Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘columbia’

An Innovative Approach to Financial Aid

July 17, 2008 · 2 Comments

As I await resolution to The Great Fellowship Debacle of Ought-Eight (current status: 1 call, 3 e-mails, zero response), I’ve found an interesting idea via Tyler Cowenmatching donors directly with students, thus cutting out the middle-man of the Financial Aid Office.

The organization that arranges the matching is called, and the guiding principle is that a direct matching process is more transparent, accountable and efficient than the current system schools have in place.

Their blog links to an article in the Princeton Weekly which discusses the distortionary pressures large endowment-subsidized tuitions can create in the competitive marketplace of higher education.  While Princeton might make be making education “universal” for its own students, the subsidy places tremendous upward price pressure on student tuitions across the board at other schools (especially Columbia).  As DiscoverScholar observes:

…historically elite learning institutions have much greater endowments and other financial resources at their fingertips.  These resources allow them to offer a better product and cheaper tuition to prospective students (which they will compensate for through interest on their endowments and subsequent alumni donations over coming years).  As a result, students accepted to a Princeton or Harvard face virtually no quality vs. price trade-off.

As I’ve written before, while SIPA has a $30 million endowment to support about 1200 students, the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton boasts a $558 million (endowment) for 200 students. As a result, not only is SIPA’s “percentage of revenue generated via tuition” double that of Princeton’s, but we have more inter-program competition for jobs and higher student-to-faculty ratios, including in the career services office.  (This does not even mention the fact that WWS offers tuition reimbursement for public sector committments, something SIPA could not even dream of doing).

As I’ve also written before, both here and for the Morningside Post, amassing student debt prohibits the student’s decision to enter the public sector.  The Review article mentions that a 2007 study co-authored by Princeton professors Cecilia Rouse and Jesse Rothstein found that even an extra $10,000 in debt greatly diminishes the odds that a graduate will take a public-service or other lower-paying job.

The sad part is that Columbia’s program for International Affairs is incongruently structured to allow students to pursue those jobs.  You have a situation where a bunch of former Peace Corps volunteers are looking to get more formal training in economic development or non-profit management, and they’re expected to pay $40,000 in tuition and fees per year out of pocket?  Seriously?  (Note:  I swear to God I will CACKLE into the phone if Columbia ever has the nerve to call me up for alumni donations).

Anyway, it would be nice to really compete competitively for financial aid based on a transparent matching process than to play the pray and hope and wait (based on misleading information) smokey-room system Columbia currently subscribes to.  (Still angry).

Categories: Opinion · graduate school
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Ask and Ye Shall Receive

July 10, 2008 · 1 Comment

So yesterday I asked some of lawerly friends to read over the Great Fellowship Debacle of Ought-Eight and provide counsel, both legal and otherwise.  Here are some things I learned:

1.)  Lawyers and Summer Associates are either really bored, really prompt, really nerdy, or some combination therein.  Of the 12 or so people I asked to take a look, over half responded within 4 hours.  So thanks guys.

2.)  As one friend put it:  “Let’s not get overly litigious just quite yet. I couldn’t get a read on whether you were just online ranting or if you were seriously curious whether you have a legal claim.” I actually was curious if I had a legal claim, but more so because of how little leverage I have otherwise.  If you’re one student in a school that hosts over 1300, your tuition’s contribution to the budget is marginal.  On the other side of the coin, being one year through a two year master’s leaves me little recourse other than to suck it up, foot the bill, and spend the rest of my life angrily shaking my fist at Columbia on the way to work as I pass it on the public bus from my tenement house in the Bronx.

3.)  The consensus (I think) was that I might have a case, but it was weak and probably not worth my time.  Even if the statement is a misrepresentation, I would have to prove that it was reasonably reliant (which might be doable, considering I’ve seen it used in other promotional materials, including the admittance package), and then I’d probably have to prove scienter, meaning that the statement was intentionally misleading.  Plus there are issues of damages; it’s hard to weight the opportunity cost of the forgone scholarship at GW against the intangible benefits Columbia could argue their degree provides.  All in all, again, not worth my time.

4)  The most consistent advice is that I try to work this out with the administration.  That I explain my situation and write and e-mail explaining my position.  There might even be an appeals process I can work through.  So I’ve called the Student Affairs Dean and written her the letter… we’ll see what comes of that.  It sounds like in the past the administration works to get you a “reader” position (as in reading papers and exams) which is small-commitment/small award fellowship for the first semester, and then get you a Program Assistant fellowship for the second semester (1/4 tuition or $9,000 for 20 hr./wk).

