School of the Arts gets Becker

For culture critic Carol Becker, art-making should be an act of social responsibility. But too often, artists, “angry at the degree to which they are unappreciated and their work misunderstood, choose rebellion as a method of retaliation,” Becker laments in her 1994 book, The Subversive Imagination: Artists, Society, and Social Responsibility. “And in so doing, they separate themselves from those with whom many actually long to interact.”

Becker, who becomes dean of Columbia’s School of the Arts (SOA) September 1, has suggested that some art schools encourage the popular image of the artist as a marginalized figure. She believes that art schools instead must educate students to appreciate their role in society — as mirror, chronicler, catalyst, conscience.

“What do creative people need to know, not just technically, but also intellectually, conceptually, philosophically, politically, so that they are whole people who can assume a place of significance in society?” mused Becker in a recent telephone interview. “And how can schools of art educate people to have that breadth and that depth, as well as the skills to do their work well?”

These questions have consumed Becker as an educator and writer for nearly four decades. She began teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 1978, and for the past 13 years has served there as dean of faculty and senior vice president for academic affairs. Becker holds a PhD in English and American literature and has also taught at universities in California, Illinois, and Greece. Her other books include Zones of Contention: Essays on Art, Institutions, Gender and Anxiety and Invisible Drama: Women and the Anxiety of Change.

Members of the Columbia search committee who recommended Becker as SOA dean say that her wide range of scholarly interests — she’s published on topics from feminist theory to American cultural history to South African art and politics — should help her bring a unifying vision to SOA’s four divisions: visual arts, theater arts, creative writing, and film. “Carol is very comfortable talking about many artistic disciplines, not just the visual arts, which I think will be a critical asset,” says George Steel, executive director of the Miller Theatre and a member of the search committee. He also calls her a deft diplomat who “combines energy and vision with remarkable skills at consensus building,”

Becker, who replaces SOA acting dean Dan Kleinman, says she plans to work collaboratively with the faculty to create new appointments, curricula, and programs that will make the School “a real force” in the world of arts and ideas.

“The potential of the school is enormous,” says Becker. “I think it has just been waiting to take its place as one of the premier schools at Columbia. I want to help position it in the bigger social arena as a center of discourse on how the making of art, in all forms, can be made truly relevant.”
— Marguerite Lamb


Green acres

Will Columbia’s plan to build in West Harlem go forward? If so, what kinds of compromises will be required?

A lot will be decided in the next few months, because on June 15 New York City’s Planning Commission certified that the University had completed its application to rezone the old manufacturing area of Manhattanville in West Harlem. This launches the official public comment period under the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which is expected to last until the end of this calendar year. If the Planning Commission approves Columbia’s proposal after considering community feedback, the project will go before the City Council and ultimately, the University hopes, to the mayor.

Columbia has held hundreds of public meetings over the past three years to get feedback on its idea: The University wants to develop four blocks north of 125th Street between Broadway and 12th Avenue, as well as three buildings on the east side of Broadway, an area now dominated by warehouses and auto-repair shops. The first stage of construction, which Columbia hopes to complete by 2015, would include a new Graduate School of Business, a neuroscience building called the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, and a mixed-use academic facility known as the Lantern Building. Columbia’s architects say they’ve designed an open and accessible campus with pedestrian pathways that will welcome neighbors onto campus green space and toward the waterfront park that the city is now building on the Hudson.

Still, there’s some vocal opposition to certain aspects of the plan. Particularly contentious is Columbia’s determination to buy all of the property within the roughly 17-acre expansion zone and its refusal to rule out the possibility of taking by eminent domain a handful of commercial sites owned by holdouts. And although the University has promised it won’t request the state to use eminent domain for residential tenants who live in the proposed construction zone — and although it is committed to their relocation to equal or better housing — the fear of gentrification, as it is taking place throughout New York, has many in the surrounding area worried that rents will increase as a result of the new campus.

At public hearings taking place this summer as part of ULURP, city officials will consider the potential environmental and socioeconomic effects of the development, including factors such as air quality, noise, traffic, hazardous waste, shadows, and housing. Columbia has detailed these effects in a 2700-page environmental impact statement, which also describes the mitigating steps the University would take.

At the same time, the University is negotiating a community benefits agreement with civic leaders appointed by West Harlem’s community board to determine what services local residents expect if the project goes forward. “Our goal is to use this proposed development as an opportunity to expand the tangible benefits a great university can bring to its own local community, including investments in new job opportunities, education, health care, culture, and affordable housing,” President Lee C. Bollinger wrote in a letter to the Columbia community on June 18.

Columbia expects that its $7 billion project will create an average of 1200 construction jobs per year for nearly a quarter century and that it ultimately will create 6000 new University jobs.

