A Columbia "Top 10" List
By Brian Krisberg ’81
First Vice President, Columbia College Alumni Association
“… to undertake a systematic and detailed analysis
of the opportunities facing the College, with the mission of proposing
a course of action to achieve our basic goal that Columbia College
be, and be recognized as, the preeminent undergraduate college in
any major university in America … ”
So wrote Martin Kaplan ’61 in fall 1991 as he proposed the
formation of what came to be known as the Committee on the Future
of Columbia College. Twenty months later, in spring 1993, the 22-person
committee published a 55-page document, Report on the Future
of Columbia College.
The report is a remarkable document. It provided a framework for
College and University administrators, faculty and alumni to analyze
opportunities facing the College and explore methods by which the
College might attain its potential. The report contained a series
of recommendations, each relating to a different issue central to
the College’s future.
Recently, I perused the report and noticed how many of its themes
and recommendations have been implemented in the intervening years.
Some of the report’s objectives have been greatly exceeded.
Other goals and policies noted in the report have been preserved
through challenging times. What becomes clear is that the report
was a prescient and insightful document that helped to shape the
College as we know it today.
As I reviewed the report, I wrote a Columbia “Top 10”
list of major developments from the past 12 years at the College
and their relationship to the report. The list is personal and not
in order of importance. (And don’t worry; it’s not a
dry recitation of the text of the report!) The list demonstrates
that everyone associated with the College during this period —
students, alumni, administrators, faculty and parents — has
much to be proud of.
Any list of recent accomplishments must start with the construction
of the student center, Alfred Lerner Hall, and its Roone Arledge
Auditorium. While its design has critics, the key point is that
the new structure greatly exceeded the report’s vision of
a “renovated and expanded” Ferris Booth Hall.
Second is the transformation of two key College buildings. The
College Library has expanded from the southeast corner of Butler
to virtually the entire main floor, thanks to the generosity of
Philip Milstein ’71, a committee member. Again, the Milstein
Family College Library surpasses the report’s call for the
creation of a College library “of significant quality.”
An equally impressive renovation has taken place in Hamilton Hall,
the College’s headquarters, which features state-of-the-art
classrooms; attractive, functional offices; and an impressive lobby
highlighted by two beautiful, century-old stained glass windows
that had been gathering dust in storage crates for years. As the
College’s signature building, it is fitting that Hamilton
has been so wonderfully restored.
Third is the dramatic growth and improvement in alumni relations.
The College’s alumni relations effort is among the strongest,
if not the strongest, in the University’s 16 schools.
Several noteworthy developments in recent years, which the report
called for, include the encouragement of alumni groups geared toward
women and minorities and the more frequent publication of this excellent
magazine, Columbia College Today. This could not have been
accomplished without the efforts of a strengthened Alumni Office
headed by Dean of Alumni Affairs and Development Derek Wittner ’65,
ably supported by Executive Director of the Columbia College Fund
Susan Birnbaum, Executive Director of Alumni Affairs Ken Catandella,
Director of Communications and CCT Editor Alex Sachare ’71
and their hard-working staffs.
Fourth is the College’s success in preserving the integrity
of the Core Curriculum, which the report identified as having a
“central role in the academic life and institutional history
of the College.” Loyalty to the Core is evidenced by endowed
Core teaching chairs (funded by alumni) and the commitment to the
new Science Core course.
Fifth is the emergence of a thriving arts community. Be it majors
in visual arts or dance, student theatre and dance groups taking
advantage of the Lerner Black Box Theatre or the “Passport
to New York” program (which entitles students to visit museums
for free), the College’s arts offerings have clearly grown
from what many alumni of my vintage recall.
Sixth is the College’s commitment to being a fully residential
community. Work clearly remains to be done in this area to achieve
the report’s goal of all students sharing “a comparable
and better quality of residence life.” Yet the construction
of the Broadway Residence Hall and upgrades to other dormitories
(including River and Wien) demonstrate that significant gains have
been made in this area.
Seventh is the realization that quality of athletics and athletics
facilities is an important component of a healthy campus community.
Again, while work remains to be done, a cultural change appears
to be on the horizon. President Lee C. Bollinger’s decision
to have new Athletics Director M. Dianne Murphy report directly
to him, a change from prior administrations, demonstrates that he
is willing to be held accountable for Columbia’s ability to
compete in athletics.
Eighth is the continuation of the College’s full-need financial
aid policy, which the report cited as a cornerstone that must be
continued when any expansion of the College is considered. The College
has expanded from 3,400 students in 1991 to 4,200 today, and full-need
financial aid has survived the University’s recent financial
constraints. A cautionary point to note is the different competitive
financial aid environment that the College operates in today, where
peer schools are providing larger grants and requiring smaller student
loans, or no loans at all. This represents a challenge that the
College will need to address in the immediate future.
Ninth is the tremendous increase in the College’s applicant
pool and selectivity. The growth of the dedicated Admissions Office
staff, equipped with improved communications about what distinguishes
the College from peer schools, has enabled the College not only
to attract far more candidates than a decade ago, but also to recruit
top candidates more effectively.
Tenth on my list is leadership. In 1993, former President George
Rupp arrived at Columbia and stated his goal of placing the College
at the center of the University. Two years later, Austin Quigley
became the 14th Dean of the College and began a tireless quest to
make the College an “intergenerational community” of
Columbians bonded by the commonality of the Core, need-blind admissions
and full financial aid. In 2002, Bollinger arrived and declared
that Columbia cannot be a great university unless it has a great
college; given this charge, Quigley continues to work to make the
College the best it can be, ably supported by a senior staff that
includes Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis, Dean of Student
Affairs Chris Colombo, Associate Dean for Planning and Administration
Susan Mescher, Dean for Career Education Christopher Pratt and Wittner.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the leadership contribution
during the past quarter-century of former Dean of Students Roger
Lehecka ’67, who recently retired and whose steady hand and
vision for the College’s future were invaluable.
The College has come a long way from the days when Kaplan had
the foresight to establish the committee mandate. Indeed, the College
is well-positioned to compete effectively with any peer institution.
It is up to all of us connected with the College to seize this opportunity
so that in a decade or so, we can look back with pride on what has