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Cool on Global Warming

The Fall issue of Columbia prompted dozens of letters disputing the cover article’s central premise — that climate scientists agree the earth’s atmosphere is warming because of human activity. Many readers proposed instead that natural factors, such as sunspots or variations in the earth’s orbit, are warming
the atmosphere. These factors were addressed
in a 2007 report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, available online at www.ipcc.ch. To read additional letters from our readers, visit www.columbia.edu/cu/alumni/Magazine. —Ed.

A large part of the American population openly challenges the theory of human-caused climatic change, not because they have been duped by big industry, as Dana Fisher theorizes, nor because the media have failed to properly groom the message, as Elke Weber claims (“The Deep Sleep,” Fall 2008). Such notions are naive and egotistical; they fail to consider the egalitarian access to higher education that is available in this country and the plethora of information available from independent media.

Social opinions in other developed nations are shaped by a cadre of academic elites and government-dominated media. A relatively small percentage of citizens in most countries qualify for a university education; those who do are often very limited in their respective disciplines and depend on other academics to inform them in areas outside their own expertise. It is little wonder that they so often fall in step with one another. By comparison, an independent and informed American citizenry is at least moderately qualified to investigate many sides of an issue. Is it surprising that we find ourselves out of step with so many other cultures when we welcome so many differences within?

Americans are not snoozing, stupid, or lazy; we are won to scientific ideas by courtesy, respect, scholarship, and open debate. Controversial data, sensationalized anecdotes, and Machiavellian manipulation are the tools of desperation, not liberty. Condescending attitudes will continue to undermine any legitimate scientific arguments that support human-induced climate-change theories. 

Edward A. Smith ’85GSAPP
Burton, MI
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When just about an entire class flunks a course, logic suggests that the first place to look is not at the students but at the quality of the offering.  From the start, the global-warming message presented by the coalition of environmentalists and social scientists who speak for the movement has been mixed. The former see a pressing need to clean up the atmosphere, and the latter see this as an opportunity to right social injustices around the globe by excusing poor countries from carbon caps and thus boosting their economies. 

Americans might be inclined to support a reduction in carbon output and the costs involved, but they are not willing to fund the redistribution of wealth worldwide. This unpopular political component of the message, combined with the insulting exaggeration used to get the attention of the unwashed, has soured many Americans on the call to do something significant about global warming. 

Buying indulgences that allow an enterprise to a) offset carbon contributions and b) piously claim to be carbon neutral if it is willing and able to contribute enough financial resources also flunks the smell test for most Americans.  
Those interested primarily in cleaning up the environment might want to think about forming a new coalition and separating the science from the social engineering and politics in their message. 

Neil Markee ’60CC
Port Jefferson, NY
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Did I miss it, or did David J. Craig’s article about global warming somewhere mention the words “nuclear energy”? Why was there not one reference to what has been termed the cleanest, most dependable, and longest-lasting form of energy currently available? 

Could the use of nuclear energy possibly be a political issue? Is everything nuclear off-limits, even though it still is widely used throughout this country and is far more popular in Europe? Would spending still untold billions of dollars to develop other so-called cleaner forms of energy make more sense than utilizing an already-proven energy source whose cost and safety factors are well known and controllable? Are the nuclear opponents still having nightmares about the accident at Three Mile Island instead of praising the antidisaster safety features that worked as they were designed? 

So many questions, so few answers. And we didn’t even touch on the uncertainty of claims of impending doom allegedly awaiting our planet — whose history is filled with natural and unavoidable disasters over which man played no part. 
Surely, we can do better than this.

Jack Clary ’55JRN
Stow, MA
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In researching my new book, China Mosaic, I had an opportunity to spend extended periods in rural China. Anyone intimately familiar with the backwaters of Yunnan, Ningxia, Hebei, and Sichuan, where most of the population still lack indoor plumbing, knows that China, its environmentally friendly Olympics notwithstanding, will not be answering the global-warming call anytime soon.

