Opinion | Mar. 23 9:50 pm EST
Jim Yong Kim

What World Bank nominations say about Columbia—Part I


The search for the next president of the World Bank would normally fall outside of Spectator’s purview. The Bank’s headquarters are located in Washington, D.C., not Morningside Heights. The department of economics probably spends a lot of time disagreeing about how effectively its loans reduce poverty in the developing world—while that might make for an entertaining office dynamic on the 10th floor of IAB, there is little else that might concern the average Columbia undergraduate.

But on March 1, Jeffrey Sachs nominated himself for the position. Today, President Obama nominated Dartmouth College President Jim Yong Kim instead. Hours after news broke, Sachs withdrew his candidacy to throw his support behind Kim.

Knee-jerk reactions about Obama’s constant ploy to spite Columbia aside, much of the coverage I have seen in national and international media has brought two genuine and Columbia-relevant concerns to mind.

1. Administrator personalities.
2. How we should think of Jeffrey Sachs?


In the rush to know more about Jim Yong Kim since President Obama’s announcement today, the world’s press seems to have picked up on a video of him as a rapping spaceman. All else about the man aside, I want to focus on this episode of his nomination.

In a March 21 staff editorial, Spectator’s editorial board called on administrators to show leadership. The editorial pointed to administrative failures following both the NYPD surveillance scandal and in dealing with campus rivalry following Obama’s announcement to speak at Barnard’s commencement. These are only particular incidents. The larger issue that the editorial board points to is the general lack of leadership—a term which should be left deliberately vague.

There is no definite set of qualities that defines a good administrator. I know very little about Kim. A friend at Dartmouth says that he is extremely popular among the students. I know that he was called out in an opinion column from The Dartmouth for allegedly turning a blind eye to fraternity hazing, and just about all that I know about his personality comes from a video of him covering will.i.am. I cannot comment on his politics regarding Dartmouth’s Greek life, but I did see him rap. At the very least, he shows a charisma that many Columbia administrators sorely lack.

A handful of Columbia’s administrators do share this charm. For example, SEAS dean, Feniosky Pena-Mora and interim CC dean, James Valentini have both shown an ability to connect with students. Yet, faculty dissatisfaction with both deans—in Pena-Mora’s case a very public letter of no confidence, in Valentini’s case a more muttered dissatisfaction with his lack of familiarity with the Core Curriculum—show that there is more to being a good administrator. But there is substantial value in charm, and most Columbia administrators tend to forget that.

I am not asking PrezBo and DSpar to perform a joint DJ set at Bacchanal. That would probably be as embarrassing for them as it would be painful for us. However, Kim’s willingness to suit up as a spaceman should give them something to think about.

Lanbo Zhang is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in economics-philosophy and history. He is a Spectator editorial page editor.

Check back tomorrow for his thoughts on Jeffrey Sachs’ failed run at the World Bank leadership.




  1. ET • March 24, 2012 at 1:27 am • Reply

    I believe Conan O’Brien referred to Dartmouth’s President as “Stinky Pete” while addressing the college’s graduating seniors at their Commencement last year. So, there’s that. There’s always that.

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  2. CU Alum • March 25, 2012 at 10:56 pm • Reply

    Jose Ocampo, a professor at SIPA who used to be Colombia’s Minister of Finance, has also been nominated. With two stories about “What World Bank nominations say about Columbia”, this really should have been mentioned at least once.

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