to create a new chair. It allowed me to do something permanent that helps the College, and feels great for my father and me. We’re grateful the option was offered.”

Some chairs, once established, are filled via a nationwide search. Such a process brought both Zoë Strother, the inaugural Riggio Professor of African Art, and Mamadou Diouf, the first Leitner Family Professor of African Studies, to Columbia in 2007.

Other newly endowed chairs are awarded to Columbia faculty members in recognition of their outstanding work. Such was the case for Xavier Sala-i-Martin, who was named to the Grossman chair; Janet Currie, the new Sami Mnaymneh Professor of Economics; and Mae Ngai, now the Lung Family Professor of Asian American Studies.
Some donors choose to remember great Columbians; among the 25 newly endowed positions are chairs named for Alexander Hamilton, the philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser, the former English professor James V. Mirollo, and M. Moran Weston, Columbia’s first African American trustee.

“It is a special thrill for faculty to hold chairs that make these kinds of connections to Columbia’s illustrious history,” says Nicholas Dirks, vice president for arts and sciences. “As the occupant of the Franz Boas chair, I can attest to that.”

Endowed chairs, in a manner of speaking, take faculty positions off budget; since faculty salaries are otherwise supported by general revenues — most notably tuition — chairs allow the University to redirect money to other budget items like financial aid, program support, and support for nonendowed faculty positions.

Building on the success of the Lenfest Challenge, the University has created a new matching program using a share of unrestricted bequests received in 2006 from Robert Yik-Fong Tam ’50BUS and his sister, Wun Tsun Tam. The Tam Challenge for Endowed Professorships will match up to $15 million for new chairs in selected arts and sciences departments.


Marcus Tonti

  Xiaobo Lu
Columbia opens new centers in Beijing and Amman

Columbia has established two “global centers,” one in Beijing, China, and the other in Amman, Jordan, to facilitate a wide range of academic activities in the regions. They are the first in a network of six to eight Columbia Global Centers that the University plans to launch in the next few years, contingent on private support.

Columbia faculty and students will use the Beijing center as a base for research, teaching, and service projects in China and throughout East Asia. Several Columbia schools already conduct activities in the region; the University, in establishing the global center in Beijing, hopes to build on their momentum. Columbia public health professor Irwin Redlener, for example, currently is working with scholars in Beijing to develop new emergency-response strategies. He and a team of Chinese academics are studying China’s response to massive earthquakes that devastated that country last year and the U.S. government’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The University’s objective now is to create a hub of academic activity in Beijing, as well as in Amman, Jordan, to encourage faculty from across the University to undertake additional projects in each region.

“These centers provide a platform for conversations that are global both in their intellectual content and in their participants,” says Kenneth Prewitt, Columbia’s Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs and vice president for global centers. The new Office of Global Centers, which he directs, reports to the president’s office.

“Columbia has long-standing and deep ties with China, and the Beijing center will play a significant role in expanding our efforts in the country,” adds Xiaobo Lu, a Barnard College political science professor and China expert who directs the Beijing center. He points out that Columbia’s ties with modern China date back to the 19th century, when Columbia was among the first American universities to admit Chinese students. Over the past three decades, since China’s reform and opening up, he says, Columbia has established extensive partnerships with the Chinese academic community, in disciplines that include medicine, public health, music, education, law, and business.

A place to hang your hat

Amman, too, is already the site of numerous Columbia activities. Professors at the architecture school, for example, are working on historic preservation and urban planning projects in Amman and in other Middle Eastern cities. Faculty from Teachers College, meanwhile, are studying education reform issues in Jordan and working with the country’s Ministry of Education to train public-school teachers.

The Columbia global center in Amman is located in a large education facility that Jordan’s leadership is making available to the University. It features an auditorium, classrooms, videoconferencing equipment, work studios used by visiting architecture and fine arts faculty and students, and several unassigned spaces. The 40,000-square-foot facility is made available to Columbia for free, thanks to Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, who sponsors a nearby teacher-training program that works with Teachers College. The Amman center has a staff of about 12 people. (Visit

“This center is a place to hang your hat when you arrive in the Middle East,” says Safwan Masri, who teaches at Columbia’s business school and directs the center in Amman. “It’s a place to get administrative support and to conduct some of your activities, rather than working out of a hotel room.”