The Chinese Communist Party depends on improving living standards for its legitimacy. Without abundant electricity, rural China will not move forward. Without burning dirty coal, enough electricity will never be generated for rural China to prosper. The thrust of the 16th and 17th Communist Party congresses was to urbanize the Chinese countryside, requiring that more and more fossil fuels be burned. Almost 60 percent of the population still lives in the countryside, which means that China’s contribution to global warming will likely grow. Travel to Yu County in Hebei Province, or to hundreds of towns like it, where the roads are impregnated with coal dust. Challenge the burning of coal in China and you are likely to get this response: “You have had your modernization, now it is our turn.” 

Jonathan Kolatch ’70GSAS
New York, NY
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Global warming has its deniers just as the Holocaust has its deniers. The solution lies in more widespread education. Once the general population has been more properly educated about global warming, it will more readily accept the science and demand solutions.

The best way to educate the general public is for the U.S. Department of Education to prepare a curriculum on global warming to be taught in all schools, colleges, and universities. All students should be required to discuss what they learned about global warming with their parents.

Once that is done, each state can then mandate that all motor vehicle owners let their motor vehicle rest one day per week. And how about recommending that all homeowners plant trees in their front and back yards?

Norbert Bernstein ’53LS
Holyoke, MA
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It was noteworthy that two Columbia alumni expressed similar concerns about population growth that were published in the same issue. David J. Craig’s response to one of the letters, by Frederick C. Sage, in the Fall 2008 edition of Columbia, may be technically accurate but is misleading in asserting that “The latest UN reports on [world population growth] project that the world’s population will plateau, and then shrink, in the 21st century.”

The United Nations Population Division offers multiple projections and has not extended any past 2050 since 2004. If Craig is referring to the median long-term projection issued in that year, technically “the latest” UN report on the topic, but hardly recent, the suggestion there is that world population will briefly shrink very modestly for a few decades this century and then renew its increase after 2200, with no end of growth in sight.

No one knows when world population will decline, or for what reasons (falling birth rates, rising death rates,
or some combination of the two). Although Craig refers readers to Matthew Connelly’s Fatal Misconception, that book does not deal much with likely population outcomes, but rather the author’s unsubstantiated thesis that a worldwide movement between the 1960s and 1980s did more harm than good in attempting to slow the growth of human population. For a more balanced treatment of all these issues, I humbly recommend my own book on the topic, More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want (Island Press, 2008).

Robert Engelman ’73JRN

Takoma Park, MD
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I was disappointed by the arrogant tone and false premises of David J. Craig’s article “The Deep Sleep.” His explicit premise, typical of most media presentations on this topic, is that man-made global warming is an established fact. His implicit premise is that anyone who thinks otherwise is a gullible victim of industry propaganda. In fact, there are many reasons for intelligent, informed citizens to doubt Al Gore and his legions of followers.

First, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is only about 370 parts per million. The portion contributed by industry is obviously less. It is hard for the rational person to believe that man’s tiny contribution to the carbon dioxide content of our atmosphere can cause catastrophic climate change.

Second, most of us understand that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, but a naturally occurring substance that we exhale with every breath and that plants use in photosynthesis. For people to accept that carbon dioxide has suddenly become a dangerous pollutant is a stretch.

Third, media references to “consensus” on the causes of global warming are false. There never has been a consensus that human activity is sufficient to change climatic conditions. Science works by observation and measurement, not by consensus.

Fourth, historical evidence shows cyclical variations in climate predating industrial activity. Near the end of the 10th century, Norsemen settled Greenland, named for its green foliage. After the Medieval Warm Period ended, glaciers wiped out the colonies, and Greenland was icebound by 1410. This is one of many examples that give the lie to anthropogenic global-warming theory.

Fifth, climate data over the last 150 years or so do not show a correlation between increased carbon dioxide emissions and increased temperatures. For example, the warmest period of the 20th century was during the 1930s, which was a period of economic contraction. The period from 1944 to 1976, one of unprecedented industrial activity, was a time of cooling.