So anyway, there’s still hope, I guess.  Will let you know what comes of it.

Categories: graduate school
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In Need of Legal Advice

July 9, 2008 · 3 Comments

Here’s a teaser to all of my law-school friends out there:

I recently found out that I wasn’t selected for a fellowship from my graduate program.  Not only was this a huge bummer, but it was a tremendous source of confusion.

You see, I was operating under the information provided by SIPA’s Financial Aid web-page, which clearly states the following:

Approximately 70% of the second-year class receives a SIPA fellowship award, averaging $18,000 per award.

As I mentioned last week, “if I’m not in the top 70% of my class, I’ll eat my freaking hat.”  In fact, I know for a fact that my GPA (3.59) places me well above the 50th percentile, because SIPA’s Adjunct Teaching Manual states that “grades submitted for SIPA core courses or courses with enrollments over 30 should have an average GPA between 3.2 and 3.4, with the goal being 3.3.”

According to the Career Services Employment Statistics, 389 MIA students and 262 MPA students graduated in 2007, for a total of 651 students.  And according to the e-mail I received notifying me that I was not selected for a fellowship, 285 MIA and 68 MPA students applied for continuing student fellowships, for a total of 353 students.

Now, I’m no math major, but 70% of a class of 651 students is 455 students.  If “Approximately 70% of the second-year class received fellowship funding,” then everyone who applied should have been matched, with 100 fellowships left unfilled.  But I didn’t get one.


I called the Student Affairs office with the WTF? question and was told that “70% of eligible second-year students who apply” receive fellowships.”  That sounds like a “50% of the time, it works every time” type of statistic to me.

Moreover, considering the rationale for fellowship selection (in order of importance: 1. academic merit; 2. financial need; and 3. extracurricular activities), I still should’ve been in the top 70% of eligible candidates.  But I didn’t get a dime.  I didn’t even get fucking work study, which is like a $14 hour pittance.

Here’s the frustrating thing: I could’ve gone to George Washington University’s Elliot School on a 3/4 tuition; I could’ve gone to SAIS and competed for a second-year fellowship there.  I chose SIPA on good faith that I would compete for and receive a fellowship, and I made that decision based on the information available to me.

I feel that I have been mislead and intentionally deceived.  Given the false information, do I have legal grounds to sue for fraudulent inducement?

For a two years master’s program, “an average of $18K” is a pretty big fucking carrot to dangle to “70% of the class,” when in actuality only 38% of the class receive that money.

Categories: graduate school
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Makes me angry

July 2, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Jesus Cristo this has gotten expensive:

Master of International Affairs (MIA)

2008                           2009                Percentage Increase

Tuition and Fees:                  $38,449                                 $39,036                           1.53%

Room and Board:                   $13,950                                 $14,400                           3.22%

Books:                                   $ 1,500                                  $ 1,500                            0.00%

Personal Expenses/Travel:    $ 3,195                                  $ 5,080                           58.99%

Total Expected Costs:    $57,094                         $60,016                     5.12%

I’m obviously not too stoked on a 5.12% expected increase in cost of attendance at what was already one of the most expensive schools in the country.  The big jump in personal expenses comes from “travel,” which (all of a sudden) factors into the expense of, yannow, moving across the country for 9 months, visiting family for the holidays, then moving somewhere else for a 3 month internship.

Of course, I’ve been offered no work study and am still on the wait-list for fellowships.  SIPA advertises that “approximately 70% of the second-year class receives a SIPA fellowship award, averaging $18,000 per award.”  Well, I had a first-semester GPA of 3.59 (3 A-’s and a B+) while working 20 hours per week and thus far I’ve gotten nada.  Zilch.  Squat.  And if I’m not in the top 70% of my class, I’ll eat my freaking hat.

Like I said… not happy.

Categories: graduate school
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Embarrassing Conversations

June 12, 2008 · 1 Comment

Filed Under:  Conversations that, had they hypothetically occurred last night, would have been tremendously embarrassing.

[Outside Patio at Wonderland Ballroom]

Me:  I could totally live in a van for 9 months.  Think about how much money I would save!  Almost ten grand!