For more information, visit


Stock shock

A nationwide investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office into improper relationships between universities and student-loan companies led to the dismissal of a high-ranking Columbia official this spring. David Charlow, Columbia’s director of undergraduate financial aid, made more than $100,000 by selling stock of Education Lending Group between 2003 and 2005, when one of the company’s subsidiaries, Student Loan Xpress, was among several loan companies that Columbia endorsed.

Charlow left Columbia in May and the University agreed to pay $1.1 million to a fund established by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that will be used to teach students to borrow wisely. As part of its settlement with Cuomo, the University also agreed to allow the AG’s office to monitor its student-loan operation for the next five years. In addition, Columbia removed Student Loan Xpress from its list of preferred lenders, although University officials don’t believe that students who borrowed from the company, which is considered reputable, suffered adverse financial consequences. Columbia wasn’t found to have any revenue-sharing agreements with loan companies, as was the case with several other universities Cuomo investigated.

The attorney general commended Columbia for its aggressiveness in helping to uncover any wrongdoing.

“They took quick action,” Cuomo said. “They were cooperative, and the result will be better for all involved.”


B-school drills in people skills

He was the aggressive type, a Silicon Valley manager who shot off testy e-mails to co-workers to motivate them and who was always inviting confrontations. He had the smarts to rise to the top, but one day his boss stuck it to him: “I’ve lost all faith in you.”

Striking the right balance between being a bully and a pushover can make a career, according to new research at the Columbia Graduate School of Business. “Those who are socially insufferable destroy the relationships around them,” says Daniel Ames, a professor of leadership and ethics who coauthored the study published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “At the low end of assertive, leaders are ineffective, even though they may be social. People struggle to find the sweet spot.”

In order to help tomorrow’s corporate leaders perfect their people skills, the business school recently launched a new Program on Social Intelligence (PSI). Consisting of first-year orientation events and optional workshops available to all B-school students, PSI helps students learn to work in teams, to speak persuasively, to read clients’ needs, to coach and mentor employees, and to build personal networks.

The idea of social intelligence dates back to the work of Columbia psychologist Edward Thorndike ’27GSAS, who in the 1920s theorized that “the ability to understand and manage men and women” requires different mental faculties than those measured by IQ tests. Scientists know now that there are, in fact, two brain systems: one for abstract thinking used for language and problem solving and one for interpreting social signals.

In developing PSI, business school faculty incorporated the latest discoveries in psychology and neuroscience and asked companies like Cisco, General Electric, and Lehman Brothers about their needs. “Organizations are flatter today,” says PSI director Michael Morris, who is the B-school’s Chavkin-Chang Professor of Leadership. “Managers used to have to climb the ladder, but now there are not that many levels of hierarchy. So now you need to work effectively with a diverse team of people. You can’t say, ‘Do this or be fired.’”

PSI uses role-playing games and other forms of experiential learning to show students how their actions are perceived by others. They assess one another’s levels of assertiveness, for instance, on a scale from “wallflower to monster.” In many cases, says Ames, “they are flabbergasted” by what they hear from their peers. Executive coaches then work like therapists to help the students make good on the suggestions they receive.

Mark Jacobs ’08BUS, who worked for Nestlé before joining Columbia’s MBA program last fall, says self-analysis strengthened his managerial skills and helped him secure an internship at The Monitor Group, a management consulting company.

“Intellectual horsepower is not enough,” says Jacobs. “In the real world, you’re not always going to get the boss or team you like, and you need to know how to get the best out of the people around you.”

— Susan James ’06JRN


Lessons in tragedy

First the 32 names were read aloud. Then “only the soft pattering of drizzling rain was audible as attendees, heads lowered in respect, observed a moment of silence,” wrote David Xia ’10CC in the Spectator. The candlelight vigil honoring the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting was attended by hundreds of Columbia students, faculty, and administrators on April 18.

The following week, Columbia public health professor Irwin Redlener appeared before a U.S. Senate hearing on campus safety issues, urging the government to fund more research on how college administrators can prevent violence in their midst. “There are serious gaps in our knowledge about best practices to screen for [psychological] disorders,” said Redlener, who directs Columbia’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness. “Even if suspicions are appropriately aroused, access to reliable data supporting the most effective interventions remains a major challenge.”

At Columbia, administrators stepped up security following the Virginia Tech killings and held meetings with students to discuss campus safety. They also published guidelines explaining what to do if a shooting occurs on campus. To learn more, visit


Arts and letters

Columbia art historian Meyer Schapiro (1904–1996) published definitive treatises on everything from Romanesque sculpture to abstract expressionism. But Schapiro ’24CC, ’35GSAS, ’75HON is often said to have been most dazzling on the lecture stand, in conversation, or on the pages of a letter, where his photographic memory and sagelike intuition produced especially far-flung and spontaneous references.