The Columbia global center in Beijing has a less illustrious physical presence and a smaller staff than does the Amman center; it is renting office space near the city’s university complex.

Safwan Masri  

But the two centers share a key attribute: a full-time director who can link Columbia faculty with potential collaborators at local academic institutions, businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits. “These centers are brokering human relationships that help Columbia faculty understand quickly the local landscape of the Middle East and of East Asia,” says Masri. “A Columbia faculty member with an idea for an international project might otherwise be shooting in the dark when he or she looks for collaborators. It also can be tough to assess the viability of a collaborative project that someone from a foreign institution pitches to you.”

Each center also has an advisory board of Columbia alumni and friends with intimate knowledge of their region. In Beijing, this advisory network may locate, and perhaps make available, physical facilities needed to host academic conferences and other events.

Dynamic hubs

While many U.S. universities have built new campuses and degree-granting schools abroad, Columbia’s vision is to provide small, flexible hubs that support innovative academic activities proposed by Columbia faculty, Prewitt explains. Imagine, for instance, a history professor in her Morningside Heights classroom interviewing an Iraqi politician who travels to Amman to appear by videoconference, or a group of Columbia painting students flying to Beijing for a weeklong master’s class with a Chinese artist.

“Faculty will dream up exactly how these centers are used,” says Prewitt. “The whole thing is very entrepreneurial.”

The Global Centers will offer fellowships to faculty, students, and postdoctoral researchers, both from Columbia and from local institutions. Visiting scholars may work at the centers for a few days, several months, or up to a year. The centers, which are funded by external research grants and by gifts, also serve alumni: Columbians are invited to attend symposia, panel discussions, and social gatherings.

In March, the Amman and Beijing centers each hosted regional alumni events that featured intellectual discussions with Columbia economists Jeffrey Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz, Edmund Phelps, and President Lee C. Bollinger. The gathering in Amman was the first regional alumni event ever held in the Middle East, where about 2000 Columbians live or work. The Beijing event drew hundreds of alumni from China and Hong Kong, which together are home to about 1800 alumni, and from across East Asia.

“Columbia has always been an outward-looking institution,” says Kathy Okun, senior deputy vice president for development and director of global initiatives. “Our faculty conduct research around the world, and we draw a large number of international students. These centers enable faculty and students to deepen their global perspectives while raising Columbia’s international visibility. They provide new resources for alumni and opportunities for them to volunteer, too.”

University officials are looking at Paris, South Bombay, São Paulo, as well as cities in Africa and Central Asia, as potential sites for Columbia Global Centers. “We’re considering cities based on the size of the local alumni body and where faculty are engaged in research, as well as where students are most interested in studying,” says Okun.

  Gaza: a legal perspective
Columbia historian Rashid Khalidi, at right, and the ACLU’s Jamil Dakwar were among several participants in a recent panel discussion about Israel’s military assault on Gaza.

“Law,” said Peter Rosenblum, channeling Tolstoy, “has something to make everybody unhappy.”

Rosenblum, a professor of human rights law, was speaking to an overflow crowd on January 29 in Jerome Greene Hall, at a discussion titled “Understanding the War on Gaza,” sponsored by the law school. Six panelists participated in a balanced, largely dispassionate analysis of what the law has to say about the Israel-Gaza conflict, and what it doesn’t.

All of the speakers acknowledged that the laws of war apply to the conflict. But which laws? Rosenblum pointed to the years of effort by Palestinians to hold Israel to account under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which concerns occupation. “It’s perhaps one of the smallest tragedies of the conflict that so many intellectual hours have been spent on the Fourth Geneva Convention, leading nowhere,” he said, noting that Israel has denied the legal application of the Convention to territories captured in 1967, but has committed to respect its humanitarian provisions. Rosenblum quoted a lawyer friend who had spoken with officials in the Israel Defense Forces. “OK,” said the friend, “it’s not an occupation. What is it?” “Well,” came the reply, “we know what it’s not. We don’t know what it is.”