Sixth, recent scientific data show that the earth is cooling, not warming. The reason is solar, not human. August 2008 was the first month in almost 100 years in which no sunspot activity was recorded.

Americans with a tradition of economic freedom are understandably skeptical about “cap-and-trade” schemes that would require drastic lifestyle changes by the many while enriching the few. Americans are understandably skeptical when years of global-warming alarmism are belied by real-world observations, such as the earth’s global-warming trend.
Americans have not flunked Global Warming 101. They have just found the professor to be misinformed.

Brad Tupi ’75CC, ’78LAW
Pittsburgh, PA
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Although well written, Columbia’s Fall 2008 cover story begs the question: “Why doesn’t Columbia get Americans?”
Americans are less concerned about global warming than about their pursuit of liberty and happiness. Evidence the imposition of toilets that don’t flush, lights that don’t light, and cars that don’t run well, all in the name of energy
conservation. And the Lilliputians of regulation only promise to multiply and burden the Gulliver of personal choice and freedom. Indeed, educated Americans well remember the most recent government fiasco with renewable energy: ethanol. We now harvest the bitter experience of exploding grain, nitrogen, and food costs, which, although a burden in the U.S., have been so severe as to cause civil strife and bloodshed in the developing world.

The young generation that will bear the costs of any carbon tax should require, indeed demand, that the proceeds first be used to shore up the Social Security and Medicare trust fund shortfalls their generation will face, thanks, once again, to prior government equity raids.

Young Columbians have the power to affect the outcome of America’s energy policy, so they should not settle for a solution that is less than American. Unleash our entrepreneurs to harness wind, geothermal, and nuclear power, not only to replace carbon but to supply abundant energy. Demand a policy advocating growth and increased freedom, not solutions demanding progressive scarcity and a mortgaged future.

Thomas Johnson, MD ’79CC
Vero Beach, FL
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In “The Deep Sleep,” David J. Craig frets that obtuse and perverse Americans have flunked Global Warming 101. He presents seven pages of cherry-picked opinions in support of his hypothesis as he attempts to rationalize this puzzling outcome.

On the other hand, I look at the information and reach the opposite conclusion. Americans have passed Global Warming 101, having rejected the fearmongering and hysteria of the man-made global-warming cult. Many Americans see this as mere speculation, if not nonsense.

Even if the climate is in a warming phase, from whatever cause, it seems futile to fight a battle with Mother Nature that we cannot win and ruin our economy in the process. Would it not be more prudent to prepare and adapt? That is the process of evolution, which has carried our DNA from the heat of tropical Africa through the recent Ice Age to the present. Fighting the inevitable is not a winning strategy.

Richard Hurd, Jr. ’67PS
Alpharetta, GA
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Lear to Stay

I very much enjoyed Morris Dickstein’s discussion of King Lear as a reminder of the importance of literature and the humanities (“The Undying Animal,” Fall 2008). As a biblical scholar who specializes in the book of Job, I wanted to make one correction to the excellent essay.

Dickstein asserts that “of all the books of the Bible, the so-called wisdom books, such as Proverbs, are among the least
valued today.” Later on, he relates Shakespeare’s great tragedy to the book of Job, which many scholars regard as an influence on Lear.  In fact, the challenging if not subversive books of Job and Ecclesiastes are also among “the so-called wisdom books,” as Dickstein notes, and they — especially Job — have been widely appreciated since the Renaissance. It is remarkable but characteristic of the Hebrew Bible that of its three wisdom books, two take a highly critical view of conventional wisdom, such as that represented in Proverbs.

