Category Archive 'Columbia University'

13 May 2015

Classical Myths Triggering Minorities & Poor at Columbia

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Bernini3
Detail, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Apollo and Daphne, 1621-1625, Galleria Borghese, Rome

Four student members of a Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board at Columbia editorialized recently about the hazard of representative elements of the Humanities canon proving triggering for students, particularly for minority students and the poor.

Instead of reading all the naughty bits in Ovid, they proposed that a bit more Toni Morrison might be in order.

During the week spent on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault. As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.

Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.

The MAAB, an extension of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, is an advocacy group dedicated to ensuring that Columbia’s campus is welcoming and safe for students of all backgrounds. This year, we explored possible interventions in Core classrooms, where transgressions concerning student identities are common. Beyond the texts themselves, class discussions can disregard the impacts that the Western canon has had and continues to have on marginalized groups.

For example, another student who attended the forum shared that her Lit Hum professor gave her class the opportunity to choose their own text to add to their syllabus for the year. When she suggested the class read a Toni Morrison text, another student declared that texts by authors of the African Diaspora are a staple in most high school English classes, and therefore they did not need to reread them. Toni Morrison is a writer of both the African Diaspora and the Western world, and her novels—aside from being some of the most intellectually and emotionally compelling writing in the last century—should be valued as founding texts of the Western canon.

The student’s remark regarding Toni Morrison was not merely insensitive, but also revealing of larger ideological divides. This would have been an opportune moment for the professor to intervene. …

Students need to feel safe in the classroom, and that requires a learning environment that recognizes the multiplicity of their identities. The MAAB has been meeting with administration and faculty in the Center for the Core Curriculum to determine how to create such a space. The Board has recommended three measures: First, we proposed that the center issue a letter to faculty about potential trigger warnings and suggestions for how to support triggered students. Next, we noted that there should be a mechanism for students to communicate their concerns to professors anonymously, as well as a mediation mechanism for students who have identity-based disagreements with professors. Finally, the center should create a training program for all professors, including faculty and graduate instructors, which will enable them to constructively facilitate conversations that embrace all identities, share best practices, and think critically about how the Core Curriculum is framed for their students.

All this is perfectly understandable. If you come from a disadvantaged background, you are bound to know plenty of women who were raped by some Olympian deity in the guise of a bull or a swan, and you undoubtedly have a sister who was forced to change into a laurel tree to avoid the embraces of Apollo. Those kinds of memories are painful!

Hat tip to (T)Reason.

11 Apr 2011

Harvard’s 1899 Entrance Exam

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Harvard’s 1899 football team passed that kind of exam.

Eve Binder, Managing Editor at Ivygate and Yale ’11, reports on earlier admissions examinations at Harvard and Columbia with altogether excessive frivolity and dismisses the Classics with proud Philistinism. (Reverend Davenport would not be pleased.)

The New York Times recently unearthed a Harvard entrance exam from 1899, and man, is it ugly. The text spans three major disciplines–classical languages, history and math–and requires its victims to jump through flaming hoops in topics like Greek Composition, Random-Ass Geography, and Hard Numbers. Take, for instance:

    [in Logarithms and Trigonometry] 9. Find by logarithms, using arithmetical complements, the value of the following:

    [(0.02183)2 x (7)2/5]/[√(0.0046) x 23.309]

Remember, folks, there were no calculators in 1899. Nor, apparently, was there mercy.

    [In History and Geography] VI. Leonidas, Pausanias, Lysander.

Evidently this is a question, not just a list of people you’ve never heard of. Oh, wait, we’ve heard of Leonidas–but that’s only because we’ve seen 300, which someone living in the 1800s would most likely not have seen. Wonder if you’d get partial credit for identifying Lysander as “that dude in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.“

    [In Greek Composition] [Insert ancient cryptic mumbo-jumbo here]

Hey, it’s all ελληνικά to us. Can you imagine if this were on the SAT?

Speaking of the SAT, it’s hard to tell whether the replacement of questions like “bound the basin of the Po” with ones like “find the noun in this sentence” has been a good or bad thing. A good thing for us, certainly, because if we’d been forced to draw the route of the Ten Thousand on a map in order to get into college, we’d have been working at the 1899 equivalent of a Chick-Fil-A faster than you can say “Gay Nineties.” But perhaps not such a good thing for the overall intelligence quotient of our nation’s youth, which would unquestionably have been strengthened by the knowledge of “Pharsalia, Philippi and Actium.” All of which, by the way, sound like sleep medications.