Gabor Rona, a lecturer at the law school, agreed that the debate over whether Israel is or isn’t an occupying force (Israel withdrew its military from Gaza in 2005) is secondary to more pressing questions of international humanitarian law, which covers the subtleties of targeting, proportionality, and the distinction between combatants and civilians. “In a situation in which there aren’t simply soldiers with uniforms lined up on opposite sides of the battlefield, the question of who can be targeted becomes more complex,” Rona said. He also stressed that, in the event of possible war crimes, the “parties to an armed conflict are obligated to have accountability mechanisms available.”

George Fletcher, the Cardozo Professor of Jurisprudence, couched the conflict in no uncertain terms. “The basic thing to keep in mind,” he began, with burly challenge, “is that Hamas has fired 5000 rockets into Israeli backyards” since the Israeli withdrawal. He also pointed out that even Hamas has no interest in claiming occupation, since it would imply more rights (and obligations) to Israel.

The final speaker was Rashid Khalidi, Columbia’s Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and professor of literature. Khalidi criticized Israel’s exclusion of the foreign press from Gaza and argued that Israel is indeed an occupier, ruling “four million captive Palestinians under a military occupation that has more in common with a prison administration than it does any system of law or justice.” He also denounced the Arab states, with the exception of Lebanon, as “brutal autocracies,” called for the removal of Israel’s “illegal settlements,” and characterized the Gaza conflict as “a war by one of the most advanced regular armies on this planet, not just against Hamas, but against a civilian population that is trapped and unusually unable to escape from combat.”

Following the addresses, students participated in a question-and-answer period with the speakers. Not everyone left happy, but, as Rosenblum promised, that was as it should be.

— PH

  Heart in Africa
Marshall Scholar Samuel Daly

Samuel Daly ’09CC came to Columbia from Milwaukee four years ago, thinking he would major in economics or Spanish. As a freshman, he heard the melodic sound of Swahili at a language fair. Soon he was studying it and the West African language Yoruba and immersing himself in the cultural history of Africa, specifically that of Tanzania and Nigeria.

Daly, 22, now wonders: How much of African culture is lost forever because of a lack of interest among historians?

This concern is one reason that Daly is attending Oxford University in September, on a prestigious Marshall Scholarship. There he will study Sungusungu, a vigilante justice movement that developed in the 1980s in northern Tanzania and spread throughout the country.
“It’s a topic that hasn’t been studied closely,” Daly says. “I want to explain how the provision of justice works in Tanzania and in a lot of other African countries.”

His interest in Sungusungu was sparked by classes taught by Mahmood Mamdani, Columbia’s Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and professor of anthropology, and by associate professor of history Gregory Mann. During his sophomore and junior years, Daly spent a semester each in Nigeria and Tanzania.

Sungusungu is Swahili for “fire ants,” a metaphor for a community that comes together to investigate and to solve a crime. The movement began as a response to cattle raiding and was so successful that communities soon began using it to catch other types of criminals. It has since spread to nearby countries that, like Tanzania, never had effective policing because, he says, colonial powers didn’t want to spend money on local criminal-justice systems.

“The Sungusungu basically do what police forces do; they deter crime and track down criminals,” Daly says. “In some cases, they’ve been documented as having punished criminals, which is problematic because there’s no standard operating procedure, so there’s potential for abuse. That’s one of the things that I want to investigate.”

At Oxford, he will have access to books, documents, and diaries related to Sukuma villages of Tanzania, all of which Daly describes as indispensable for his research.

Daly plans to get a master’s degree in history at Oxford, followed by a master’s in African studies, and a doctorate in a related field. Upon graduation, he intends to become a State Department specialist and, later, a history professor.

— CR

Gates Scholars Emily Jordan and Caroline Robertson  
Gateway to England

Two Columbia undergraduates with promising careers in neuroscience, Emily Jordan ’09CC and Caroline Robertson ’09CC, have been named 2009 Gates Cambridge Scholars, an honor that gives students from around the world a chance to pursue graduate studies at Cambridge University in England.

Robertson, a double major in neuroscience and religion, will enroll at Cambridge as a doctoral student, specializing in the neuroscience of autism. Jordan, a double major in psychology and anthropology, will study neuroscience in Cambridge’s department of experimental psychology. Jordan says she never imagined becoming a scientist upon enrolling at Columbia, but discovered a love for psychology through her course work in the Core Curriculum. “The great thing about Columbia College is that everyone is required to take classes in music, art, philosophy, literature, science, and culture,” she says. “I could no longer deny that I wanted to study science.”

