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Columbia College Today November 2005
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Home on the Heights

Home on the Heights
Residence halls in review.

I enjoyed “Home on the Heights” very much. Having lived in Furnald, Hartley and Livingston (Wallach) and worked in Johnson (Wien), it brought back many fond, poignant memories.

C.E. “Tuba Charlie” Newlon ’41, ’42E
Knoxville, Tenn.

I write to you from my parents’ central-air-conditioned home in Westchester County, where I had to flee last night due to the heat and humidity. I have lived in Hartley Hall all four years of my Columbia career, and it is a great place to study, play and grow.
However, your article, “Home on the Heights: 100 Years of Housing at Columbia” (September 2005), is wrong about one crucial fact — Hartley and Wallach Halls are not air-conditioned! The A/C units seen in the picture on page 21 are units that are installed for summer residents. Columbia students who move in during August do not benefit from them.

I am not sure why Hartley Hall does not have central air conditioning. Frankly, it is not a big problem, except on unusually humid and hot September days. However, central air conditioning would be a great addition to what is already a phenomenal place to live.

Raquel Otheguy ’06
New York City

[Editor’s note: As Otheguy indicates, the room air conditioners in Hartley, Wallach and John Jay Halls were temporary, for summer residents only. The error was not by the author, but rather by an overzealous editor who spotted them during a summer stroll across campus.]

As a commuter during all four years of my time at Columbia College, I was taken aback by the comments made by former dean Robert Pollack ’61, reproduced in “Home on the Heights: 100 Years of Housing at Columbia” (September 2005). Pollack is quoted as saying in a New York Times article, “When you don’t live in a dormitory or fraternity, you’re not really a part of the place. You cannot be educated to think for yourself unless you are challenged by other bright young people who are trying to think for themselves. This occurs best in the environment of peers.”

I find it sad that the dean during part of my time at Columbia did not consider me, or my fellow commuters, to be really a part of the place, and take it an insult that he considers us not to have been educated to think for ourselves because we did not live in a dormitory or a fraternity. I gather all of the time we commuters spent in lectures, labs and libraries was not sufficient to make us as well-rounded as our classmates who resided on campus.

The last time I checked, though, there was no indication on my diploma (which, by the way, Pollack signed) that my Columbia education was in any way inferior due to where I slept at night.

Andrew E. Abere ’83, ’86 GSAS,
’87 GSAS, ’91 GSAS

Monroe Township, N.J.

Professor Pollack responds: “Dr. Abere is of course correct. The quote from the Times does not do justice to his situation. Let me briefly expand on that old quote, for the sake of the larger point he makes. Under the College’s policies when I was dean — full-need financial aid and need-blind admissions — residential life could be maintained as an opportunity and a choice, uncoupled from fiscal concerns. If someone then chose to stay at home, no problem. The problem of earlier days arose from the absence of full financial aid including the cost of residential life, when the least wealthy members of an entering class were consigned to the necessity of living at home whether or not they wished to do that. Schapiro opened when the College’s polices were clearly stated to include full financial aid. I remain concerned that while need-blind admissions remains and rooms on campus abound, full-need financial aid be endangered.”

Eggplant and Garlic

Odd, it seems, that after reading CCT avidly for almost 30 years, it’s an article about V&T that elicits my first Letter to the Editor. But, oh, how Tom Hauser ’67’s descriptions of the sounds, smells, tastes and yes, constancy, of V&T resonate. Columbia alums have many ways to mark milestones and the passage of time, but mine is an eggplant and garlic pizza (and a Heineken and a salad with those never-ripe tomatoes) at V&T.

I knew I’d marry my now-wife when she fought me for the last slice on our first visit in 1978. I’ve celebrated more birthdays there than I care to count, always leaving overlarge tips to assuage the guilt of meager gratuities in my college years. How better to break a Yom Kippur fast? Where else would my freshman roommate and our families gather to mark 30 years of friendship; and where else would my son, Class of 2007, want to bring his new friends and their parents after Homecoming his freshman year? You got it — V&T. Thanks, CCT, for an article filled with delicious remembrances — and dreams of pizzas yet to come.

Daniel P. Baker ’76
Trumbull, Conn.

Both Sides Now

As the beneficiary of classmate Barry Dickman ’58’s kind words (September 2005, Letters to the Editor), I have tried to hold my anger in check. The source of my autumnal discontent — the puff piece that touted the arch-conservative senator from New Hampshire, Judd Gregg ’69 — invites commentary etched in acid.

Clearly, the earlier profile of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama ’83 strikes me as the more appropriate face of Columbia. Evoking Horatio Alger’s paradigm, this poor youth of mixed race rose to the top on merit fortified by a Columbia College liberal (not conservative) arts education. Obama advocates a progressive agenda for contemporary America. In stark contrast, Gregg purveys the dour statecraft of Henry Cabot Lodge — as President Woodrow Wilson remarked — “highly cultivated but essentially barren.” Mark Brodin ’69 cites Gregg’s failure to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in contrast to his ardent support of religious bigot Jerry Falwell.

