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Columbia College Today March 2005
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The recent publicity surrounding Columbia Unbecoming has led to much discussion and comment from College alumni. The film raises accusations of student intimidation by some members of the faculty in the MEALAC department.

The actions of a few faculty members in a department that is often viewed as having an anti-Israeli bias and the way the University deals with the accusations are not unimportant. While we [alumni] experienced many stimulating and often heated exchanges as undergraduates, we rarely felt intimidated in the classroom. This controversy is far removed from most of our experiences, and Columbia should not be judged by the actions of a few faculty members with a stated political agenda.

There are a number of issues at play in this story. The faculty zealously guards its view of academic freedom and its right to express controversial opinions without fear of reprisal. It is not clear if the incidents reported took place in the classroom. If outside the classroom, faculty members’ opinions deserve the protection of academic freedom, though faculty members have a responsibility to the Columbia community, as well. In the classroom, there may be more rigorous analysis of the intent and effect of controversial statements.

Provost Alan Brinkley has stated that existing grievance procedures are inadequate. President Lee C. Bollinger has set up a committee to determine if any of the events reported took place in a classroom and to recommend appropriate grievance procedures if students feel intimidated.

The Alumni Association leadership has met with various alumni, deans, trustees and President Bollinger. We will follow up with alumni and the administration to enssure that Columbia continues to deserve our trust and support.

Bob Berne ’60
New York City

[Editor’s note: The writer is president of the Columbia College Alumni Association.]

Conflicts of Interest

As a volunteer alumni interviewer, I am concerned that Columbia’s response to serious academic problems is inadequate.

Applicants I’ve interviewed were attracted by Columbia’s intellectual excitement, its New York locale and the opportunities for in-depth studies in various fields. But I have to wonder whether the attractions of a Columbia education might be overshadowed by the questionable activities of one department. As important as it is to determine the validity, or otherwise, of charges of student intimidation in the classroom, what is at stake for Columbia goes well beyond that.

Was it wise to conceal the identities of donors who obviously had an agenda? In light of all that has followed since the establishment of an institute with secret funds from (as subsequently revealed) the United Arab Emirates, a shadowy Saudi charity and a registered lobbyist for a terrorist organization, among others, greater transparency might have saved the University embarrassment. Granted, some donors have legitimate reasons for wishing to remain anonymous, but at the very least, an inquiry into possible conflicts of interest should have been made. These conflicts are by no means confined to one institute or department.

The same cautions should apply, for example, to corporate funding of university research that restricts publication of the results, or that defines protocols in ways designed to support claims of drug safety and efficacy. It’s easy to stand up for academic freedom in the classroom, though I doubt whether anyone teaching racism would get very far with that argument. We do, in fact, make judgments about the content of what is taught. But academic freedom also entails the responsibility of standing up to donors, whatever their agenda may be, and reporting research results impartially, fully and objectively. Does this risk losing the funding? Yes. But accepting agenda-tainted funding carries the far greater risk of corrupting academic quality.

The institution can live on its ‘brand name’ for a while, but eventually the damage to its reputation will affect ratings, donations, faculty recruitment and applicant quality. I sincerely hope real corrective action, not merely cosmetic reforms or inconsequential investigations, will be implemented soon.

Peter Miller ’67
Kanagawa, Japan


The column (January 2005) concerning Columbia’s investigation of an aura of intimidation was well-written and could serve as part of the conclusion of the upcoming report. Indeed it may. No one can argue with those noble sentiments.

Yet, there are some historic details missing from the column, and they likely will be missing from the investigative committee report. The late Professor Edward Said was photographed throwing stones from Lebanon into Israel. As far as I know, no investigation, much less censure, arose from MEALAC or the Columbia administration. More likely, throwing stones at Israel was considered an off-campus activity falling under freedom of expression. Is there any real difference between stone-throwing and repression of certain ideas?
There were also reports that tenured professors at Columbia refused to sign petitions or even support calls for investigation of student intimidation for fear of reprisals. Were these cases of “Jewish paranoia” or the result of real fears? Who will investigate the repression, not of students, but of professors who feared retribution?

Lastly, there is an Arabic word, taqiya, which describes a religiously sanctioned mode of discourse and a way of answering questions. I predict that taqiya will describe a great deal of the upcoming committee report. If there are no Arabic speakers in that august body, they should ask a member of MEALAC to explain taqiya to them.

Harold Bernard Reisman ’56 SEAS, ’65 GSAS
Carlsbad, Calif.

Open Discourse

Possibly by next issue my concern about Alex Sachare ’71’s “Within the Family” essay in the January CCT will have been happily resolved. Sachare calls for free and open discourse about the events portrayed in Columbia Unbecoming and regarding the (second) faculty panel that President Lee C. Bollinger set up to examine student complaints of faculty harassment. Who can disagree with free, open and respectful discourse?

Yet, when Sachare commended the professional backgrounds and experience of panelists Katznelson, Anderson, Griffin, Howard and Mazower, he was less than open about the different positions each has already espoused in public or publications, which show, if not their prejudgements, their conflicts with the issues they must adjudicate.

New York newspapers have told about this and other Columbia fiascoes for more than four years. So, I cannot be the first alumnus to worry about it all. I just wish Sachare would follow his own advice. It is past time for the University to cast light so we understand and protect the truth, not vested cabals.