Jordan and Robertson are the 18th and 19th Columbia University students to be awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarships since the program began in 2001; they are the first Columbia College Gates Scholars since 2002.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is given on the basis of intellectual ability, leadership capacity, and the desire to use one’s knowledge to improve the lives of others at the community and global levels. This year, 752 candidates competed for 37 spaces, making the Gates Cambridge as selective as the Marshall and Rhodes Scholarships.

“Columbia is thrilled to have these two outstanding young scientists headed off to Cambridge to continue their research in cutting-edge labs,” said Michael Pippenger, associate dean of fellowship programs and study abroad at Columbia College. “Caroline and Emily feel strongly that their future work can improve the quality of life for those dealing with autism and addiction, and we are excited to see what their studies lead to in the future.”

  Pointe of return
Amanda Kostreva ’10BC rehearses for a recent performance of the Columbia Ballet Collaborative.

Lydia Walker ’10GS walked away from the Suzanne Farrell Ballet in Arlington, Virginia, in 2006. After devoting her life to dance, she decided that she wanted to attend college full-time.

“I’m 25, now,” Walker says. “I wasn’t sure how much longer my body would last. That’s just a fact. Dancing is definitely a young person’s job.”

Walker enrolled at Columbia’s School of General Studies (GS), which is designed for nontraditional students, and there met several other former ballet dancers. They began thinking: Could they keep dancing seriously, but outside of the hypercompetitive world of professional ballet?

In the summer of 2007, over lunch at the Broadway diner Deluxe, Walker and four other ballerinas-turned-students — Ashley Flood ’10GS, Emily Hayden ’10GS, Larissa Higgins ’10GS, and Victoria North ’10GS — decided to create the Columbia Ballet Collaborative (CBC). They recruited dancers and choreographers, most of them undergraduates, and started small, holding their first performance at Barnard’s Streng Studio later that year. They put on a production at Barnard’s 120-seat City Center in 2008. And this April, the CBC performs before its largest audience yet, at the 688-seat Miller Theatre.

The Miller debut, set for April 3 and 4, features seven pieces, several choreographed by students. The dances incorporate a variety of styles, from classical to neoclassical to contemporary. Dancers had to audition; 30 were chosen. Cassia Phillips ’10GS, Justin Peck ’10GS, and Kimi Nikaidoh ’10GS choreograph alongside professionals Emery LeCrone, Brian Reeder, Bonnie Scheibman, Pam Tanowitz, and Bruce Wood.

“Some of it is quite experimental,” says Walker, who is studying international and diplomatic history. “I think what’s most important about our identity is that we’re coming from the traditional ballet perspective but incorporating other artistic influences that are, in some ways, a departure for us.”

CBC started with 15 members. Now 34 dancers, about half of whom are students in the School of General Studies, belong to the collaborative, and several other students help with publicity. Columbia’s Activities Board recognized the group as a student club in the spring of 2008, which made it eligible for perks: a $250 stipend per semester, regular use of studio space, and two faculty advisers from Barnard’s department of dance, Katie Glasner and Lynn Garafola. The company holds free ballet classes, open to all Columbia students and alumni, at 10:30 a.m. every Saturday at Streng Studio.

The five women who created the organization all expect to graduate in May 2010, so they’re handing off responsibilities to newer students. “We’re starting to take a backseat in leadership,” said Walker. “It’s time for others to tackle that while we’re still around to guide them.”

Nisreen Faour, playing Muna, and Melka Muallem, playing 16-year-old Fadi, star in Amreeka.
Columbia filmmakers reign over Sundance

Another year, another big Sundance win for Columbia. For the third year in a row, a Columbia-affiliated picture won the Grand Jury Prize for best dramatic film. Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire tells the story of a Harlem girl whose chaotic life threatens to swallow her. Her father rapes her and she becomes pregnant, for the second time, with his child. Her mother is abusive. She’s overweight. She can’t read. Yet, Precious finds a way to turn her life around.

The screenplay was written by Geoffrey Fletcher, an adjunct assistant professor in the School of the Arts, using the pseudonym Damien Paul. At Sundance, Push also won the Audience Award for best dramatic film. The name of the movie has since been changed to Precious: Based on the Novel PUSH by Sapphire, and will be released this fall by Lionsgate.