Why then this “funny valentine”? Is this the new fairness and balance in media doctrine, shades of Fox News? Whatever the reason, I reject in short the reactionary face of Gregg. Instead, I revere Columbia. I revere the intellectual bastion that opposed rabid McCarthyism in the fearful ’50s and salute the reformist tradition that inspired young students such as this correspondent to challenge racist mores in the segregated South. The Columbia that I cherish is the home of James P. Shenton ’49, who led students in civil rights action in Georgia, and the “bully pulpit” of Henry Steele Commager, who taught by example and spoke truth to power. Their sterling examples still apply in the era of our Bush.

Joe Dorinson ’58
Brooklyn, N.Y.

As a Columbia alumnus and a constituent of Sen. Judd Gregg ’69, I was pleased to see him on the cover of CCT (July 2005). I may not agree with all his policies, but I am proud of the stature and influence of a fellow alumnus. Let us recall that he represents New Hampshire, not the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The letters of Mark S. Brodin ’69 and Thomas Weyr ’48 (September 2005) seem to imply that CCT needs a litmus test for articles about alumni, a test that excludes all on the political right. I think Brodin and Weyr are way out of line.

Barry Jacobs ’61
Hooksett, N.H.

Jewish Studies at Columbia

I continue to read with interest the many reactions to Columbia’s handling of the problems surrounding the MEALAC department. I have been distressed by those who would imply that Columbia has become a hotbed of anti-Semitism and that the current report is a “whitewash.” Columbia has a long history of being one of the most hospitable campuses in America to Jewish studies and to Jewish students. Its current faculty boasts a number of the most distinguished scholars in the area of Jewish studies.

For those who are interested in gathering some information on the subject, I would suggest reading a master’s paper written by Dr. Laurence E. Balfus ’55, ’00 GSAS in 2000 (before the current problems surfaced), “Jewish Studies at Columbia.” In it, Balfus documents the appointment of Salo Wittmayer Baron in 1930 to the first Nathan L. Miller Chair in Jewish History, Literature and Institutions. It puts Columbia and its then-president, Nicholas Murray Butler (Class of 1882), in a most favorable light regarding Jewish studies. This set the tone for the next 75 years of growth in Jewish studies. What makes this even more interesting is that Butler always has been accused of being anti-Jewish. This paper sheds new light on that subject.

Balfus’ paper is on file in the Liberal Studies M.A. office in Low Library; in the office of Professor Michael Stanislowski, who currently holds the Miller Chair, in the history department; with Jerry Kisslinger ’78 in the University Development and Alumni Relations Office in The Interchurch Center; and with Jocelyn Wilk at the Columbia University Archives/Columbiana Library in Low Library.

Rabbi Laurence H. Rubinstein ’60
New York City

Drawing Analogies

Dr. Andreas Huyssen (“Columbia Forum,” July 2005) is eminently correct in observing disturbing parallels between the late Weimar period and current American politics. Wisely, he cautions against making facile analogies. Unfortunately, resisting this practice proves difficult for many. Such comparisons, despite their allure, are not sufficiently apposite. As a result, the neo-cons in power can dismiss them as overblown paranoia — thereby adroitly insulating themselves from justifiable criticism.

For such superficial analogies are problematic. Liberal, democratic Weimar Germany, admired today for its avant-garde culture, at the time was an unpopular creature, born of defeat and shame. On the other hand, 21st-century American democracy still functions, albeit more and more imperfectly. Indeed, the illiberal, radical neo-cons go to considerable lengths to promote “democracy,” albeit their vision of it.

Certainly, today’s (radical) conservatives’ policies resemble the Nazis’ sufficiently enough so that reciting them merely knocks down a straw man: appealing to a cramped, retrograde vision of “culture” and morality incompatible with the age, exploiting xenophobia, invoking mindless patriotism to obscure policies inimical to the public interest and so forth. And ugly policies have surfaced — branding dissent as disloyal or defeatist, tightening secrecy and inhibiting expression, increasing government secrecy at all levels; colluding with big business and disdaining due process.

Yet President Bush has no compelling need to define “the nation” in racial terms, as Germany’s völkisch movement did. Inflated rhetoric denouncing the President as a Hitlerian warmonger or racist (even in the aftermath of New Orleans) only weakens his critics’ credibility. Obliterating the basic order does not interest Bush; he would sooner entrench selected elements of it, indeed at a high cost. Unlike Hitler, who emerged from petty-bourgeois obscurity and nursed lifelong resentments toward elites, Bush numbers among them. Gruesome as it sounds, though the President may not shy away from inflicting harm on other countries, he does so for conventional geopolitical advantage. Absent is Nazism’s untrammeled lust for pure conquest, exploitation and destruction. Contrast America’s efforts, bumbling and corrupt though they may be, with the Nazis’ avowed intention to reduce subjugated Poles to abject slavery.

Hence the pitfalls of drawing glib parallels. Conservatives can legitimately invoke the undeniable distinctions between themselves and the Nazis, and thus decry impolitic comparisons as crying wolf. Using the Nazis as the gold standard for evil is always tempting. But our loyal opposition’s resort to the argument of reductio ad Hitlerum, though it may legitimately focus our attention on genuinely bad policy, neutralizes serious criticism by claiming that Nazi impulses dwell in the hearts of the Bush administration. More important are the fundamentals: Bush and his people are antidemocratic and hostile to the very freedoms they purport to be spreading worldwide. It is this Weltanschauung — not the Nazi one of racism, nihilistic destructiveness, or a will to genocide — that they share with the much more evil men who brought down the Weimar Republic.

Nicholas Corwin ’89
La Jolla, Calif.





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