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Monday, January 16, 2006

Quigley down under

A recent letter I sent to the dean of Columbia College:

December 21, 2005

Dear Dean Quigley,

The Young Alumni Fund committee points out that "Last year, 21% of
young alumni contributed an annual fund gift to Columbia, compared to
over 60% at Princeton." But they do not discuss why this is...

Here's a quick list of things that Columbia's administration, under
the board of trustees, president George Rupp and provost Jonathan
Cole, did while I was a student: refused to release to students an
internal report on Columbia's controversial Center for Addiction and
Substance Abuse; refused to release to students an independent report
on AcIS and the library system, rumored to be highly negative; kept
the minutes of trustee meetings completely secret for something like
30 years; left student input out of the design process of Lerner,
which proved a disaster for student services; almost never solicited
feedback about the quality of administrators and deans, several of
whom repeatedly blew off my friends and me in shocking fashion;
refused to allow the graduate student votes on unionization to even be

The administration maintained poor policies and unresponsive offices,
including: a cryptic science requirement that made Jacques Derrida
seem easy to read (you could actually take five semesters of computer
science, three of math, four of advanced physics, and two semesters of
Barnard intro biology, and according to the regulations, you still
wouldn't have completed the science requirement); patronizing major
cultures requirements which insisted you can't learn history if you
take a course on 20th century history before one on the 17th century;
a study abroad program whose application process was horribly
administered and unnecessarily complex, which had Columbia pocket
outright the thousands of dollars of tuition difference between
Columbia and the schools students attended abroad, and that unfairly
left many students without course credit when they returned; an
unnecessarily adversarial financial aid system that was too quick to
put holds on accounts of students who had always paid what they owed
(one friend of a friend, in active contact with the financial aid
office about his pending money transfer, found out he was barred from
enrolling only when his card wouldn't let him swipe into Wallach).

I probably need not mention president Rupp's demand for your
resignation, Dean Quigley, followed by his rescinding his acceptance
of your resignation and his subsequent attempts to quash the reporting
of the episode in Columbia's alumni magazine--all with little
explanation to the student body. I was also disappointed last year
with the failure of president Bollinger to distinguish between the
unpopular opinions of professors in the MEALAC department and unfair
or biased treatment of Jewish students, which I, a Jew, never
experienced in my classes with two of the three accused professors.
But I am less concerned with the particular actions of Rupp, Cole,
Bollinger, and Brinkley, and more with the impenetrable nature of the
administrative bureaucracy at Columbia. Presidents and provosts come
and go; institutional problems remain.

I wish the Steering Committee (on which a friend sits) success with
the fund drive, and I am proud to have contributed this holiday
season. When I have more money to give, I would like to be able to
trust Columbia's administration with it. I hope that by then the
administration will have made clear it understands the errors of the
past, will issue a mea culpa, will fire the administrators I remember
as egregiously irresponsible, and will demonstrate institutional


Benjamin Wheeler, CC '02


Blogger Ben on Sun Feb 04, 10:47:00 PM:
Update: I never received any response to this letter from Columbia. Not a form letter. Nothing.