Columbia had an impressive showing of films at Sundance, a premier industry festival where filmmakers cut deals and careers are launched. Of the 16 pictures chosen in the U.S. Dramatic Competition, four were written and directed by SOA filmmakers: Amreeka, written and directed by Cherien Dabis ’04SOA; Cold Souls, written and directed by Sophie Barthes ’03SIPA; Dare, directed by Adam Salky ’08SOA and written and coproduced by David Brind ’08SOA; and Toe to Toe, written and directed by Emily Abt ’04SOA.

Dabis expects Amreeka to be released in theaters this fall, a terrific start for a filmmaker who wrote the screenplay as her master’s thesis. It also opened the New Directors/New Films series at Lincoln Center on March 25.

Amreeka is a story of a Palestinian woman who immigrates to a small town in Illinois with her teenage son, hoping for a better life, only to find that the one job she can get is at White Castle.

Dabis says she felt giddy during the screening of her movie before 1500 people at the Ellen Eccles Theatre at Sundance. “There was so much laughter from the audience,” she says, “It made me think, ‘Did I make a comedy?’”

Dabis says Amreeka (Arabic for America) is based on her own story of growing up in an Arab immigrant family in a small Ohio town. During the Gulf War, residents ostracized her family, and her father, a pediatrician, lost patients. They received death threats regularly. One day, after Dabis’s sister made outspoken remarks in a social studies class, Secret Service agents came to the high school. Dabis says the principal convinced them that her sister was no threat, and they left.

Dabis wove these experiences into her film, but focused on the story of a single mother, inspired by Dabis’s aunt, who struggles to keep her relationship with her son intact. “The first thing people ask me when they find out my ethnicity is, ‘What do you think of Hamas?’ We are viewed in a politicized way, and I wanted to remove that and see that we are people who have universal stories,” Dabis says. “This is about telling the immigrant story and showing a side of that culture that is removed from politics.”

— CR

  Artist Yvette Mattern ’87SOA beamed lasers eastward from Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge on the evening of January 19.
Spectral vision

In January 2007, artist Yvette Mattern ’87SOA was driving through Concord, Massachusetts, when she saw something remarkable in the turbulent sky above Walden Pond: a brilliant, sky-sweeping, pot-o’-gold rainbow “coming out of those apocalyptic clouds like a true vision.”

All at once, Mattern got the big idea: to create a giant virtual rainbow. She read books on light refraction, consulted physicists. The logistics were daunting. Then, in September 2008, she saw a laser display in Berlin and was struck by its power. Now she envisioned a beautiful rainbow made of lasers. But there was one small question: How do you bend the light into an arc?

Mattern arrived at a witty if unscientific solution: If rainbows were to be projected simultaneously in multiple cities, then the light, which she imagined as being interconnected, would bend, in theory, with the curvature of the planet.

What she needed now was the proper occasion for which to try out the idea. Little did she know, even in September, just what history had in store.

When Barack Obama was elected president on November 4, Mattern, who is multiracial (German father, Afro-Caribbean mother), decided to stage a single rainbow installation, which she called The Global Rainbow. The date she wanted was Monday, January 19, 2009, which was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and also the day before Obama’s inauguration: a once-in-a-lifetime moment, the very culmination, it seemed, of all the optimistic things a rainbow stood for.

With barely any time to raise money, the Berlin-based Mattern decided to foot the $20,000 bill herself. A realtor friend in New York helped her find the ideal location from which to mount the two sets of laser boxes and beam the lights: the pyramid-shaped top of 14 Wall Street, the former penthouse apartment of J. P. Morgan. The proximity to the World Trade Center site and to the Brooklyn Bridge would frame the display in a certain grandeur.

The January 19 date was, for Mattern, nonnegotiable, and she labored feverishly to assemble her team of technicians and to secure the necessary permissions. But then, a week before the King holiday, she received an 11th-hour bombshell. To project the lights, she was told, she needed clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration — a process that would take up to 30 days. All her plans threatened to come undone.

As it happened, Mattern’s father had worked for decades as an inspector at the FAA. She called him and explained the situation, and he made some calls of his own. When he got back to her that day, he said that she would have clearance within hours. Five minutes later, a news flash appeared on Mattern’s TV: a commercial airliner had crash-landed in the Hudson River. Everyone survived.

