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Restoring the Sundial

I was glad to see in your January issue a reference to the missing sundial on the circular marble base opposite Alma Mater on College Walk. A few years ago, I wrote a letter pointing out the same gap in the decoration of our main campus and suggested that replacing the large, green sphere in its proper place would be an admirable gift for a class or a donor with an esthetic soul. The cost would be small compared to almost any other suitable offering. There was no echo to my plea until now, and that thoughtful word ought not to go unheard again.

Jacques Barzun ’27


Columbia Connections

I received the most recent edition of CCT and as usual I was drawn into the College again. If we have one failing as alumni, it is our lack of response to the needs of alma mater. The newly revised class agent program for the College Fund is a start in the right direction. One of the other elements in connecting the alumni to the College is obviously CCT. You are doing a great job.

David Victor ’64

CPU, From A to …

I was pleased to learn from your May 2002 issue that the Columbia Political Union has presented speakers that cover the political spectrum from A to B. The political figures on your cover run the gamut from the left-leaning Ralph Nader, through Democratic notables Al Gore, Hillary Clinton and Robert Rubin, and on to John McCain, who has alienated much of his party by seeming to vote more often with the Democrats, not to mention Israel’s eternal left wing peacenik Shimon Peres. Your article showed that the speakers omitted from cover treatment were Democrats Bill Bradley and Paul Wellstone, not to mention that the “brains” behind CPU’s revival is now working for Democrat Joe Biden. It was also gratifying to learn that the CPU’s revival has coincided with other campus organizations hiring Democrats George Stephanopoulos ’82, David Dinkins and George Mitchell. It’s hard to figure how Arianna Huffington got invited, but then again, she was asked to speak on campaign finance reform — the one issue on which she has aligned herself with the left.

It’s gratifying to know that our undergrads are being exposed to such varied political views.

Michael Hertzberg ’60

[Editor’s note: Photos of campus appearances by other CPU invitees who extend the spectrum beyond B, such as Steve Forbes, Dinesh D’Souza, M. Stanton Evans and Reginald Jones, were unavailable. In retrospect, perhaps we should have run stock photos of them to better reflect the non-partisan objectives of the CPU. But as a Columbia magazine, we chose to run photos that showed prominent politicians speaking on the Columbia campus, which has been one of the CPU’s achievements. The subject of the article was the CPU, not the specific speakers.]

The article regarding the Columbia Political Union mistakenly asserts that the CPU was founded during a bus trip to New Hampshire in 2000. In fact, the CPU was admitted as a new student group under our leadership in the spring of 1997. Our initial efforts focused on building trust between the Republicans and Democrats through such events as joint viewing of presidential addresses. The CPU was not anyone’s “brainchild” but rather was modeled after the Yale and Oxford political unions. While the subsequent leadership of the CPU deserves tremendous credit for taking the organization to the next level by hosting many high profile speakers, we hope that they have not forgotten the hard work of those who brought the union into existence.

George Demos ’99
Jordan Konig ’98
Daniel Fisher ’99

Thank you for your excellent article documenting the rise of the Columbia Political Union. It was wonderful to see the contributions of so many Columbia students recognized for the success of their collective effort.

No single group of people can take credit for the CPU’s explosion on campus. Countless students from a whole slew of backgounds made invaluable contributions to the organization. Conservatives, Democrats, Greens, Republicans and Socialists represent just the tip of the iceberg; student government representatives, the Office of Public Affairs, the Spectator, Earl Hall, and a range of other groups played integral roles.

The re-emergence of political activity on campus is the result of years of work. A great deal of the organization’s framework was developed well before the 2000 election cycle, and the contributions of students who played a role in the CPU’s formal incorporation in 1997 deserve recognition for their crucial role. Their work started the chain reaction that has grown into something larger than what anyone could have imagined.

I am tremendously impressed with what more the Union has contributed since my class graduated a year ago. And more than anything, I’m sure that alumni from the range of classes that worked to make the CPU what it is today look forward to what what it promises to become.

Mark Dunkelman ’01

Columbia Athletics

Richard Kuhn’s letter on Columbia basketball (May 2002) was on the mark. Even more telling was AD [John A.] Reeves’ response that unintentionally revealed the true source of the problem with Columbia athletics: There is no commitment on the part of the administration to win or even to be competitive. I humbly submit that no other Ivy would tolerate [men’s basketball coach Armond] Hill’s record, especially this year, where he led a team that was picked to challenge for the title to a sixth place finish. The prospects for next year’s team are equally dismal. On a related note, football coach Ray Tellier recorded his fifth consecutive losing
season, accomplished when historical
excuses no longer apply. The prospects for next year’s football team are equally bleak. What other Ivy would suffer this?

