What World Bank nominations say about Columbia—part II
Yesterday, I wrote about the international media’s interest in Jim Yong Kim, Dartmouth College president and Obama’s nominee for World Bank president.
Today, I want to comment on Jeffrey Sachs’ unconventionally public campaign for the World Bank presidency.
Just to recap:
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?
We are privileged to have a number of high profile, publicly active professors. This concern is relevant to them all—Joseph Stiglitz, Judith Butler, Brian Greene, Richard Axel, and Kenneth Jackson to name a few—though not necessarily in equal measure.
Over the past weeks, Spectator’s editorial page has seen a significant amount of content concerned with the role of Columbia College in the larger University and the inevitable link this has with faculty priorities. These opinion submissions continue a conversation that has been going on since Michele Moody-Adams resigned as dean of Columbia College in August. In October, American studies professor Andrew Delbanco berated the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ treatment of Columbia College in a highly public speech. Earlier this week, the Society of Senior Scholars hosted the first session of its open forum, Keys to the Core, also seeking to foster dialogue on the shrinking role of the Columbia College faculty. (I sat on this panel as a discussant.)
Proponents of a more prominent Columbia College can be justifiably concerned by Sachs’ self-nomination for president of the World Bank. It highlights the University’s emphasis on high-profile professors such as Sachs, an emphasis which has come at a cost to Columbia College’s mission of providing one of the finest liberal arts educations in the world.
I am not suggesting that the University should turn its back on faculty like Sachs. There is no question that Sachs’ presence benefits the University overall. But Columbia cannot function with professors like Sachs alone. He teaches one undergraduate lecture, Challenges of Sustainable Development, and I am taking it. To say that Sachs teaches the class, though, is misleading. Roughly half of the lectures are given by his head TA. When Sachs lectures, he does it over Skype half the time. He has no standing office hours and does not provide a regular channel for students to talk to him.
I cannot speak to how effectively Sachs performs his other academic roles, but the University cannot expect to run a sustainable undergraduate program on his model. Having professors like Sachs on the faculty is immensely productive and Columbia should continue to seek out this caliber of scholarship. However, having prominent, prolific faculty like Sachs does not need to come at the expense of a faculty that is more focused on undergraduate teaching. Sachs serves many admirable roles, but teacher is not one of them and we should not pretend that it is.
Lanbo Zhang is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in economics-philosophy and history. He is a Spectator editorial page editor.
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