The evening of January 19 was cold, with a steady snowfall. At 5 p.m., in the canyon of Wall Street, seven rays of light, glittering like diamonds as snowflakes passed through them, shot east and west across Lower Manhattan, from ground zero to the far end of the Brooklyn Bridge. Mattern hired a gypsy cab to drive her and a photographer around so she could observe her handiwork. As the night progressed and people became aware of the spectacle, crowds formed on the pier at Fulton Ferry Landing. Tour buses pulled over, cameras flashed. “It was a spontaneous gathering, a community feeling,” Mattern says. “People were in awe. It was exactly how I wanted it to be.”

— PH

Larry J. Lawrence, at right, speaks to Peter Conze, the husband of Anne Conze ’73GS, at a recent School of General Studies campaign gathering.
Doing more for nontraditional students

Venture capitalist Larry J. Lawrence ’69GS, ’71BUS and an anonymous donor have each pledged $1.5 million to initiate a matching program at the School of General Studies. Their collective contribution of $3 million will be used to match, one-to-one, future gifts of $100,000 or more for scholarship endowment at the School of General Studies, which is Columbia’s undergraduate program for nontraditional students.

The new matching program, if successful, would raise a total of $6 million for financial aid at the School of General Studies. The school, as part of its ongoing fundraising campaign, is aiming to raise, by 2011, $15 million for scholarship endowment and $10 million in annual giving to support financial aid and key programs. Today, the school’s graduates confront more than $40,000 in student-loan debt, on average. The school, because of its limited financial endowment, can offer only about half of what Columbia College students can expect in financial aid. School officials hope to provide more grants in the future and thereby continue to attract the best nontraditional students.

“It’s really up to us as General Studies alumni to make the same kind of commitment as have our friends at Columbia College,” says Lawrence, who is the founder and managing partner of a series of venture capital funds, the most recent of which is Allegra Capital Partners. “The opportunity to attend GS provided a life-changing, transformative experience for those fortunate enough to have been its beneficiaries. Now, more than ever, we can help put the school in a position to provide continuing opportunities for nontraditional students.”


  Students secure asylum for gay African man

This winter, Columbia Law School students helped secure asylum for a gay man raped and beaten by soldiers in his native Côte d’Ivoire and subjected to constant verbal and physical abuse by his neighbors and by his own father. The man, who is 32, arrived in the United States in 2004 and was referred to Columbia Law School for legal assistance last year by Immigration Equality, a nonprofit that advocates for the immigration rights of gays and lesbians.

Five students from the law school’s Sexuality and Gender Clinic — Dana Kaufman, Holly Chen, Abbey Hudson, Brad Mullins, and Keren Zwick — spent several months last fall helping the man apply for asylum. They conducted extensive interviews regarding his case and documented widespread violence toward people who are gay or HIV-positive in his home country. They also accompanied their client to his asylum interview in Rosedale, New York, where Chen and Kaufman made a closing presentation to the asylum officer. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security granted the man asylum in December.

“We hope that our client’s case will let other Ivoirians persecuted because of their sexual orientation know that they are not alone,” says Kaufman.

The students’ documentation about violence toward gay Ivoirians is now available for other asylum-seekers from Côte d’Ivoire.

  Columbia Alumni Center opens

Columbia’s more than 275,000 alumni have a new place to call home. The Columbia Alumni Center, located at 622 West 113th Street, between Broadway and Riverside Drive, provides hospitality and help to alumni visiting the Morningside Heights campus.

Opening in April, the Alumni Center is a place for alumni to catch up on the latest University news, check e-mail, explore alumni benefits, peruse a yearbook, find out about on-campus events, or have a cup of coffee. Designed specifically for alumni use and staffed by professionals, a first-floor welcome center includes a lounge, library, seminar room, and courtesy office. “Our goal is to provide an ideal place for alumni to connect with campus life and meet with fellow Columbians,” says Jennifer Shaw, the newly hired director of the welcome center.

The Columbia Alumni Center also houses the University’s Office of Alumni and Development, as well as the Columbia College Office of Alumni Affairs and Development, which includes Columbia magazine and Columbia College Today.

For more information, e-mail or visit


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