Friend:  But what if you wanted to take a shower?

Me:  I’m already paying for gym access to Columbia, I could wake up early every morning, go the the gym, shower, brush my teeth, and be good to go!

Friend:  But what if you got home after the gym closed and you needed to shower?

Me:  The gym is open until like midnight, I’d be fine.

Friend:  But what if you pooed your pants?

Me:  I’ve only pooed my pants one time in the last 15 years, that risk is pretty small.  I mean, small enough where I shouldn’t be making long-term decisions based around it.

Friend:  That’s a misleading statement.  It makes it sound like the last time you pooed your pants was when you were ten.

Me:  No, I pooed my pants all the time when I was ten.  I’m just saying since then, I’ve only pooed my pants once.  [Notices eavesdropping girl on sidewalk, unlocking bike from fence.]  Not that I’m particularly proud of that time of my life.  Or the time last year when I pooed my pants…. [awkward silence]… I’m going to get another beer.

[Eavesdropping girl on sidewalk, to Friend]:  Are you going to still talk to that guy?

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Amoral Decisions…?

April 8, 2008 · 1 Comment

On the self-justifying nature of professional salaries, Ezra Klein writes:

Indeed, I’m always fascinated by how little self-consciousness the professional class has about their lives. You often hear folks with six figure salaries talking about how “hard” they worked to get ahead. But working at a law firm isn’t any harder than, say, laying tar, or standing on your feet selling cell phones all day. It’s just more highly valued. It’s smart early investments and a host of material and internal advantages that lead to one man’s labor earning hundreds of thousands, while another man’s barely pays the rent. But it’s hard to argue that attending an Ivy League school where you smoke a lot of pot and pretend you understand Focault is more taxing than entering a service sector job right out of high school. The professional class just likes to pretend that it is in order to lay a patina of virtue and ethics over what are, in fact, amoral decisions of the market.

It seems very difficult to take a stance on this issue without feeling either overtly callous or apologetically guilty.

Higher education may be over-valued as an indicator of diligence, perseverance, dedication, loyalty, or industriousness, but it is still pretty accurate as an indicator of ability, intelligence, creativity, and analysis. And those are skills that can’t be learned overnight… they are skills that represent years of time spent cultivating the mind.

Over time, the individual who reads on the subway and the individual who plays a PS3 (or does nothing at all) arrive at disparate life outcomes. Those hours should be considered (if not accounted for) when making comparisons between blue- and white-collar jobs.

Over the course of a lifetime, manual labor CLEARLY remains the undesirable career option, regardless of income. But if we are to compare apples and oranges, we should at least take into consideration the effort required to cultivate both crops, and not just their respective tastes at harvest.

Categories: Uncategorized
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I saw David Simon last week…

April 1, 2008 · 2 Comments

Like most white people, I’m a huge fan of The Wire.  So when David Simon came to Columbia University’s School of Journalism, I went to see what he had to say.  It was a lot.

Two and a half-hours later, I was punching myself for not taking notes.

The most curious thing about Simon wasn’t that he was exactly the crass curmudgeon I expected.  It was the fact that the creator of the most compelling television drama ever just isn’t a remarkably creative person.  Which isn’t meant as a slight against him, I think. Let me explain:

Simon, at his core, is a journalist.  That much is clear. He is able to convey context and subtext by asking the right questions, by doggedly pursuing the why and how come of any issue.  The characters he wrote in The Wire are remarkably authentic because Simon based them on real people he had met in Baltimore, either in a bar or on the street.  People he had researched and interviewed relentlessly until he understood their particular challenges and motivations.  He mentioned that writing fiction in this fashion, based on real people, demanded a level of accountability to authenticity that is unparalleled in any other craft (this is especially the case in his next series based on the Iraq war).

The second aspect about Simon is that he is extremely fatalistic and deterministic.  On several occasions, he has mentioned that his stories were based on Greek tragedies or Western movies.  Simon is convinced that any institution will inevitably betray and doom the individuals who commit themselves to it.  And so once he has his characters sketched (based on real people), he can project their fates based on their endowed context and relationship within larger institutional or societal arrangements.

When you remove free-will, or pit it against fate, fiction becomes a much easier task.  Simon isn’t a Picasso, he is Wyeth… he doesn’t deconstruct reality and reproduce it abstractly through his own lens, he presents representational art.

