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President Bollinger Attends World Economic Forum in Switzerland

By Peter Kobel

Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger attended the World Economic Forum in Davos , Switzerland , in January as did a number of distinguished Columbia faculty members. Bollinger's presence at the Forum underscored the leadership role Columbia plays in addressing the many complex issues that affect global societies today. Attending Davos was also an opportunity to increase the University's connections with the world at large.

Bollinger was joined by Columbia Business School professors such as Charles Calomiris, Eli Noam, Xavier Sala-i-Martin and Joseph Stiglitz. Mary Robinson, newly appointed to the SIPA faculty and the former president of Ireland , also attended.

Bollinger participated in three panels. A noted First Amendment scholar, Bollinger kicked off the workshop "Beyond the Slogans -- Making Real Trade-offs Between Civil Liberties and Security" by offering an historical perspective on the First Amendment. "Freedom of speech is really a 20th-century invention," Bollinger said. "There is no Supreme Court decision interpreting the First Amendment until 1919. It ebbs and flows depending on whether the U.S. feels it's under threat or not." Bollinger said that after the 1950s and the McCarthy era, there has been strong protection for free speech, until recently.

Bollinger discussed the Patriot Act and noted that people were familiar with the current debate surrounding it. He referred to the issues of arresting citizens and holding them indefinitely without access to lawyers or courtrooms. He said this was one of the most dubious actions of the federal government in recent times and would be long-remembered. Bollinger warned that under the Patriot Act the government might have access to library records and that universities might be obligated to turn over these records. While there have been no requests so far, Bollinger said that this represents a cultural shift about freedom of speech.

Nadine Gordimer, the Nobel Prize-winning author from South Africa , noted that her country had only enjoyed the protection of civil liberties for 10 years. "We have to define what we mean by civil liberties," she said. "We must beware of war, as it can legitimately provide reasons for limitations to civil liberties. But terrorism is an undeclared war with no clear end or limit to its scope." While security measures at airports may narrow an individual's liberties, she maintained that they don't really threaten civil liberties.

As president of one of the world's premier research universities, Bollinger also participated in another panel, titled "Are Universities to Blame for the Brain Drain?" The discussion centered on the flow of the best and brightest students from developing countries to colleges and universities in industrialized nations, and the tendency not to return to their native lands. Bollinger was joined by a number of academic leaders from prestigious institutions, including Yale President Richard Levin, Harvard President Lawrence Summers and London School of Business Dean Laura Tyson.

The panel addressed two specific questions: Are universities part of the problem or part of the solution? And what can developing countries do to attract the most promising talent back home? Levin, who moderated the panel, pointed out that the return rates of students varied widely from country to country and from time to time. For example, only 10 percent of Chinese students who graduated from U.S. universities returned to China in 1999 -- when the U.S. economy was booming. More recently, with the Chinese economic expansion, up to 50 percent are going back.

Despite the availability of some statistics, Bollinger said that very little hard data exists on what actually happens to foreign students who come to the United States . There is little data on where they go after they graduate or what happens in their careers. "Some scholarships have as a condition that you must return," Bollinger said, "and there are people who feel that's a problem. By restricting the flow of education and opportunities, you could create enormous frustration. To what extent do you inculcate the value that students should give back and return?"

Dean Tyson said that the benefits of education at the world's great universities return to the developing world, even if the students themselves don't. "The movement of minds creates knowledge," she said, "and knowledge knows no boundaries."

Given Columbia 's deep historical connections with and leadership role in New York City , Bollinger also participated in a panel, "The Global City," led by Dan Doctoroff, New York City 's Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. While the informal session was not specifically about New York , the Big Apple was discussed at length. With its multicultural population, New York typifies a global city.

The panel, which included Guggenheim Director Thomas Krens and Harvard Professor Michael Porter, reached a consensus, Doctoroff said. "To keep New York 's competitive advantage," he said, "it's imperative to create the conditions that will continue to attract talented and creative people. New York needs to invest in its future, in its infrastructure."

"Just as New York is an archetype of the global city," Bollinger said, "I like to think of Columbia as a global university. We have students and faculty here from all over the world, and we have initiatives reaching out to every part of the globe. In addition, Columbia is a partner with the city we call home, and we are committed to its intellectual and cultural life."

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Published: Mar 1, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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