Ed Greenstein ’70GS, ’77GSAS
Jerusalem, Israel
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Although I appreciated Morris Dickstein’s piece on King Lear, the author falls into the common misuse of the phrase “in a minor key” to mean “on a smaller scale.” It’s logical enough — “minor” suggesting size or scale and “key” implying tone or tonality — but it’s also wrong. The “minor” in “minor key” refers to the interval in a musical scale or chord. The interval (distance in pitch) between the first and third notes in a scale can be either two whole steps or one and a half steps. The larger of these two is called a “major third,” and the smaller, a “minor third.” The scales, chords, and keys built around these intervals are identified thusly. To most Western and Western-exposed ears, the minor key sounds “sad,” “somber,” “grave,” etc. For this reason, a disproportionate number of our “major” works are written in “minor” keys.

John Foley
Hewitt, NJ
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What’s in a Name?

Paul Hond’s profile of Emanuel Ax (“The Modest Virtuoso,” Fall 2008) adopts as its centerpiece Ax’s performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, which the author refers to as the “Emperor,” while noting that the title is not Beethoven’s. The article goes on to refer to this work as “Emperor” no fewer than six times, but unaccountably never mentions the key of this concerto, E-flat major.

Emperor is one of those meaningless nicknames carelessly bestowed on works of music without any approval from the composer. Beethoven himself was anti-imperial and quite particular about the names he placed on his published compositions, but no concert promoter or record producer will part from the nickname Emperor, fearing economic consequences. In the 19th century, Berlioz and Liszt were content to call this work “Concerto in E-flat Major.” The nickname does not seem to exist in continental Europe; Austrian and German audiences would be appalled if confronted with the name “Kaiser Konzert.”

Ax would do well to banish the nickname from program notes when preparing this work for concerts or recording. It is misleading and has nothing to do with Beethoven. Audiences should get accustomed to hearing a work presented as “Concerto in E-flat Major,” sans nickname. Then they, including Ax, might begin to understand the work.

Philip Winters ’63CC
New York, NY
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Spotty Portrait

Having been born and raised in Eastern Europe, I read with great interest your fascinating and commendable article on the Roma of Europe (“Defending the Forgotten,” Fall 2008). However, I was troubled by the photograph of “A boy at a Roma settlement in Hungary” on page 34. It appears to have been digitally altered to add splatters of paint on the boy. A small inset of the same photo on the contents page lacks the splatters. If done intentionally, I see no good reason for this embellishment.

Ross Zeltser ’97CC
New York, NY

The dots, which do look like paint, resulted from a printing problem that unfortunately marred several thousand copies of the issue. — Ed.
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Photo Finish

Patricia Christiansen’s 1948 election-day assignment (“My Columbia,” Fall 2008) reminded me of a similar double assignment I received from Professor Roscoe Ellard five years later. During the day, I was to take the 4X5 Speed Graphic (whose loading, shooting, and developing intricacies I had been taught by New York Times photographer Bill Eckenberg) down to P. S. 6 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to photograph incumbent New York City mayor Robert F. Wagner and his wife Susan as they entered the polling booth to vote, successfully, for his reelection.

Following that, I was assigned to the Wagner election-night headquarters at the Roosevelt Hotel to take pictures of one of my classmates photographing the mayor as he celebrated his election victory. My pictures were to be used by the school for promotional purposes to show how its students were assigned to hot news coverage. At the last minute, however, my buddy’s camera jammed. Knowing that the Frontpage was expecting photos of the Wagners for our election-night extra edition, I turned my camera in Wagner’s direction and started shooting.

Thanks to this quick thinking, our extra had photos of the mayor as he celebrated his return to office.

Avrum Hyman ’54JRN
Riverdale, NY

The writer went on to become a writer-photographer with the 39th Infantry Regiment in Fuerth, Germany, deputy commissioner of housing and community renewal in New York State, and the first director of public information of the Battery Park City Authority in New York City.


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. . . 1968 . . .

From across two score years allow me to turn chronicler, albeit a miniaturist, about the spring of ’68.
By sheer serendipity, I was standing on the steps of Low next to Mark Rudd, whom I recognized from press coverage but did not know, when a confederate of his dashed up with the news that busloads of cops were heading our way. In answer to his question about what to do, Rudd looked at him evenly and intoned, “I don’t know.” No “whiff of grapeshot” here, but I still delight in his unvarnished admission.

