Looking Back and Looking Forward

Schweitzer at Convocation 2021.


Time has flown since I became president of the Columbia College Alumni Association (CCAA) in July 2020. As I near the end of my term, I cannot help but edge toward the philosophical. What in us has surfaced during this extraordinary time in the College’s rich history? What did the pandemic tell us about ourselves as a community and as a place of higher learning? The challenges we faced, though varied and, indeed, formidable, did not negate our shared desire to come together in search of the good. As former dean of students Roger Lehecka ’67, GSAS’74 once rightly said, we might all be flawed individuals forming a flawed corps, yet on balance we remain a force of good. What I like most about our association is the ideal of In lumine Tuo videbimus lumen — that our communal spirit transcends our more selfish pursuits, if only in our best moments.

This particular moment brings a new College leader. We look forward to the continued success of the College under Dean Josef Sorett, who — as a member of the Columbia community since 2009 — is no stranger to College Walk. Dean Sorett is a distinguished scholar and professor in the Departments of Religion, and African American and African Diaspora studies. He is also a devoted teacher of undergraduates; his courses, which include sections in the Core Curriculum, African-American Studies and music, are wildly popular. (At Commencement in May, he received a Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching.) Dean Sorett has only just begun to get to know the alumni community, but from my own interactions with him, I can attest to his warmth, curiosity and intelligence, and his demonstrated devotion to College students. I was one of a small group of alumni who comprised the new dean search committee, and for me, Dean Sorett was the clear choice from the start.

This change in leadership comes on the heels of controversial recommendations made by a University task force that could alter the dean’s role — we believe, to the detriment. The alumni community has been galvanized. In the spring, members of the CCAA Board of Directors met with Board of Trustees leadership about the issue and sent a letter to the full Trustees board. The CCAA representatives were joined by a chorus of other voices, including those of current students through a Columbia College Student Council resolution, advocating for the continued importance of a strong and well-resourced College. However, our work is not over. Thank you to the alumni who have stepped up to register their concern, and who steadfastly support a thriving College and its place at the heart of the University.

As Columbia looks to usher in a new University president in July, I ask that you carry that banner with renewed vigor. My hope is that President Lee C. Bollinger’s successor will also view a vibrant College as a University benefit; and that they will champion the College in both word and deed. A beneficial new president will continue to support a culture of meritocracy, freedom of expression with mutual respect that encompasses all students and belief in scientific inquiry. Indeed, the Core Curriculum exemplifies Columbia’s search not just for knowledge but also for meaning.

Looking back, I have appreciated the generosity of alumni during the last two years, both in terms of volunteer time and resources. Although the economy has been unpredictable, alumni giving continues to be nothing short of remarkable. Thank you.

Looking forward, I encourage alumni to strengthen the College by mentoring or hosting students for dinner, interviewing applicants and coming back for reunion. I particularly hope they reconnect with the College through its intellectual programming in what will be the first full year of in-person events and programming since 2020. I am proud to say that during this academic year, the CCAA will convene a new alumni-faculty committee to foster deeper relationships and communication between College alumni and faculty; I anticipate the offerings will be more robust than ever.

On a personal note, I hope to see many of you (in the flesh!) at Homecoming on Saturday, October 22. My daughter, Claire ’24, with some measure of surprise said, “Dad, wow, my peers come up just to meet you.” Help me make her proud of her old pa and keep tapping my shoulder. It’s been a perk of the job!

Wishing the very best, and please never stop imagining.