Indeed, it is when Simon strays away from what he really knew of Baltimore (the homeless homicide plot, the Hampsterdam experiment) when The Wire was weakest.  But who needs imagination when reality is so compelling?

And THAT IS THE SINGLE BIGGEST TAKEAWAY FROM THE SHOW.  A journalist found a captive audience via television, by repackaging unreported newsroom material.

Categories: Uncategorized
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It’s Time for a 21st Century Theory of International Relations

December 18, 2007 · 5 Comments

Last Monday’s lecture in my Conceptual Foundations of International Politics class was taught by Professor Jeffry Sachs.  He is a cheerleader and an optimist and certainly has some ideas worth listening to.

One of the things Sachs spoke to that I really had been waiting to hear all semester is that “it’s time for a 21st Century Theory of International Relations.”  It’s so true.

When historians are evaluating the Bush legacy, and America’s history at the turn of the century, they will be harsh not for any specific policy decisions undertaken, but the principles under which those decisions were made.  And the principle that will be criticized most harshly will not be the naive presupposition that democracy can be exported by force.  It will be the more dangerous assumption that our global society can be managed unilaterally.

Think of it this way:  when you see advertisements today like the following:


You are somewhat appalled (or ironically amused) by the quaint anachronism implied by the advertisement.  This is because we’ve redefined cultural norms of a woman’s role in society.  We’ve read the Feminine Mystique, we’ve experienced a cultural “movement” to the extent that such previously established cultural norms now seem dangerously retrograde and unsophisticated.

Now consider the following:  In a 2004 article for the New York Times Magazine, Ron Suskind interviewed an aide to the Bush White House:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

It’s only been 3 years(!) and this quote ALREADY seems out of touch (with the reality they’ve created!)   The only thing that remains true from this quote is that solutions have, and will always emerge from the judicious study of discernible reality.  Empires create problems that empires cannot solve.  And problems exist outside of the control of empire, which is why empires inevitably dissolve, either by overreach, or overreaction.

We need a 21st century of international relations that teaches those Americans in power that a unilateral American empire is an unsustainable reality.

We need a theory that is based on the discernible realities of the problems we face in the 21st century, that are far different from the problems of the 17th, 18th, 19th and even the 20th century.

We need a theory that recognizes that a liberalized, open, global economy is the new reality for all of the world, and states must adapt accordingly or suffer the consequences of adhering to “quaint anachronisms.”

We need a theory that recognizes that the world is adding 90 million people per year, that we might already be at carrying capacity, that we are on the possible brink of a Malthusian catastrophe.

We need a theory that recognizes what  Jared Diamond teaches: that societies which destroy their own resources destroy themselves, and that today we are a de facto global society sharing global resources.

We need a theory that  stops relying on a theories of balance of power between states, and one that looks at non-state actors.  One that studies asymmetric gaps in capacities, instead of evaluating the capabilities of a single country.  One that redefines the idea of sovereignty, that universalizes the principles of human rights, that establishes and regulates the norms of global capitalism.

In the 21st century, it makes more sense to look at the galactic federations of science fiction than it does to look backward at the Holy Roman Empire.  And we have the capacities of reason, of predictive forecasting, of logic, and of history to guide us.  What we lack is the political leadership, and a progressive , normative, academic consensus.  So get on it people.

Categories: Uncategorized
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A Day Out Against Hate?

November 28, 2007 · Leave a Comment

So I received this email from our dean:

On Thursday, November 29th, Columbia students will have the opportunity to participate in various activities to mark NYC’s “Day out against Hate.”  In addition to these activities, SIPA students who are concerned about recent bias incidents on campus and want to support diversity at SIPA are invited to a forum from 4:00 – 5:00pm this Thursday, November 29th in Room 1501.  Please join SIPASA MPA Co-president Pat Contreras, Associate Dean Sara Mason and Assistant Dean Alleyne Waysome to discuss possible initiatives to support diversity and students from underrepresented groups (for example, African Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, and other constituencies who feel they need representation) to contribute your ideas and experiences.

I’m somewhat concerned that the response to “recent bias incidents” is an open forum that categorically lists underrepresented groups to “contribute their ideas and experiences” in the discussion of possible initiatives to support diversity.

