Hall? Like, Cool!
Columbia's cool student center
Is there no
heating system in Lerner Hall? Or is it that despite the Core
Curriculum, Columbia College students speak only like
Of the 16
students interviewed for their reactions to Lerner Hall, four of
them, or 25%, thought it was "cool." One of them thought that the
café is "cool" and the meeting space is "cool." She is in the
Class of '03, and was only in the first month of her freshman year
when interviewed. Perhaps there is still some hope.
Or perhaps it
is my education that is antiquated. If so, I look forward to seeing
Lerner Hall when I am like on the campus for my like 60th Class
Reunion. That would be like cool.
Justin N. Feldman '40, '42L
NEW YORK CITY
your request for reminiscences of favorite professors, I submit the
transcript of an excerpt from a 1954 NBC Radio program. Clifton
Fadiman '25 had a weekly half-hour show entitled
Conversation, each week with a different topic and list of
guests. The transcript tells the rest.
"The Minor Pleasures of
Participants: Clifton Fadiman '25, Bennett Cerf '20, Bergen
Evans, Jacques Barzun '27
Sunday, August 8, 1954
You know, I think every one of us could remember one teacher - this
would be a real pleasure in life - one teacher who influenced our
lives in a major way.
Fadiman: Who was
Well, I would say that mine was a teacher up at Columbia named
Harrison Steeves [Class of 1903]. Do you remember him,
Fadiman: Very well
He taught freshman English, and it was because of his enthusiasm
for good books that I stopped reading sports magazines and trash
and juveniles. I'll never forget Steeves.
never forget Steeves. And this is a tribute to the kind of
influence people like Bergen and Jacques have on youngsters. I
learned one thing from Steeves I think, and not a fact, not a
theory; I learned merely that an English sentence could be both
complicated and clear. He spoke always with the elegance and
perspicuity of sentences, let us say, by Henry James. When he was
halfway through a sentence you felt sure he would never come out
alive at the other end, but always he did it with no dangling
participles, and every word in its proper place. From that moment
on I began to see what a wonderful thing a sentence could be, and
how much you could do with it, and how worthwhile it was to try to
begin it properly and end it properly.
Harrison Ross Steeves was my uncle. After retiring in 1948 as head
of the Columbia College English Department, he moved first to
Windsor, Vt., and then to Providence, R.I. Active as a writer and
teacher nearly to the end, he died in 1981 at age 100. He always
claimed he remembered every one of his students in his 45-year
career at Columbia.
John Steeves '48
In my time,
Columbia provided me with a dazzling lineup of professors and
instructors including Carlton Hayes [Class of 1904], just returned
from being U.S. ambassador to Franco's Spain (history), Irwin Edman
'16, friend of philosopher Santayana (philosophy), and Lionel
Trilling '25, who, with his wife Diana, became internationally
famous essayists/critics. But best of all in my opinion (arrived at
after the event) was Mark Van Doren. He taught a course on English
plays held at the ungodly hour of either 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m.
Whichever it was, it was too early for those of us who had been in
bull sessions until after midnight. (In cold weather, half of us
would show up with our pajama bottoms visible below our
We met in a
small room with only three rows of seats. There were about 20
students but most had a high degree of talent. One was my friend
Ralph Gleason '38. When Ralph and I would put the Spectator
into the hands of the printer across the George Washington Bridge
in New Jersey, we wouldn't get back to the campus until between
3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., at which point Ralph would elect to spend
the rest of the night on the couch in my dorm room rather than go
home to Far Rockaway. Ralph later co-founded the magazine
Rolling Stone, and as San Francisco Chronicle writer
and PBS West Coast jazz authority introduced the entire nation to
the emerging stars of San Francisco jazz that he was discovering on
classmate was Thomas Merton '38, later to become a best-selling
author (Seven Storey Mountain) and a world-respected
religious spokesman. Tom and I shared the opinion that Alfred
Hitchcock was a genius. Who else would present a frozen leg of
mutton as a murder weapon, then thaw it, roast it and feed it to
the investigating police? Tom and I paired up to see each new
Hitchcock film so we could compare notes.
For me, the
high point of Mark Van Doren's course was his discussion of
Romeo and Juliet. I arrived expecting a talk on family
rivalries or the tragedy caused by raging hormones in teenagers.
Instead, Professor Van Doren spent the entire 50 minutes discussing
one minor character, Juliet's nurse. I was stunned. He not only had
us fascinated by the unexpected, but succeeded in teaching us how
rewarding even the minor characters in Shakespeare could
A few weeks
later we were assigned a play called The Merchant of Venice.
Professor Van Doren asked if we had liked it. I was insufferably
cocky on this occasion. I was writing for Spectator and
Jester and the previous year Lionel Trilling had given me an
A for my essay on The Canterbury Tales. I ignored the fact
that I had not read nor even opened The Merchant of Venice.
After all, it was on the list between The Tempest and
School for Scandal, so it must be good. I launched into a
series of generalities that I hoped would hide my ignorance.
Professor Van Doren let me down gently but firmly.
It turned out
that the play's claim to fame was that it was the first play whose
main characters were middle-class rather than the usual nobility. I
was covered with shame.
