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President's Message 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Letter to the Columbia Alumni Community, December 14, 2010.

Dear Members of the Columbia Community:

One hundred and fifteen years ago, in 1895, President Seth Low presided over a small ceremony on the new 17-acre campus known as Morningside Heights to lay the cornerstone of Low Library. He already had presciently observed that it might even take a century to build the last building. This past Friday, December 10, we dedicated that last building—an extraordinarily beautiful and gleaming structure, designed by the renowned Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, rising out of the northwest corner of the campus. Inside this thoroughly modern facility, some of our most eminent scientists and engineers will join together in interdisciplinary teams to explore new knowledge in such promising areas as nanoscience and biophysics.

This Northwest Corner Building is even more of a link within our University to the future than to the past. As it completes the internal area of Morningside Heights, one of the most profound and moving academic spaces on the planet, the building also looks toward our new 17-acre campus it has taken eight years to secure, five blocks to the north, known as Manhattanville in West Harlem. And there Columbia will, over the course of this century, fulfill its aspirations to be a center of research and learning and public service unparalleled in the world. Ground has been broken this fall on the first of our new buildings, the Jerome L. Greene Science Center. The Greene Science Center will house our interdisciplinary Mind Brain Behavior Initiative, led by our remarkable Tom Jessell and Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientists Eric Kandel and Richard Axel, and dedicated to exploring the sad mysteries of neurodegenerative disease as well as the most essential questions of human behavior, from the vantage point of virtually every academic discipline. The new campus will become the site for state-of-the-art buildings for Columbia’s Business School, School of the Arts, and School of International and Public Affairs. It also will provide a much-needed academic conference center. We have pledged to do this while creating an environment that is open to our local community and further enhances the mutual benefit we derive from a wide array of civic partnerships with the people, organizations, schools, and businesses of West Harlem.

As has always been the case, all physical changes to the University exist to serve the academic mission of adding knowledge to what human endeavor already has accumulated and transmitting this knowledge to each new generation. It is this belief in the importance of ideas, captured most powerfully every day in the classroom exchanges between professors and our students, that continues to define Columbia.

Columbia’s expansion of intellectual ambition and resources coincides with changes in the world that are placing more urgent demands on research and scholarship. With each passing year, layers of complexity are added to the challenges of poverty and ethnic tension, the environment and climate change, the economy and financial regulation, the study of infectious disease and other public health issues, and the desire for freedom of thought and creativity of the human spirit. The changes unfolding at Columbia ensure that we will continue to be a leader in shedding light on all of these subjects and others yet to emerge.

This bright future is made possible only through the engagement and support of our alumni. Our generous donors have now all but met the $4 billion goal of the Columbia Campaign—the largest in University history and the largest in higher education when announced in 2006. This has happened a year ahead of schedule and despite the burden on fundraising created by the global recession. In recognition of this extraordinary success and forward momentum, the Trustees last week decided to extend The Columbia Campaign until December 2013, and to raise the overall goal by $1 billion to a total of $5 billion, again making it the largest fundraising goal ever announced for a university campaign. It is not the time in Columbia’s history to lose any momentum.

Columbia now consistently ranks among the top universities in annual fundraising, a dramatic improvement from the early part of this decade. To honor this generosity, we have been committed to managing the institution with greater efficiency and have succeeded in achieving returns on our endowment investments over the past seven years at a rate that places us first among our Ivy League peers. A critical use of these resources has been to expand financial aid and enhance access to a Columbia College and School of Engineering education regardless of family income, producing one of the most socio-economically diverse and selective undergraduate student bodies in the nation and coming even closer to fulfilling the American promise that a young person’s educational opportunities should not depend on the wealth of his or her family.

There is nothing inevitable about the success of these efforts; we need the energies of all alumni, parents, and friends. Campaigns embody people's aspirations for an institution—their appreciation of its past, the impact it has had on their lives, and above all their confidence in its future. Fortunately, there is today an unmistakable sense of growing loyalty and enthusiasm in the extended Columbia community surpassing anything seen in several decades.

In many different ways, viewed from many different vantage points, this is indeed Columbia’s moment. For anyone who cares about creating new knowledge and conveying the knowledge we have to the next generation, as well as being engaged in the seemingly endless challenges facing our global society, there is no better place to be than here at Columbia. Ours is a unique community, situated in an extraordinary city, and committed simultaneously to open-minded reflection, spirited debate, and constructive action. I hope that wherever your own life’s journey takes you, you will continue to be a part of this institution and continue to support its valuable mission.


Lee C. Bollinger