Opinion | Mar. 24 10:43 am EST

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.




  1. yea well • March 24, 2012 at 10:56 am • Reply

    Most universities with top professors don’t even teach undergraduate level, if at all. I think it’s amazing that someone of Sach’s caliber even does this and can only really see it happening at a place like Columbia.

    Now that being said, I do agree that he really should not be teaching at the undergrad level, he clearly does not care and I’m very doubtful as to how much we, as undergrad students, are getting out of the experience.

    Overall, I think this debate is the perfect example of the Sustainable Development field: no direction.

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  2. Columbia student • March 24, 2012 at 10:59 am • Reply

    Half of this has nothing to do with Sachs’ campaign for the World Bank presidency.

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  3. Anonymous • March 24, 2012 at 2:03 pm • Reply

    Many of the graduate school professors are at Morningside and teach undergraduate courses at Columbia. Also ungrads have the opportunity to take graduate level courses and use the libraries of all the schools. Sounds like you never heard of a school called Harvard that operates the same way

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    • ET • March 24, 2012 at 2:54 pm • Reply

      Harvard is an excellent institution (duh) that is known for, among other things, not focusing on the education of undergraduates by professors (you can do a Google search for “Harvard undergraduate education” and scroll through the results on the very first page). Columbia, which is not (and will never be) Harvard, has, by virtue of the Core, historically put more emphasis on a) holistic undergraduate education (i.e. not, “I study government so I can take a class at the Kennedy School”) and b) professorial teaching at the undergraduate level. If you think that operating like Harvard’s sufficient, then, sure, that’s your opinion, and that’s fine. But, especially in a year where it’s been made abundantly clear that the relationship between undergraduate education and the larger University is unclear and uncertain, Columbia needs to be viewed/evaluated/discussed as it is. And it is not Harvard.

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      • Anonymous • March 25, 2012 at 11:41 am •

        I am not really sure what your comment means. But, yes, I feel
        Columbia is a much better and more intimate undergraduate college eeperience than Harvard, party due to the emphasis of the college and the core. But, Harvard is still ranked number one in the country for undergraduate education on most lists.

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  4. CU Alum • March 25, 2012 at 10:57 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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    • Mrinal Mohanka STAFF • March 25, 2012 at 11:52 pm • Reply

      You may want to check this: http://spectrum.columbiaspectator.com/spectrum/jeffrey-sachs-overlooked-by-obama

      It came before either of Lanbo’s posts.

      Thank you!

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      • CU Alum • March 26, 2012 at 3:05 pm •

        I’m glad Spectrum didn’t miss the story completely. Still, “What World Bank nominations say about Columbia” is, among other things, that we have two professors worthy of the job. These articles are actually about “What Jeffrey Sachs’s nomination says about Columbia”. That’s a perfectly legitimate subject to write about, but it’s not the one in the headlines.

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