December 12, 2007

 Statement for the Record to the New York City Council
Joint Hearing of the Land Use Subcommittees on
Zoning & Franchises and Planning, Dispositions & Concessions

Chairman Avella, Chairman Garodnick, Chairwoman Katz, Members of the Committees, and our own Council Members Dickens, Jackson, and Martinez: My name is Lee Bollinger. I am President of Columbia University, and I want to begin by thanking you for taking time to consider Columbia’s long-term plan to ensure that Upper Manhattan remains a flourishing center of teaching and research, scholarship and patient care – doing so, all the while, in concert with our neighbors in West Harlem.

I am pleased to be accompanied this morning by Maxine Griffith, Executive Vice President for Government and Community Relations, a onetime member of both the City Planning Commission and of Columbia’s urban planning faculty, who will give a brief presentation of the proposal; and by Robert Kasdin, Senior Executive Vice President, who will help us respond to your questions.

We take very seriously the fact that our full and official name is Columbia University in the City of New York. Our identity has always been defined by the City that has been our home ever since the College’s founding more than 250 years ago just a few steps down Broadway from here in the schoolhouse at Trinity Church. We are what we are because of New York. And we take special pride in all that Columbians have contributed to the vitality and leadership of this City. 

In the hundred years from its inception, Columbia would relocate twice more: First, it was to Park Place and next to 49th Street and Madison. Then, in the 1890s, a momentous decision was reached to move what was then only a small college uptown to eighteen acres on Morningside Heights. In later decades our medical center was built in Washington Heights. This occurred at the start of the era in which American universities grew to become engines of creativity that brought enormous societal benefits, ranging from cures to disease to economic innovation to social justice and equal rights.

By the 1930s and 40s, Columbia was providing the brain trust for FDR’s New Deal while helping to develop radar and split the atom, with Nobel Prizes as much a Fall rite for our physics department as Yankee pennants were for former College student Lou Gehrig. It was at this time that Columbia also became a place where young people of modest means could come from across the five boroughs by bus or subway to better their lives through education. In the decades that followed an array of extraordinary young New Yorkers and others came to Morningside Heights – among them the Beat writers, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Barack Obama, New York Supreme Court Justice Rolando Acosta, and State Lieutenant Governor David Paterson.

Some of us came from across the country, as I did almost forty years ago to attend the Law School known for its leadership in human rights. Among the School’s distinguished alumnae was Constance Baker Motley, who after graduating went on to become Manhattan Borough President and the first African American woman to serve as a federal judge, right here in the Southern District. 

Now we attract students not only from across our City and country, but also from around the world. We are today the second most international university in the United States, in terms of the absolute number of international students. Our undergraduate college also proudly ranks as one of the most socio-economically diverse among our peers, in significant part because of our firm commitment to provide financial aid that affords young people the opportunity to benefit from a Columbia education, regardless of their wealth or family income.

While our faculty and staff at Harlem Hospital conduct pioneering research on asthma and heart disease, our Mailman School has been a leader in maternal and child health in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

While our Law School is a center for international human rights and gender rights, our students work in community legal clinics helping to assert the rights of tenants and defend the liberties of those wrongfully accused, as I myself once did in a Legal Aid Clinic in the South Bronx.

While our Business School is training the leaders of Wall Street, it also has an admired program in social entrepreneurship as well as partnerships with respected community groups such as Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone (which also collaborates with our uptown medical center).

While our Nobel Prize-winning economists consider the pressing issues of global trade, labor, and monetary policy, we are working in a direct way on globalization’s impact on U.N. Millennium villages in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and other developing countries, as well as in New York’s own immigrant neighborhoods.

While our Medical Center has announced pioneering breakthroughs in the past few months on such areas as the genetic origins of breast cancer, the surprising role of bones in diabetes, and the risks of overusing medical scans, we also bring CUNY undergraduates from underrepresented groups in the sciences into our labs each summer to participate in this research.

While our Earth Institute researchers are responsible for some of the most important breakthroughs in climate science over the past two decades, they are today serving as advisors to Mayor Bloomberg’s new Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability (whose director, Rohit Aggarwala, has four degrees from Columbia and is the principle author of plaNYC 2030).

While our engineers are working on applications of nano-technology that promise to lead to the creation of individualized drug therapies, our engineering school is partnering with a dozen upper Manhattan public schools, as well as with community groups, to enhance math, science, and technology education in our community. This is part of the University’s larger commitment to a public high school for math, science, and engineering, which opened this fall, and will, we hope, one day be located on land we donated in Manhattanville.

Ultimately, the questions we now face are: Whether in the century ahead New York will remain a global capital not only of business and finance but also of intellectual, technical, and scientific discovery; and also whether this will be a City that continues to provide the kind of good, moderate-income jobs for a diversity of people seeking to improve their lives. I hope you will agree that having great universities that are a steady source of both good jobs and great minds is one part of what it will mean for New York to remain such a unique and remarkable place in our nation and our world.

Today, Columbia has only a fraction of the space enjoyed by our leading peers across the country. Our current classrooms and laboratories are woefully inadequate for the new combinations of knowledge that will be essential for attracting talent capable of solving the great scientific challenges of this century.

We believe the campus we hope to build in Manhattanville will respond to these challenges. This will include teams of scientists (two of whom are Noble Prize winners) in our new Mind, Brain, and Behavior Institute in the Jerome L. Greene Science Center. Not only will their research have profound implications for the treatment of mood disorders and brain illness, it will also help us understand the mental processes that permit us to write a novel, paint a masterpiece, patent an invention or lead a business.

In our efforts to plan and build for this future, we will create 6,000 new University jobs for a wide range of experience and education levels, along with an average of 1,200 construction jobs a year for the next twenty-two years; and we have made a strong commitment to hiring minority-, women-, and locally-owned contracting businesses.

We have also committed to take a series of further steps to address local concerns about affordable housing, an issue that affects our entire City and region. In addition to providing $20 million in seed capital for a revolving loan fund to create and preserve over a thousand units of affordable housing within Community District 9, we are dedicated to addressing the projected housing needs of University employees that may result from the new jobs we create in the area.

With more than 14,000 faculty and staff today, Columbia ranks as New York City’s seventh largest non-governmental employer. More than 10,000 of these employees live in the five boroughs, representing more than two-thirds of our workforce. Nearly 30% of our 8,600 administrative and support staff live in Upper Manhattan alone. Then there are our alumni, approximately 65,000 of whom live in New York City today.

Columbia is a New York institution. This is our home. This is where we want to be. I am so pleased this project is in the middle of Congressman Charles Rangel’s district and he supports the project. We hope to honor his and others’ trust by advancing this community with whom we have lived for over a hundred years; for whom we feel an ever greater sense of responsibility; and from whom we have gained so much in our effort to serve our City, nation, and world.

After four years and hundreds of meetings with elected officials, civic leaders, clergy, community board members, as well as with our own faculty and students, I am pleased to report we have established a broadly shared vision for a shared future that will bring Columbia and Harlem closer together to improve our communities.

It is in this spirit that I ask for your support in approving the University’s rezoning proposal, as modified last month by the City Planning Commission. Thank you again for your time and consideration.

It is now my pleasure to introduce Maxine Griffith, Executive Vice President of Government and Community Affairs, who will walk you through a more detailed overview of the proposal.


Lee C. Bollinger