It is hoped that our new president will be committed to athletic success. To demonstrate this, he needs to quickly move and make sweeping changes in the coaching and athletic administration ranks. Unless he does so, nothing will change. We will continue to endure annual football humiliations (please recall last season’s debacles at the hands of Harvard, Princeton, Penn and Fordham). In addition, many of our key Ivy basketball matches at home will continue to feel like away games (Princeton and Penn fans routinely outnumber Lion fans at Levien).

Athletic excellence will make for a more enjoyable undergraduate experience and generate a more generous and engaged alumni base. This also will undoubtedly improve Columbia’s standing in the annual college beauty contests that are so important to the administration.
No other Ivy school fears athletic excellence. Why do we? Let’s risk the dangers of fielding winning athletic teams. We can win without compromising our well-deserved reputation for academic excellence. And it would be fun, too!

Peter N. Stevens ’70 ’73L

I find Director of Athletics Reeves’ defense of men’s basketball coach Hill (May 2002) rather disconcerting. Reeves cites the team’s improvement over seven-year intervals; is improving from a .308 winning percentage to .376 really something to be proud of over such a long span? Over one year, perhaps, but seven? It’s still a crummy record, and we could hardly have become any worse than we were before. Reeves cites the improvement of RPI from 298 to 214; sports fans know that one of the bases for the RPI is the quality of the team’s opponents. In other words, we’re being beaten by lousy teams now, instead of really lousy teams.

If the director of athletics believes that losing 62 percent of your games is acceptable, perhaps it is not just the coach who needs to be replaced.

David Yuro ’80

We agree with Richard Kuhn’s letter (May 2002) questioning the continued tenure of Armond Hill as basketball coach. Whether or not one thinks that intercollegiate athletics are important, the University’s teams, particularly football and basketball, are part of the public face of the University, and the image of Columbia in this regard has not been an attractive one. Our basketball team has had nine straight losing seasons and our football team has had only three winning seasons in the last 30 years — 1971, 1994 and 1996. The last (and only) Ivy League title for our football team was in 1961 (shared) and our last basketball championship was in 1968. In the environment of Ivy League athletics, one should expect to see a competitive balance, with the records of all eight schools being fairly even over the long haul. But instead, Columbia has been the doormat of the Ivy League for decades, and there is no reason to believe that any change is in store. This was not always the case. Fifty years ago, the Columbia football team had a cumulative record above .500, and through 1968 Columbia had won or shared 15 Ivy League basketball championships while Penn had won 15 and Princeton 17. (League records are kept from 1902 even though the official beginning was 1956.)

Though some might wonder about the degree of interest among students and alumni for our athletic programs, we believe that support would be evident if our teams were winning on a regular basis. Constant losing is not fun! Stanford and Duke have sacrificed none of their academic luster because of their achievements on the playing fields. Their accomplishments have fostered pride in their students and alumni. However, our goal should not be to produce national champions, but to do well amongst our peers in the Ivy League. If we are going to field athletic teams, why can’t we be competitive in the major sports? Why aren’t Columbia’s coaches held accountable when they consistently have losing records?

A major part of a coach’s duties is to teach his or her charges how to play well as individuals and function well together as a team. Recruiting talented players that he or she can meld into a team also is important and having a hot product to sell to high school players can help considerably with recruiting. (Over the last five years, Columbia has been an extremely hot school, so it should not have been difficult to recruit premium players.) Backing from the University administration, the athletic office and alumni also is helpful in recruiting, but the main impetus must come from the coach and his or her staff. If a coach is successful as a teacher and recruiter, this translates into his or her team having a winning record, so it is easy to tell who is successful and who has failed.

In reaffirming his support for coach Hill, Reeves stated that in the seven years prior to Hill’s hiring as coach, Columbia’s basketball record was 56–126, and in the seven years under coach Hill the record “improved” to 70–116. To think that our athletic director expressed satisfaction with seven additional years of losing because the winning percentage was slightly better than in previous years is astounding. Is there another major university in the country that would have accepted and praised this type of performance?

We hold our faculty to high standards and demand their success in the classroom and in their individual disciplines, always in the pursuit of excellence. Shouldn’t we expect the same from our coaches and the athletic department who represent Columbia in the public arena? If we’re going to do something, shouldn’t it be done well?

Robert A. Levine ’58
Peter F. Cohn ’58


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