A week or so later I attended a teach-in about the Russian Revolution; we were thinking big. A white-haired gentleman stood up, and in heavily accented English, challenged the event leader, likely a grad student, about some of his facts. The student shot back, “And what are your credentials?” The older man, coolly, “I was there!”

College is life, too.

Peter Harris ’68GS
Montpelier, VT
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George Orwell easily disposed of the sincerity question. He simply asked: “Was Stalin sincere?”

J. Turgeon ’48CC, ’51GSAS
Westmount, Quebec
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I think it is great that you have been continuing to run letters from alumni about the events of 1968. It is of particular interest to me because when I was at Columbia in the early ’80s, I wrote my senior thesis in political science on “The Columbia Riots: Culture in Revolt.” My advisers were Professors Dennis Dalton of Barnard’s political science department and Robert F. Murphy of Columbia’s anthropology department. During my research, I interviewed a number of participants, including faculty members James Shenton, Sidney Morgenbesser, and Wm. Theodore de Bary, whose recent essay has occasioned many of the letters you have received.

I, along with many of your letter writers, share a sense of amazement at how little has changed in the intervening years in the dichotomous views held about the events. (I have my own, and if anyone is interested, I still have three copies of
my thesis and would be glad to send one along.) In fact, this unchanging dichotomy was amazing even in 1985. I still remember Murphy’s disbelief when I related my conversation with de Bary, who maintained that the events were primarily the work of “outside agitators.” “What?!” Murphy exclaimed. “He doesn’t still believe that old canard?”

In any case, I want to draw attention to one item of interest that has been overlooked to date. The back-and-forth about whether or not the Columbia community was primarily supportive of the takeovers, which still provokes mostly polemical argument today, was addressed in scientific fashion by Columbia sociologists Camilla Auger, Allen Barton, and Raymond Maurice in research studies and papers. These sociologists conducted scientific surveys of participants and came to dispassionate conclusions, presented in scholarly articles and at the 1969 American Sociological Association Meeting, which are summarized here:

Students Arrested: 5 percent of the student body; Self-defined participants in the takeovers: 25 percent; Nonparticipants sympathetic to the participants: 31 percent; Actively opposed: 8 percent; Opposed without taking action: 35 percent.

I think it is interesting that these data have largely been forgotten, but the passionate arguments about the issue persist.

Incidentally, my interest in the whole subject may have been started when I was a freshman and an alumna friend gave me two buttons, one which said “SDS” and the other, “STRIKE!!” I eventually wore them on my gown to graduation, and received a cold look from President Sovern as he handed me my diploma.

James Carr ’86CC
Brookline, MA
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UN-becoming

Columbia has reason to be proud of Barack Obama. The same cannot be said of Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann ’62 JRN, president of the United Nations General Assembly (Newsmakers, Fall 2008).

Brockmann has diminished the UN through an extreme bias against the State of Israel. He acted irresponsibly when physically embracing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, immediately following the latter’s virulently anti-Jewish and anti-Israel speech before the General Assembly on September 24.

Since then Brockmann has advocated a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. By this admonition, he has singled out the only democratic government in the Middle East for systematic censure while ignoring the most blatant violations of human rights by other countries in that region.

David E. Narrett ’73CC
Associate professor of history
University of Texas at Arlington
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Paper Chase

Please use recycled paper for your magazine. It is not considered downscale, just enlightened. Until you switch, please do not send me the magazine.

Sarah Wolf ’94SOA

Baltimore, MD

Every few years we look into printing Columbia on recycled paper, but for the time being it isn’t practical. The paper we use now has about 5 to 7 percent postconsumer recycled content; once the level gets to 10 percent, the cost rises and the printing quality diminishes. 

The other problem is that the carbon footprint of recycled Web-offset printing paper is quite high. Taking the ink out of recycled paper uses a great deal of energy, requires caustic bleaching agents, and generates tons of toxic waste from the residue.  