Daniel F. Johnson ’61
Charlotte, N.C.

Boys From Boise

I was greatly moved by your report on the “Boise Boys” (January CCT) and its tribute to their sponsor, Gideon Oppenheimer ’47 (who entered with ’45). I knew Giddy on Spectator, then saw him in the Army where he served as an intelligence officer; we met again regularly after we returned. We also were what could be called “Larry’s boys” — those who came under the influence of the future dean, Lawrence Chamberlain, soon after he arrived as a government instructor in 1941, and stayed in touch with him ever after.
I’m sure it was Larry (who also came from Idaho) who steered Giddy to Boise when he wanted to move from Manhattan somewhere closer to the open country. (One minor correction: I think it took a number of years after he graduated from the Law School in ’49 before he ventured West.) I know he loved it there. He never mentioned his success as an Idaho appeals lawyer (Larry did), but he did report enthusiastically on his successful recruiting for Columbia there.

I remember the shocked sadness that overcame our otherwise joyous 25th reunion at Harriman in 1969 when the dean at the time told us of Giddy’s untimely death — not a member of our class, but well-known and liked by many of us.

Henry Rolf Hecht ’44
Demarest, N.J.

Senator Obama

I am happy that Barack Obama ’83 is getting so much favorable publicity. You seem to “lionize” him. However, in his own often repeated words and statements, he only acknowledges that he went to Harvard Law School, without mentioning having gone to Columbia College. So, while we all wish him well, don’t you think that we should let somebody else spend words and energy to “crimsonize” him — and save our Columbia words and energy for somebody who really appreciates having gone to Columbia College?

Robert Tang ’71

“The Student”

Thanks for the piece on cartoonist of R.J. Matson ’85 (January 2005). He may cringe at his old College strips, but I remember them fondly. My favorite was a mid-’80s piece, “The Student: A Higher Look at Comic Education.” It pictures a ruffled, young Columbian who returns to campus from a night of drinking and belatedly remembers he has a paper due at 9 a.m. The student then pulls an all-nighter typing out an awful paper. Convinced that he’s going to fail, he prays to Alma Mater. When the professor incredibly gives him an A, the student heads right back to the bar. College life reduced to a few simply drawn frames. Brilliant.

Graham G. Dodds ’88

Sidney Morgenbesser

During my senior year, Sidney Morgenbesser took over the senior seminar from James Guttmann, with whom the four of us who were majoring in philosophy had started that year. I made my way through a decidedly challenging experience with Morgenbesser.
Following graduation, I was involved in a serious automobile accident and sustained injuries that were still evident after returning to Columbia graduate school in the fall to study Russian language and literature.

I ran into Morgenbesser shortly after the fall semester began and he said, “You look terrible; what happened to you?” I recounted the whole story, and in a wonderful blending of past and present, he said, “You should have told me; I wouldn’t have been so hard on you.”

He was a challenging and memorable man.

Arthur Alexander ’61
Fairfield, Conn.


I mentioned the name Leffert Lefferts ’62 to my wife, Jane (Newham) Barnard ’65, while I was reading the obituaries in the January CCT. An architect, Jane also is writing a book on the origin of the street names of Brooklyn. She observed that Leffert Lefferts was undoubtedly a descendant of an early Dutch settler of Brooklyn, Leffert Pieterse van Hagewont. He settled in Flatbush in 1660 and had many sons who, in the Dutch custom, adopted the patronymic, Leffertse, or son of Leffert.

Hundreds of years later, there are a few traces left in Brooklyn of this distinguished family. Prospect Lefferts Gardens is a well-preserved neighborhood adjacent to Prospect Park and was the site of a farm owned by Leffert Pieterse. The Lefferts Homestead was moved from Flatbush Avenue and Maple Street to Prospect Park in 1918 and can be visited today.

Judge Leffert Lefferts (1774–1847) was from another branch of the family and owned considerable property near Fulton Street and Bedford Avenue, where two small streets, Lefferts Place and Brevoort Place, mark the location of Judge Lefferts’ home. Like his presumed descendant, the earlier Lefferts graduated from Columbia College (Class of 1794).

James McGroarty ’64 M.D.
Brooklyn, N.Y.

[Editor’s note: There’s also a Lefferts Boulevard in Queens, named for John Lefferts (Class of 1846).]

2003–2004 Columbia College Fund 52nd Annual Report

The following donors contributed to the Columbia College Fund during the 2003– 2004 fiscal year. Their names were mistakenly omitted in the 52nd Annual Report or their gift level was incorrectly acknowledged. The Columbia College Fund gratefully recognizes their gifts and offers its sincere apology.

William J. Bissett ’35
Paul J. Miller ’47, P’77
Bernard Sunshine ’46, P’79
Carl Hovde ’50
Robert I. Pearlman ’55
William Host ’60
Michael R. Wollman ’64
Gideon Oberweger ’65
Paul A. Brooke ’67
Marc Rauch ’69
Robert L. Meyer ’71
Edward Luban ’73 (contributed his gift in memory of James P. Shenton ’49)
Ann Stein ’78, ’78E
Marc Mazur ’81
Daniel Paul Futterman ’89
Roberta L. Frank P’95, P’97 (in memory of Richard Frank ’63)

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