Scholars now have access to the most raw documentation of Schapiro’s brilliance at Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML). His collected papers, bequeathed recently by Schapiro’s late widow, Lillian Milgram Schapiro, include correspondence with painters Marc Chagall and Jean Hélion, authors Nicola Chiaromonte, James T. Farrell, and C.L.R. James, art historian Erwin Panofsky, and the scholar of Jewish mysticism, Gershom Sholem.

“More than America’s greatest art historian, Meyer Schapiro was an intellectual deeply engaged also in the worlds of politics and philosophy,” says David Rosand, Columbia’s Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History. “His papers document that complex engagement.”

The collection also includes drafts of lectures, manuscripts, and published and unpublished articles, often annotated by corrections and notes. In addition, the RBML owns hundreds of audiotapes of lectures Schapiro delivered during the five decades he taught here.


Boycott us, then

Columbia president Lee C. Bollinger has denounced the proposal before Britain’s University and College Union (UCU) to boycott Israeli academic and cultural institutions.

The proposal being debated would block “participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation  . . . with Israeli institutions” for what it calls their complicity with the “colonial oppression of the Palestinian people, which is based on Zionist ideology.”

Bollinger responded in a June 12 statement: “I find this idea utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy, where we will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment…. At Columbia I am proud to say that we embrace Israeli scholars and universities that the UCU is now all too eager to isolate — as we embrace scholars from many countries regardless of divergent views on their governments’ policies. Therefore, if the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish. Boycott us, then, for we gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American, and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education.”

Since Bollinger’s public statement, dozens of Nobel laureates and university presidents have spoken out against the boycott.


Filling in at Fu, SIPA

The University has picked two top academics to temporarily replace outgoing deans.

Harvard history professor John Coatsworth moved to Columbia recently to become interim dean of the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA); Columbia physicist and mechanical engineer Gerald A. Navratil is now interim dean of the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS).

Coatsworth, an expert on Latin American economic history, takes over at SIPA from Lisa Anderson, who stepped down as dean this summer to resume her teaching and research at Columbia. Coatsworth had taught at Harvard since 1994 and founded its David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. He also led an overhaul of Harvard’s study abroad program. Coatsworth has written or edited seven books, including Central America and the United States: The Clients and the Colossus, which he authored in 1994.

Navratil assumes the responsibilities of longtime engineering dean Zvi Galil, who left SEAS this summer to become president of Tel Aviv University. Navratil, a member of the Columbia faculty since 1977, is the Thomas Alva Edison Professor of Applied Physics and an expert on thermonuclear fusion energy. He helped establish the applied physics and applied mathematics department in 1978 and served as its chairman for many years.

Search committees have been convened by the offices of the provost, the president, and the vice president for arts and sciences to find permanent deans.


Success out of the gate

Rikako Wakabayashi hasn’t yet stepped foot in a Columbia classroom and already she’s poised to make an imprint on New York City. The incoming architecture student won an international design competition this summer to revitalize an underused national park in New York.

Wakabayashi and her collaborator Ashley Scott Kelly focused on Floyd Bennett Field, a 400-acre grassy peninsula that juts into Jamaica Bay. The landmass is largely man-made, formed in the 1930s when millions of cubic yards of sand were dumped into marshes that separated dozens of tiny islands off Brooklyn’s southeastern shore. Floyd Bennett Field served as a municipal airport until the 1960s; it came under oversight of the National Parks Service in 1972 and is a protected habitat for many native species of flora and fauna.

Wakabayashi and Kelly propose carving a series of water channels back into the peninsula and constructing jetties over surrounding wetlands, revealing to park visitors how tides and fluctuating sea levels affect the local ecosystem. Wakabayashi says she and Kelly aimed to design “something iconic that people will want to visit, a dynamic habitat where at any given point, people are experiencing different aspects of nature that will shift with the tides.”

The design competition was organized by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation, and the nonprofit Van Alen Institute. It was intended to generate public support for fixing up a series of New York City national parks known collectively as Gateway National Recreation Area, which encompasses 27,000 acres. The contest drew 230 entrants, including dozens of professional firms from 23 countries. Wakabayashi and Kelly, who will work with the NPCA to promote their plan, split a $15,000 cash prize.


In brief

Man about town

President Lee C. Bollinger is in demand.
In May, Bollinger was elected to the board of directors of the Washington Post Company, whose holdings include the Washington Post, Slate, Newsweek, Cable ONE, and the educational service giant Kaplan, Inc., the company’s fastest-growing division. “The addition of a renowned president of a major U.S. university is very meaningful to us,” said Director of Corporate Communications Rima Calderon ’69BC. The board, which advises chairman Donald Graham, meets six times a year — five times in Washington, D.C., and once in New York.  Other board members include Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett ’51BUS.