In an interesting final coup, Columbia Spectrum columnist Thomas Rhiel has noted that the 1899 Harvard entrance exam pales in comparison to that of Columbia, which apparently required knowledge of French, German, and the following works:

    Milton’s Paradise Lost, Books I and II; Pope’s Iliad, Books I and XXII; the Sir Roger de Coverley Papers in The Spectator; Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, Southey’s Life of Nelson, Carlyle’s Essay on Burns, Lowell’s Vision of Sir Launfal, Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables, […] Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Burke’s Speech on Conciliation with America, De Quincey’s The Flight of a Tartar Tribe, [and] Tennyson’s The Princess.

Times sure have changed, haven’t they? Back then you actually had to read all these books in order to get anywhere in life. Now all you have to do is Google the ending and lie. Yeah, sorry we’re not sorry.

It’s understandable that the educated classes, force-fed for generations on the Classics, finally rebelled against the older system in favor of the more utilitarian, more flexible, and more modern. But the older I get, the more strongly I tend to believe that higher education made a gravely wrong turn when it made the decision to discard Classics as its foundation.

Serious and extended study of Latin and Greek reliably conferred a sort of grace and skill in written expression which has largely vanished from more contemporary prose. I routinely find the memoirs of colonial administrators and retired colonels produced before WWI far better written than the essays of the most admired current writers in today’s Spectator and New York Review of Books.

Reading the ancient authors also characteristically broadened the perspective of members of the educated elite of that earlier time. Rivalries between great powers, the outrages and brutalities performed by barbarian tribes, the forms of perfidy committed by foreign adversaries were all far more familiar and comprehensible to minds steeped in Xenophon and Thucydides.

Ivy League education today more commonly narrows the outlook of members of the contemporary elite, turning them into provincial conformists and uncritical followers of the fashionable consensus, lacking in sympathy for, or identification with, not our civilization’s past, but any past. Today’s commentariat is characteristically unable to consult the examples set by nations and leaders in conducting war during WWII when discussing current military operations, let alone reflect on what Alcibiades or Caesar might have done.

16 Nov 2007

Columbia Surrenders to Five Leftist Kiddies

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If I can get ten right-wing undergraduate to do a hunger strike for two weeks, will Columbia create a Department of Big Game Hunting, start teaching Selous and Bell, buy a bunch of Purdeys and Rigbys, and build a shooting range? Somehow I doubt it.

New York Sun:

A weeklong hunger strike staged by five students at Columbia University could cost the institution $50 million.

Columbia officials said Wednesday night that, after a faculty committee grants approval, the university would spend the funds to pay for an expansion of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and a restructuring of Columbia College’s core curriculum that would add faculty for courses on non-European civilizations.

Sympathetic shudder to Bird Dog.

25 Sep 2007

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

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Brett Stephens, in today’s Wall Street Journal, remarks on the futile aspects of liberals listening to dictators.

In a March 1952 essay in Commentary magazine on “George Orwell and the Politics of Truth,” Trilling observed that “the gist of Orwell’s criticism of the liberal intelligentsia was that they refused to understand the conditioned way of life.” Orwell, he wrote, really knew what it was like to live under a totalitarian regime–unlike, say, George Bernard Shaw, who had “insisted upon remaining sublimely unaware of the Russian actuality,” or H.G. Wells, who had “pooh-poohed the threat of Hitler.” By contrast, Orwell “had the simple courage to point out that the pacifists preached their doctrine under condition of the protection of the British navy, and that, against Germany and Russia, Gandhi’s passive resistance would have been to no avail.”

Trilling took the point a step further, assailing the intelligentsia’s habit of treating politics as a “nightmare abstraction” and “pointing to the fearfulness of the nightmare as evidence of their sense of reality.” To put this in the context of Mr. Coatsworth’s hypothetical, Trilling might have said that in hosting and perhaps debating Hitler, Columbia’s faculty and students would not have been “confronting” him, much as they might have gulled themselves into believing they were. Hitler at Columbia would merely have been a man at a podium, offering his “ideas” on this or that, and not the master of a huge terror apparatus bearing down on you. To suggest that such an event amounts to a confrontation, or offers a perspective on reality, is a bit like suggesting that one “confronts” a wild animal by staring at it through its cage at a zoo. …

So there is Adolf Hitler on our imagined stage, ranting about the soon-to-be-fulfilled destiny of the Aryan race. And his audience of outstanding Columbia men are mostly appalled, as they should be. But they are also engrossed, and curious, and if it occurs to some of them that the man should be arrested on the spot they don’t say it. Nor do they ask, “How will we come to terms with his world?” Instead, they wonder how to make him see “reason,” as reasonable people do.