We think it is better to use recycled paper for packaging or other products that do not need to be so white and smooth. —Ed.

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Where’s O?

I always find Columbia compelling reading, and the Summer 2008 issue certainly measured up to standard. I knew previously that Senator John McCain’s daughter is a Columbia alumna and was not surprised by the enjoyable McBlogger piece in College Walk. President-elect Barack Obama is also a Columbia alumnus, but one would hardly know it from the presidential campaign and not at all from any Columbia publication that I have seen.

Frederick M. Schweitzer ’72GSAS
Bronx, NY
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Eggcellent Points

You recently published my letter bemoaning the disappearance of the word of in the expression “a couple of years.” I maintained that this was indefensible in either grammar or logic. A rebuttal appeared in your last issue pointing out that the expression “a dozen eggs” was no more defensible. Touché. I had never thought of that one. So far I haven’t been able to think of another one, either; but that’s not the point. Your correspondent takes you to task for “bothering” to publish a letter griping about grammar, presumably because there are so many other more important subjects you could be dealing with. Touché, again. However, if editors are not going to man the front lines to defend logic in language against constant assault, who will? Not notoriously anarchic authors or after-lengthy-peer-review-delayed linguists. And if languages are to be allowed to metamorphose without challenge, how will we be able to depend on them for logic when we need it? “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’” But Lewis Carroll gave him to us as a figure of fun, not as a mentor.

Vance Weaver ’44CC
Sherman, CT
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Defending Wilson

David Epstein’s letter in your Fall 2008 issue is more than a little unfair to Woodrow Wilson. First of all, it was impossible for the U.S. president to keep his promise to stay out of the war after the Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat, causing the deaths of more than 1000 passengers, among them a number of Americans. How could any leader of a free nation not seek just punishment against a country that had killed innocent people?

Second, Wilson’s attempt “to bring democracy” to the world was misguided and naive, but he was no “pious fraud.” His crusade for the war to end all wars was an article of faith with him. He sincerely believed that its result, democracy, was the best form of government, that under it, people fared better than under any other system, and that, given encouragement, everyone would choose it. What we have learned from bitter experience is that democracy must be chosen freely and won by the people who choose it, not by well-meaning proselytes.

In moments of anger and frustration it is tempting to look for a convenient whipping boy, and Wilson’s honest mistakes make him a perfect target.

Mildred C. Kuner ’56GSAS
Ithaca, NY 
 

 
 
Columbia magazine welcomes your letters to the editor. We may edit letters for style, length, clarity, and factual accuracy. Please include your full name, Columbia affiliation (if you have one), and an e-mail address or a telephone number. Send your letters to: Letters to the Editor, Columbia Magazine, 475 Riverside Drive, MC 7721, New York, NY 10115. You can also send a fax to 212-851-4160 or an e-mail to magazine@columbia.edu.
 
 

Key to Abbreviations: Each of the following school affiliation abbreviations refers to the respective school's current name; for example, GSAS — for Graduate School of Arts and Sciences — is used for alumni of the Graduate Faculties, which became GSAS in 1979. The only code not associated with a particular school is HON, which designates that person the recipient of an honorary degree from the University.

Code
BC
BUS
CC
DM
GS
GSAS
GSAPP
JRN
JTS
KC
LAW
LS
NRS
OPT
PH
PRM
PS
SCE
SEAS
SIPA
SOA
SW
TC
UTS

School
Barnard College
Graduate School of Business
Columbia College
College of Dental Medicine
School of General Studies
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
Graduate School of Journalism
Jewish Theological Seminary
King's College
School of Law
School of Library Service
School of Nursing
School of Optometry
Mailman School of Public Health
School of Pharmaceutical Sciences
College of Physicians and Surgeons
School of Continuing Education
The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
School of International and Public Affairs
School of the Arts
School of Social Work
Teachers College
Union Theological Seminary


 
 
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