Also in May, New York governor Eliot Spitzer appointed Bollinger to a commission charged with improving the State University of New York (SUNY) system. The one-year commission, comprising leaders in public and private higher education, will address Governor Spitzer’s goal of putting SUNY on par with such elite state university systems as the University of California.

Easy being green

Columbia University has accepted Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s challenge to achieve a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases citywide by 2017. Joining eight other New York City universities, Columbia has signed on to Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030, “the most sweeping plan to enhance New York’s urban environment in the city’s modern history,” according to the PlaNYC Web site.

In developing plans for energy reduction, the University has begun assessing greenhouse-gas emissions campuswide, measuring everything from transportation to refrigeration. The Woodbridge Hall dormitory at 431 Riverside Drive currently is being equipped with a boiler that can use biofuels, for instance, and the U.S. Green Building Council has commended Columbia for including environmental protocols in the initial designs for its proposed Manhattanville development. In addition, this fall the University’s extensive cross-disciplinary coursework in environmental sustainability will be enhanced with a special concentration in sustainable development.

Columbia scientists have long been at the forefront of climate research, from finding ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere to developing energy alternatives. Now, by aiming to reduce its own carbon footprint, the University is taking another step in that direction.

A new covenant

The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), a Columbia affiliate that is considered the international center of Conservative Jewish education, will enroll openly gay and lesbian students into its rabbinical and cantorial schools for the first time this fall.

Last year, a panel of Conservative legal experts approved a teshuva or “responsum,” ending the movement’s 15-year explicit ban on gay rabbis and same-sex marriages. The decision is “in keeping with the long-standing commitment of the Jewish tradition to pluralism,” says JTS Chancellor-elect Arnold M. Eisen. “We recognize more than one way to be a good Conservative Jew, more than one way of walking authentically in the path of our tradition.”

The Jewish Theological Seminary opened its doors to gay and lesbian students after discussing the issue at numerous faculty forums and student meetings, as well as consulting with Conservative rabbis and lay leaders from around the world. The decision to allow same-sex marriages still rests with individual congregations and institutions.

Google this

A lecture series at the Earth Institute. Astronomy professor David Helfand’s Frontiers of Science course. A lecture on the history of New York City architecture and development with professor Andrew S. Dolkart.

These are just some of the intellectual offerings that will be available on the Google Video Web site, thanks to a $50,450 grant awarded by Google to the Columbia University Center for Digital Research and Scholarship. The center will provide up to 54 hours of new educational content and convert 38 hours of MPEG-2 content for Google Video, on subjects ranging from science to history to economics.

Class act

Columbia College received a record 18,081 applicants for places in the Class of 2011 and sent acceptance letters to 1618 individuals. That represents an 8.9 percent admission rate — the lowest in the Ivy League and a record low for the College. The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences saw applications rise 21 percent and admitted 18 percent, making Columbia’s overall undergraduate admit rate 10.4 percent.

Vive la différence

Psychology department chair Geraldine Downey has been named vice provost for diversity initiatives. In this position, she oversees Columbia’s efforts to recruit and retain a diverse group of faculty, administrators, and researchers, especially those historically under-represented in American higher education. The vice provost also works to increase the representation of such groups in the undergraduate and graduate populations. Downey, an expert on identity formation, succeeds Jean Howard in her new role. She plans to give special attention to diversity in the sciences.


A degree of patience

That “1954” on Max Horlick’s diploma is no misprint.  More than half a century after defending his dissertation, Horlick, 89, was this May retroactively granted a doctorate in French literature, becoming a Columbia graduate — and alumnus, in essence, of 53 years — on the same day.

For Horlick ’54GSAS, receiving his PhD was a dream twice thwarted and all but forgotten.  With a bachelor’s degree in French from Rutgers, he’d begun his graduate studies at Columbia on the eve of the Second World War, only to be drafted. Upon returning from the front, he taught at St. Lawrence University, but continued his doctoral work during summers. His dissertation, “The Literary Judgment of Michel de Montaigne,” satisfied two professors on his panel; the third requested revisions. He never got to write them, as his wife contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a sanitarium for two years, leaving Horlick the family’s sole breadwinner and caretaker. Of necessity, he abandoned his scholarly pursuits for a lifelong career in government, eventually landing at the Social Security Administration.

But if Horlick had accepted his ABD (all-but dissertation) status, his children were less resigned. Last year, they petitioned Columbia to award their father an honorary degree. University officials asked to see the 180-page dissertation, which Horlick had kept in a lockbox. A committee read it and recommended instead that Horlick, of Silver Spring, Maryland, be granted the real deal. Says French department chair Pierre Force, “It’s a fine piece of work on an interesting topic.” And, evidently, one that stands the test of time.
— Marguerite Lamb