Bollinger Talks Globalizing Core at Forum

By Maia Bix – November 22, 2013

Columbia Spectator

University President Lee Bollinger discussed Columbia’s global programs Thursday afternoon, saying the Core Curriculum needs a more international focus.

Nearly 150 students joined Bollinger and the four undergraduate deans at the event hosted by the Undergraduate Committee on Global Thought to discuss Columbia’s current global scope and areas for improvement. The event comes as administrators are pushing programs for undergraduates at Columbia’s global centers.

Bollinger said he’d like to see some improvements to the Core that would shift it away from its western focus after students questioned Columbia’s approach to globalization.

“If I had my dream, I would take everyone who teaches the Core all around the world for a year, and we’d learn everything we could,” he said. “I bet that when we got back, we would teach it differently.”

Ben Spener, CC ’14 and chair of the Undergraduate Committee on Global Thought, said that “study abroad and the Core point to a westernized, not holistic, approach to globalization and interconnectedness.”

“One of the things we need to do is basically just go out and learn what the hell is going on in the world,” Bollinger said. “We sit in this splendid isolation of the dominant power in so many ways that we haven’t had the incentive, but now we have to go out and learn.”

He suggested that it is up to students to take the initiative and ask the questions that will push faculty in this direction, but also pointed to the humanities as a resource for understanding other cultures.

“I can’t speak to you—I can’t understand you if I don’t know anything about where you’re coming from,” he said.

Students were also concerned with international access to Columbia. Admissions are not need-blind for international students, and many, including Bollinger, are adamant about changing that.

“We cannot have a university with the principles we have and not have need-blind admissions for international students,” he said. “It’s a very, very high priority.”

When asked about expanding online classes, Bollinger was less vocal. “It’s just starting. We don’t know where it will go,” he said.

Before answering students’ questions at the event, Bollinger gave a lengthy introduction on Columbia’s future and the implications of its global pursuits.

“I think there are at least two very powerful forces changing the world: global economic investment … and the second, really, is closer to my heart,” he said. “We’ve invented the first global communications system in human history … the third part of this, which is critical, is that these forces are creating massive global problems.”

“By definition, these issues can no longer be solved alone by one country,” Bollinger said. “That’s not the world we’re going to live in, and I don’t think that’s the world we live in now.”

Spener, who organized the event, said that Bollinger based his introduction on questions he had received beforehand and on questions asked in an October Spectator op-ed by Chris Canales.

Students said they thought the event was helpful in highlighting the school’s international programs.

“I thought it was really insightful. I was really encouraged by the University’s emphasis on being more global,” Jordan Mosley, CC’ 17, said.

Kate Christensen, BC ’14, shared his enthusiasm. “I think it’s really valuable to have mic time with the president of the University, and that he really puts the onus on the students to be proactive about the things they want to change,” she said.

Bollinger also found the event to be a success and a nice way to hear what students were thinking.

“To have a discussion like this where people are very interested in the questions, to me, it’s exactly what I’d hoped for,” he said.

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