Take Five with Carlton Long ’84

Carlton Long
Carlton Long ’84 D.Min. is a former Rhodes Scholar and an international educational consultant who was trained in practical theology at the Morehouse School of Religion in Atlanta and in political science at University of Oxford. His areas of expertise include affirmative action, free speech, comparative policymaking, elite boarding schools, the social construction of “race,” and the use of language, vernacular and rhetoric in Britain and the United States. He was a member of the faculty of political science and international affairs at the College from 1990 to 1996. Long was named a Chamberlain Fellow as a result of his long-term commitment to teaching the Core Curriculum (“Contemporary Western Civilization”) and was nominated for the College’s Mark Van Doren Award for Teaching in 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1994.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I was a mid-year transfer, having already done two and a half years at a liberal arts college in the Midwest. So I was keenly aware of my age and desperate to have this college “work out.” I was slightly into vintage clothing, so I wore a large grey overcoat, which had previously been owned, no doubt, by a man in his 40s or 50s, or a 20-something in the ’40s or ’50s. I was serious about having a successful experience and I was slightly afraid. I knew only one person in New York at the time, an old communications and theatre professor from my old college (she had let me house-sit her place during my transfer interview).

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I was eager to make friends, so I was especially pleased that I’d been placed in Furnald with the juniors and seniors. I’d never lived on a co-ed floor and thought it was cool that in our shared bathrooms they’d turned the urinals into planters. I was ready to give college my all. I felt that I’d been given a second chance to be 100 percent serious academically, and I didn’t want to blow it.

I remember how bright, but unpretentious, the students were. They were mostly self-effacing and all seemed to have confidence in their abilities to think critically and to take unpopular positions. I’d transferred from a very preppy college setting where over 90 percent of the students were in a fraternity or sorority. It was refreshing for me to see students who didn’t have to wear monogrammed sweaters, penny loafers, Izod, Polo and any or all things plaid/madras. The individuality of expression and especially the unpredictable clothing that I saw all around me animated me greatly and assured me that I’d definitely made the right choice. Most notably of all, I wrote back to one of my best friends who had also transferred from my old college: “The graffiti in the bathrooms here is much smarter.”

What class do you most remember and why?

The Core classes knocked my socks off, and of these Yael Even GSAS’84’s Art Hum course is a neck-to-neck tie with David Damrosch’s Lit Hum. class. In both instances, I felt as though I could spend my entire college career taking course after course from these professors. They challenged my mind, heart and soul. I loved being in their presence and found myself transformed as a result of having been their students. The subject matter mesmerized me and made me want to luxuriate in the humanities. I still remember some of their lessons (e.g., detail in Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, grandeur in the Cathedral of Amiens and Odysseus as “Outis,” or “Nobody”).

Did you have a favorite spot on campus and what did you like about it?

The Steps, near Alma Mater. I spent many a spring and summer night sitting there philosophizing and staring out at the well-lit Homer-Herodotus-Sophocles-Demosthenes graffiti above Butler Library with a great friend like Tom Goehring ’85 or Dave Gerber ’84 or Paul Foglino ’84, SEAS’85 to my left and a cold Michelob to my right. (I don’t think we were supposed to have those, at least on public display, but no one seemed to enforce spring or summertime beerlessness very much).

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I’d do all four years there, starting from freshman year, rather than jumping in — during the heart of winter — as a mid-year transfer student beginning his junior year (again). I would change nothing. I would just add more to the tapestry of my College experience. It was brilliant and for it I am forever grateful.