In just a few years, some of these men will be rushing a beach at Normandy or caught in a firefight in the Ardennes. And the fact that their ideas were finer and better than Hitler’s will have done nothing to keep them and millions of their countrymen from harm, and nothing to get them out of its way.

My own problem with all this simply has to do with the fact that it is obviously regarded as daring and being leading-edge to invite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to give an address at Columbia, when Larry Summers is considered too wicked to be allowed to speak at UC Davis, and Stanford views Don Rumsfeld the way vampires look at crucifixes.

It is quite traditional for universities to feature speaker programs, often affiliated with an undergraduate debating forum, which will host speeches from all sorts of public figures currently in the news. The exposure of undergraduates to celebrities right out of the day’s headlines, the opportunity afforded young people to meet famous men, shake their hands, and interact with them by asking a few questions has real educational value. If nothing else, it provides the young with the understanding that famous men get tired, make slips of the tongue, and sometimes get drunk, too.

There is obviously something, though, which smacks of a canine appetite for intercourse with the headlines in inviting a figure as lurid as Ahmadinejad, associated with the most fatal kind of international relations, head of an extraordinarily barbarous and repressive regime, who is such an avowed enemy of the United States.

This invitation provokes the suspicion that Columbia invited Ahmadinejad, not despite his hostility toward the United States, but because of it. There was a distinct air of Leonard Bernstein hosting the Black Panthers (a lá Radical Chic), with only faintly-concealed pride at pulling off the catch of the season, about the whole thing.

23 Sep 2007

The International Left’s Moral Standards in Action

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Alberto Fujimori saved Peru from a bloodthirsty communist terrorist movement, the Shining Path, of which the British editorialist Theodore Dalrymple wrote:

The worst brutality I ever saw was that committed by Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) in Peru, in the days when it seemed possible that it might come to power. If it had, I think its massacres would have dwarfed those of the Khmer Rouge. As a doctor, I am accustomed to unpleasant sights, but nothing prepared me for what I saw in Ayacucho, where Sendero first developed under the sway of a professor of philosophy, Abimael Guzman.”

So, naturally, we read in today’s New York Times that Alberto Fujimori is being extradited by the socialist government of Chile (a country which was itself saved from Marxist totalitarianism by the late General Augusto Pinochet, who was also internationally hounded by leftist attempts at judicial vengeance) to Peru to stand trial on “human rights and corruption” charges.

Save a country from Marxist totalitarianism’s reign of terror, and you’ll be indicted and internationally extradited to be tried as an enemy of “human rights.”

But, if you take US diplomats hostage, and become head of a major terrorist regime which stones people to death, wages covert war against the United States, and bends every effort at acquiring nuclear weapons, why! then, you get to give a speech at Columbia.

22 Sep 2007

American Academia: Ahmadinejad, Si! Summers and Rumsfeld, No!

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The Wall Street Journal noted yesterday a certain inconsistency in the way Columbia University enforces support for Gay Rights in its campus access policies.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has his doubts about whether the Holocaust happened. He thinks the Jewish state should be wiped off the map. His regime funnels sophisticated munitions to Shiite militias in Iraq, who use them to kill American soldiers.

Oh, and by the way, his regime also executes homosexuals for the crime of being themselves. Maybe if Columbia University President Lee Bollinger were aware of the latter fact he would reconsider his invitation to the Iranian president to speak on his campus next Monday.

Mr. Bollinger, notoriously, voted in 2005 not to readmit an ROTC program to Columbia (absent from the university since 1969), ostensibly on the grounds of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gay service members. Never mind that other upper-tier schools, including Princeton, Dartmouth, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania all have ROTC programs. Never mind, too, that in 2003 the Columbia student body voted in favor of readmission by a 2-1 margin. In Mr. Bollinger’s view, “the university has an obligation, deeply rooted in the core values of an academic institution and in First Amendment principles, to protect its students from improper discrimination and humiliation.”

