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Vol. 24, No. 20 April 9, 1999

Columbia Establishes Company to Develop Digital Media/Online Learning Site and Programs


Columbia has established a company, Morningside Ventures, Inc. (MV), to create an online learning center to produce and distribute high quality educational resources. The company, which will develop an overall new media strategy for Columbia, will compete in the commercial marketplace for learning and will build strategic alliances with businesses that have significant reach on the Internet, such as search engines, portals, Internet and broadband access points and news information sites.

Ann Kirschner, former vice president of interactive programming and development for the National Football League, has been named MV's President and CEO, and Vikram Nagrani, a former principal at Morgan Stanley, has been named the company's chief operating officer.

This new venture will consider the feasibility of a wide range of innovative education models that would augment traditional, campus-based Columbia education programs and will consider the entire spectrum of academic disciplines from arts and sciences to law and medicine.

In one dimension of this effort, the Graduate School of Business has already reached an agreement with, a start-up company, to provide education material primarily for post-graduate education, probably courses in finance, accounting and marketing. This is a non-exclusive agreement to license intellectual property, the rights to which Columbia will retain.

"Columbia will continue to offer its traditional, campus-based degree programs. Indeed, applications to our undergraduate and graduate schools are at record levels," President George Rupp said. "However, interactive, online, multi-media programs will be among the most important educational developments in the 21st century. We believe it vital that Columbia, both because of its academic strengths and its research in new media technologies, should be a leader in this movement. The content of education, whether on campus or online, is best provided by outstanding colleges and universities."

Provost and Dean of Faculties Jonathan R. Cole added, "The mode of production and consumption of knowledge is undergoing changes no less dramatic than the changes from a pre-industrial to industrial society. Knowledge-access to it and the creation of it-will be the engine that will fuel change in the 21st century. Columbia must lead the development of quality in this domain. We will continue to preserve all that is great in our current research and teaching structure, and develop, through digital media, new ways of enhancing still further that quality. That is what we are trying to do in establishing Morningside Ventures."

Executive Vice Provost Michael Crow, who was instrumental in the creation of Morningside Ventures, explained that the University thought it necessary to create Morningside Ventures as a for-profit company.

"After a thousand years, university-based education is undergoing a fundamental transformation," said Crow. "In addition to the classroom and the textbook, we will have interactive, multi-media learning initiatives on the Internet. Because of the technologies required and the non-traditional revenue streams involved, corporations will play a major role in these new forms of education. We felt we needed a for-profit company to compete effectively and productively."

Said Kirschner, "Columbia is one of the oldest and most intellectually rich universities in the nation, and through these initiatives, we hope to extend and enhance the University's international reputation for academic excellence and to reflect its uniqueness and integrity. "Interactive technologies, such as the Internet and digital television, are creating additional dimensions for learning. The technology, itself, is stimulating the creation of information that is increasingly current, diverse and targeted.

"Although the international marketplace for interactive learning is at the early stage of development, there are already thousands of courses available online. But there is very little in the way of context for these courses. We intend to use the Internet to make connections to a worldwide audience, provide a sense of community, respond to daily event and participate in a dynamic marketplace of ideas."

Kirschner has been involved in the telecommunications and interactive communications business in cable, satellite and online ventures. At the National Football League, she directed the introduction of new programming ventures in emerging technologies such as interactive television, on-line services and electronic publishing. She created some of the most successful sports sites on the Internet, including, and Team NFL on America Online, and she developed strategic partnerships between the NFL and leading programming, technology and distributions companies.

Before joining the NFL, she was a co-founder of PrimeTime 24, a satellite television venture, and was director of new business for Westinghouse/Group W Cable. She received a Ph.D. in English from Princeton, where she was a lecturer in English literature.

Vikram Nagrani was a principal at Morgan Stanley in the institutional equity division, where he advised hedge funds and other institutional fund managers on investment opportunities in listed equities in Asia. He was also responsible for helping to develop Morgan Stanley's emerging markets franchise.