But he gave
me a good grade, anyway. There is no doubt in my mind that Mark Van
Doren was the instructor who enriched my life the most.
Russ Zeininger '38
As an alumnus
of the College and Law School I can confirm what was noted in
"Letters" and attest to the outstanding quality of the professors
and instructors at Columbia. In response to your note asking for a
reminiscence, let me repeat an experience I can vividly remember
some 50-plus years later.
In my "Trusts
and Estates" course I was called upon to respond to a question from
Professor Powell. After listening to my recitation, Professor
Powell, without any reference and without a moment's hesitation,
noted, "So you disagree with what I wrote on page 187, line 18?"
Needless to say, I was struck dumb!
Arthur Joseph '40, '46L
MONROE TWP., N.J.
Poet of Patmos
thoughtful of you to have sent me copies of Columbia College
Today. And how good of you to devote so many pages to my work.
I have had cheers and congratulations on it from all parts of the
world. And more visitors knock at the door than I know how to
handle! More letters too than I have been able to answer which may
explain why this is so late. Thank you again.
& the warmest of good wishes.
Robert Lax '38
Sha Na Na was formed at Columbia and played at Woodstock. The
festival was honored with the stamp at upper right
'99 CCT noted that - in a single year - the U.S. Postal
Service had issued stamps celebrating no less than four Columbia
College alumni for contributions to American entertainment (Cagney,
Rodgers, Hart, Hammerstein). Amazingly, you're selling Columbia
short. In 1999, the USPS issued a stamp honoring the 1969 Woodstock
Festival. As every schoolboy knows, Sha Na Na, who a few months
earlier had been the Columbia Kingsmen, Columbia's a capella vocal
group, played Woodstock, and was selected for the Oscar-winning
entertainers were part of five American stamps in 1999. The
Woodstock stamp was chosen, by popular vote of the American postal
customers, to appear on the Celebrate the Century Series as one of
15 stamps summing up the 1960s. It's right next to Martin Luther
King and above the Vietnamese War. And Columbia was part of
Sha Na Na
went on to become a standard Fillmore group (Santana started as our
opening act, and Bill Graham picked us for the "Last Concert From
Fillmore East"), launched the 1950s revival, had a gold album,
recorded half the eight times platinum Grease album, and for five
years was one of the top syndicated TV shows worldwide. A detailed
1989 CCT article on the group is posted at www.georgeleonard.com.
George Leonard '67 '68 M.A. '72
REDWOOD CITY, CALIF.
Robert Leonard, '70C '73 M.A. '73 M.Phil. '82 Ph.D.
ROCKVILLE CENTRE, N.Y.
note: George Leonard, founder and choreographer of Sha Na Na, is a
novelist who works with Imagine Entertainment/Universal Pictures
Hollywood. Rob Leonard, now a professor of linguistics at Hofstra
University, was among the original group members, perhaps best
remembered for his spoken solo on "Little Darlin'." On a personal
note, in the late '60s and early '70s, my office at Spectator was
on the third floor of Ferris Booth, down the hall from the
rehearsal room where Sha Na Na took shape, and their unique sound
made those night hours that much more enjoyable.
Correct Answer Is.
to the Homecoming Trivia Quiz in the November 1999 issue give
Augustus Saint-Gaudens as the sculptor of Alma Mater. The sculptor,
as any College tour guide can tell you, was in fact Daniel Chester
Adam Sokol '01
NEW YORK CITY
Note: Tom Ferguson '74 also pointed out this error, and suggested
there may be more than two New York City parks named for College
alumni. In addition to Tompkins Square Park and Seth Low Park, city
parks also have been named for DeWitt Clinton (Class of 1786) and
Joyce Kilmer (Class of 1908).
Theory, the Fates, etc.
the Fates and String Theory, rather wasn't it that the spirit of
the winds blew across the face of the Strings: Melodious Sound.
(Was it a Trilling event?)
Byron Noone '66
GARDEN CITY SOUTH, N.Y.
1999 Columbia Forum "Who Owns Columbia Anyway?" by James Mirollo
noted that in 1978, Dr. John F. Godfrey, president of King's
College in Halifax, Canada, led an attempt to recoup the assets
remaining from King's College in New York. Your readers might like
to know that Dr. Godfrey is safely no longer in academics, having
entered politics. He now sits in the House of Commons as the member
for Don Valley West, where I reside.
Godfrey has been a notable legislator, and his accomplishments in
the areas of innovation are very significant. Fortunately, he also
continued to pursue his earlier interests, showing that he was not
at all frustrated by the experience with Columbia. Bill C-339, the
Godfrey-Millken Bill, was introduced in response to the
Helms-Burton Act in the United States (seizing the property of
those who conduct certain business in Cuba): "An Act to permit
descendants of United Empire Loyalists who fled the land that later
became the United States of America after the 1776 American
Revolution to establish a claim to the property they or their
ancestors owned in the United States that was confiscated without
compensation, and claim compensation for it in the Canadian courts,
and to exclude from Canada any foreign person trafficking in such
are available at www.johngodfrey.on.ca. The Bill
has not yet been passed but he has my full support, as he did in
his previous attempt to correct the injustice noted by Professor
Ronald Kluger '65