PrezBo on politics, college rankings, and dean searches
University President Lee Bollinger loves to talk about Manhattanville and globalization—a fact he acknolwedged in an interview last week with Spectator.
But he also dished on why college rankings (kinda) matter, what he’s looking for in the new dean for SEAS, and which presidential candidate’s candidates policies would be better from an academic standpoint. Some highlights from the interview:
- There’s a presidential election a month away, in case you didn’t know, and while Bollinger would not express his personal views on the election, he said he thought that the policies of Democrat Barack Obama, CC ’83, were generally more supportive of student loans, funding for research, affirmative action, and other issues in academia and education administration than those of his Republican opponent Mitt Romney.
The leeway that the Department of Education and Department of Justice granted admissions offices last December with regard to the educational benefits of diversity is something that “you would not expect to come out of the Romney administration,” Bollinger said.
- Many people are skeptical of college rankings, Bollinger included. But he said that it is important that all of Columbia’s schools are in the top 10 in the country. “I think these are crude ways of saying something that’s pretty deep and profound,” Bollinger said. “You do not want to run your institution according to what U.S. News and World Reports says.
On the other hand, there are aspects of that ranking system that should be relevant to you. At the end of the day, you are making a qualitative kind of judgment that you want to do based on your broad and deep knowledge of the quality of teaching, the quality of work at competitive schools.”
- Bollinger said that the search for a permanent dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Scienceis well on its way after the committee was formed earlier this month. He pointed out that SEAS has been steadily climbing national rankings over the past decade, and said, “We really need a dean who will embrace that mission of steady improvement of the school. … It’s never going to be on the scale of an Illinois or a Berkeley or a Michigan sort of engineering with 200, 250 faculty. It’s never going to be that big. So we have to select within the array of subfields within engineering and applied science where we’re going to be great. And you want somebody who understands that and can do that in those areas.”
- A faculty revolt pushed former dean Feniosky Peña-Mora out this summer, and Bollinger said he wants the new dean to start off on the right foot. “We’re looking for the school to feel that it has really invested itself in its new dean and that the relations, right from the start, will be strong and positive. The faculty is ready for a new leader,” he said. “They feel strongly that they have a very positive, bright future. They want change and that’s great.”
- Bollinger acknowledged that his vision of having every student studying in an academic environment in another countryis not easily attainable, considering the restrictions of the Core Curriculum and major requirements. He said he was open to allowing students to take some Core classes overseas. He also supported loosening the language prequisite for studying abroad, saying, “Learning another language or more is really a valuable thing to do in life, but if we make that a precondition for experiencing the world in an academic way it will be far too inhibiting of the academic mission that we should be pursuing at this point in time.”
- Bollinger also explained his theory of globalization: “The world has changed remarkably just in the last decade and the interdependence is of an historic magnitude. If you just look at things like in the last five years, two-thirds of the growth in the world’s economy has come from emerging markets, and one-half of that has come from China alone. … Just that simple statement seems to me to make it imperative that we know more about China and about the emerging economies.” Besides the economy, Bollinger listed human rights and environmental issues like climate change and water access as important global topics that students should be pursuing more in their studies.
- Provost John Coatsworth and Chief Digital Officer Sree Sreenivasan are overseeing a report due by December on what online education should be at Columbia. The first priority of the report, Bollinger said, is “how online can help improve what we do here already,” and the second is offering courses and degrees to the broader world. “I like the idea of focusing internally first before one says, ‘Let’s educate the world.’”
- Progress on the Mind, Brain and Behavior Initiative, which will pursue interdisciplinary study of neuroscience in Manhattanville’s Jerome L. Greene Science Center, has been “stunningly successful,” according to Bollinger. “We’re in the process of hiring multiple people and bringing them in from other parts of the University.” Above-ground construction of the science center began this summer and it will be one of the first buildings to open in 2015.
- Columbia received $15 million from the city this summer to support the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering. The revised plan the city signed off on did not specifically designate any space for the institute in Manhattanville, but instead set aside space in the Northwest Corner Building and the Medical Campus’s Audubon Building. Bollinger said that SEAS is “quite a ways away” from having the funding to occupy any buildings in Manhattanvile, as it might have done if Columbia had received the competition’s first prize of $100 million.
- The search committee for the new dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, which is chaired by Bollinger, had already met once and the President’s office will send out a list of committee members later this week. “We’ve made very strong efforts to try to build up SIPA,” Bollinger said, emphasizing that the school is at an important juncture. The Trustees voted to make the school independent of the Arts and Sciences. Like so many other parts of the University, SIPA suffers from intense space problems, but Bollinger characterized the school’s ability to raise the approximately $400 million necessary for the move to Manhattanville as a “long shot.” SIPA has not begun fundraising for Manhattanville because it has been focusing on its own capital campaign.
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