Mr. Bollinger’s position might at least be coherent were he not now invoking the same principles to justify his invitation to Mr. Ahmadinejad, whose offenses to gay rights and any other form of human dignity considerably exceed the Pentagon’s. After promising that he would introduce the president “with a series of sharp challenges” — including Iran’s “reported support” for international terrorism — he went on to say that “it is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their expression.”

We’re all for free speech and the vigorous exchange of intellectual differences, though we don’t see how Mr. Bollinger can be, given his decision to discriminate against young men and women who seek to make careers in the military. We also don’t quite see how the right to free speech — a freedom Mr. Ahmadinejad conspicuously denies his own people — is tantamount to the right to an illustrious pedestal. Columbia is a selective institution in its choice of students as well as speakers; its choices confer distinction on those whom it selects. Were it otherwise, Mr. Ahmadinejad would surely have better uses for his time.

And the Journal’s comments must have stung, because Lee Bollinger promptly deleted the honorific portion of Columbia University’s invitation, removing Ahmadinejad’s from a “World Leader’s Forum” program. At this point, however, Ahmadinejad is still scheduled to deliver an address at Columbia.

NY Sun:

The president of Columbia University, Lee Bollinger, yesterday withdrew an invitation to the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The dean of Columbia’s school of international and public affairs, Lisa Anderson, had independently invited Mr. Ahmadinejad to speak at the World Leader’s Forum, a year-long program that aims to unite “renowned intellectuals and cultural icons from many nations to examine global challenges and explore cultural perspectives.”

In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, Mr. Bollinger said he canceled Mr. Ahmadinejad’s invitation because he couldn’t be certain it would “reflect the academic values that are the hallmark of a University event such as our World Leaders Forum.” He told Ms. Anderson that Mr. Ahmadinejad could speak at the school of international and public affairs, just not as a part of the university-wide leader’s forum.

And Ahmadinejad is clearly doing a lot better than former Harvard President Larry Summers, who is regarded as such a villain in the groves of Academy for merely speculating upon the possibility of other explanations besides discrimination for the less frequent academic focus of women on science, mathematics, and engineering that faculty members at the University of California at Davis were able to pressure their regents into withdrawing an invitation to Summers.

And, at Stanford, 2500 students, faculty, and alumni are petitioning to prevent the Hoover Institution making former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld a visiting fellow.

30 May 2007

Global Warming Inventor Strikes Again

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“The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” warns James Hansen, the Iowa-educated physicist who has successfully parleyed the astute recognition of a slightly warmer recent weather pattern into a chair at Columbia.

Repent, sinners. Give up your material comfort and prosperity (or, at the very least, pay weregeld to Government and Al Gore), or the big, bad environmentalist bogeyman will punish you with catastrophe unimaginable.

ABC News:

Even “moderate additional” greenhouse emissions are likely to push Earth past “critical tipping points” with “dangerous consequences for the planet,” according to research conducted by NASA and the Columbia University Earth Institute.

With just 10 more years of “business as usual” emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas, says the NASA/Columbia paper, “it becomes impractical” to avoid “disastrous effects.”

The study appears in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Its lead author is James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

The forecast effects include “increasingly rapid sea-level rise, increased frequency of droughts and floods, and increased stress on wildlife and plants due to rapidly shifting climate zones,” according to the NASA announcement. ….

The new NASA release emphasizes the danger of “strong amplifying feedbacks” pushing Earth past “dangerous tipping points.”

Scientists have been warning for several years that such tipping points are the greatest threat from manmade global warming — and what makes it potentially catastrophic for civilization.

As the tipping points pass, “there is an acceleration, potentially uncontrollable, of emissions of vast natural stores of greenhouse gas,” according to Hansen, who reviewed the study for ABC News today.

Hansen explains that dangerous feedback loops are being tracked in various regions of the planet.

Many studies have reported feedback loops already observed in thawing tundra, seabeds and drying forests.

This malarkey would be a lot more impressive if Mr. Hansen could actually tell me how much it’s going to rain next month.

09 Jan 2007

This Year’s College Fad, Same as Last Year’s: Naked Parties

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A bit over a year ago (22 Nov 2005), the New York Sun was reporting on the spread of Naked Parties from Yale (and possibly Brown) to Columbia.

