An half dozen or more of our family have attended Columbia or affiliated institutions in Morningside Heights. Sadly what we have seen over the years has been a divided institution — one that values scholarship and one that pursues mad real estate and other dubious schemes designed to profit the institution. The two faces of Columbia have resembled the Zoroastrian gods of light and dark, good and evil, constantly at war which were imported into our major Western religions as God and the Devil.

One can scarcely believe that Columbia once wanted to invest big bucks in a better cigarette filter or a faculty housing and retail center off towards the Catskills somewhere. But they were once plans put forth by the Columbia trustees, if fortunately abandoned. For most of the period past the mid-20th century, Columbia was known as the landlord from hell with which the Columbia Tenants Union waged wars to protect targets of Columbia’s wrath. We had a brief encounter with one of Columbia’s property lawyers who instructed an assistant to lie in a court case in which we were being sued for being behind in repaying a $150.00 student loan. The case was thrown out and the lawyer admonished by the judge, but we had seen the devil face to face.

Now Columbia is at it again. It is going to build the biggest brain research center on earth on 17 acres of West Harlem extracted from the people there? One can’t help suggesting as a loyal Columbia alum that its monies be directed to faculty — particularly departments in the humanities that are being stinted now.  Where are the greats that we had as teachers such as Ernest Nagel, John Herman Randall, Jr. and Oscar Kristeller and others who taught us philosophy? Columbia would rather spend its none too abundant endowment digging a seven story deep hole in the potential Harlem ditch that runs from the Hudson River to Broadway? Not too wise in this era of radical climate change, methinks. Better to stick with the high ground!

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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