But the earliest public report probably appeared in the novel Chloe Does Yale published in March of 2004 by then Yale Senior (Timothy Dwight) Natalie Krinsky.

Today’s Times reports that the fad for naked parties was created in 1995 by the Yale Pundits, an undergraduate society which in earlier days contented itself with jokes and champagne-and-lobster lunches on the library steps.

The Pundits, founded in 1884 as a society of “campus wits,” have a history of rebelling against Yale tradition, often through elaborate pranks. They organize six to eight covert naked parties a year, which attract anywhere from 30 to 300 people to off-campus houses, neglected rooms in classroom buildings and even small libraries on campus.

“It’s one of those things people feel they need to do before they graduate,” says Megan Crandell, a senior who estimates that she has been to a half-dozen naked parties during her time at Yale. “The dynamic is completely different from a clothed party. People are so conscious of how they’re coming across that conversations end up being more sophisticated. You can’t talk about how hot that chick was the other night.”

News of Yale’s contribution to modern undergraduate social life has spread all the way to Scotland. The Scotsman.

While one campus source at Yale… says naked parties are “the No1” thing to do before graduation, students who attend the six to eight parties held each year say it can be a life-changing experience, far from the “frat-house” bawdiness portrayed in films such as Animal House…

Another Yale student, who did not want his name to become known by campus authorities – which do not try to stop the parties but do not encourage them – said: “Part of it is just the mystique of not knowing where you’re going. It’s become a hip thing to do.”

The events are magnets for social-climbers at other top academic institutions, including Columbia, MIT and Brown.

A better history, and a first person account from a Yale coed, appeared in the Yale Herald back in March of last year.

18 May 2006

Columbia Honors Cuban Dissident

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Oswaldo Payá

Columbia University, at its 2006 Commencement held yesterday, awarded an honorary doctorate degree to Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, organiser of the Varela Project, a Christian non-violent movement seeking the liberation of Cuba.

Columbia’s President Lee Bollinger mentioned Castro’s refusal to allow Osvaldo Payá to travel to New York to receive the award, and read the citation:

I am supposed to have the duty of presenting Oswaldo Payá, to whom the Trustees have awarded an honorary doctor of laws. Unfortunately, his chair here is empty. Mr. Payá could not join us on this occasion because the Government of Cuba has not granted him an exit visa to be here. We were prepared to confer the degree, but Mr. Payá has written us to ask that Columbia’s leadership allow him to receive the degree in person when he is free to travel. We all look forward to that day. For the present, this is what we would have read to you about him:

Engineer, journalist, activist, tireless campaigner for human rights and advocate for the people of Cuba, you represent the aspirations of millions around the world yearning for freedom and democracy. Based on the Cuban constitution itself, your Varela Project—a peaceful civic initiative to gather signatures across Cuba for the establishment of a free and democratic citizenry — is a model of civic activism. At great personal sacrifice and despite nearly constant surveillance and harassment, you have remained committed to nonviolent dissidence and political change. You embody a life of principle in practice and we are proud to celebrate your extraordinary dedication to peaceful, democratic values by conferring on you the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa.

22 Nov 2005

O Tempora, O Mores

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The New York Sun has discovered a recent undergraduate fad spreading from Yale (& Brown?) to Columbia: Naked Parties.

Columbia undergraduates are staging parties with one basic ground rule – all guests must part with their clothes upon arrival. The invitation circulating around Morningside Heights bans three additional items: cameras, masks, and “spikey things.”.. A student who attended the party in the spring, Richard Lipkin, said about 80 to 100 naked people – including a fair number of law and business school students – were concentrated in one apartment. Clothes were dumped near the entrance. Women slightly outnumbered men, and people were generally – if not exclusively – good looking, the type who are often more willing to flout culture’s restrictions on nudity.

Mr. Lipkin said he had no recollection of the music that was played.

“It was surprisingly comfortable,” he said. “Most of the people were quite comfortable. Everyone was pretty mature about it. I don’t think anything inappropriate went on. … People were definitely networking, but there wasn’t anything bad going on.”

A novel published last March by recent Yale graduate Natalie Krinsky (Timothy Dwight, 2004) features an account of her fictionalized heroine attending one.


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