My concern is that this isn’t an open forum to all students.  I fail to see how a dialog about diversity is a logical response to a hate incident, and how this activity represents the intention of “A Day Out Against Hate,” which implies solidarity in support of tolerance, and against bigotry.  That is to say, it seems more of a reactionary response than a progressive one.
I would be much more comfortable if the school choose to approach the forum as an alliance of students against hate instead of atomizing us based on the principle of “representation.”  First of all, proportionally, Asian Americans are not underrepresented in higher education, and their inclusion in this invitation (and the notable exclusion of white students) makes the whole exercise suspect.  Secondly, as an international school, diversity is our calling card, and I wouldn’t even be able to tell you what the plural majority might be in terms of ethnic representation.

I have no doubt that as a white male I am implicitly invited to this event, but it makes me somewhat uncomfortable that I would be explicitly neglected in the invitation.  Diversity, tolerance and respect are universal ideals, and should be discussed universally.  Although I may not feel threatened by the bias incidents performed on campus, I am equally ashamed as any other student that they took place at my University.

My point is: there are male feminists, there are gay-straight alliances, there are inclusive progressive groups everywhere promoting diversity in solidarity.  “A Day Out Against Hate” should similarly be a united front.

Categories: Uncategorized
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Unregistered Student or Illegal Alien?

November 19, 2007 · Leave a Comment

[Blitzer]:  Senator Obama, it seems the nature of the question lends itself to a yes or no answer:  “Would you extend student identification privileges to an undocumented student?”

[Obama]:  Now, this is a red herring argument.  These people aren’t coming to this University to get discounted movie tickets.  They’re coming here to enroll in classes.  What we need is comprehensive reform of our registration policies, so that we don’t have instances where we have these undocumented students.  We need to have a registration system that works, that doesn’t lock out people who are on the path to becoming legal students.  One that perhaps has the course listings, degree requirements, course descriptions, prerequisites, course approval requirements, and availability all in the same place, so we don’t have instances where students are falling through the cracks.

[Blitzer]:  An evasive answer to a simple question.  Let me pose this to the floor.  Congressman Kucinich:  where do you stand on this issue of illegal students?

[Kucinich]:  I take offense to the term “illegal.”  These are human beings, they’re just living their lives.  They’re undocumented, yes, but that’s because we make the path to documentation so utterly convoluted that we end up with situation at hand.

[Blitzer]:  Let’s hear from someone who’s not a hippie Keebler elf.  Senator Clinton, what is your take on this issue?

[Clinton]:  Well, as a carpetbagging New Yorker, this is an issue that’s very dear to my heart.  A lot of my constituents are dealing with these illegal students.  What if they have a seizure on campus?  How would we know where to send the medical bills?  Look: the fact is, in today’s global economy, our students are going to need to have the skills to navigate through a poorly constructed bureaucratic online system.  I say: give them their identification cards, and let them figure out the rest.

[Edwards]:  If I’m not mistaken, Senator Clinton just gave two different answers [confused eyebrow look].  That was a lot of words!

[Clinton]:  I don’t appreciate the mud-slinging from Senator Edwards.

[Edwards]:  With all due respect Senator Clinton, I’m from North Carolina… I sling tar.

[Clinton]:  [abruptly spastic laughter]

[Blitzer]:  Let’s get a Republican take on this issue.  Mr. Giuliani, as a New Yorker yourself, how do you feel about Columbia’s registration policies?

[Giuliani]:  Well first of all, this is an international school we’re talking about.  60% of the students are foreign born.  In a post 9/11 environment, we cannot afford to have undocumented students running around our universities, thinking that they’re registered for the following semester, when in reality they’ve neglected to enroll in the accompanying discussion sections, which have since been blocked out, or get departmental approval.  This is a security issue.  What if someone from India or Pakistan, with proficient IT skills, hacks our system and replaces it with one that’s fully functional and meets the needs of the students enrolling?  I think we can agree, this is an unacceptable risk we can’t afford to take.

[Blitzer]:  So what is your proposed solution?

[Giuliani]:  Well, first of all, we need to firewall the system.  Lock the students out if they’ve been inactive for longer than 3 minutes.

[Blitzer]:  I believe that’s already the case…

[Giuliani]:  Well, on a related issue, the Democrats seem to be flirting with this idea of amnesty: of letting students into impacted classes after they’ve missed their registration appointments, or because they improperly registered, or because they’ve failed to get instructor approval.  This is preposterous.  We need to identify those students who have improperly registered and give them “guest student” status, whereupon they can still pay full tuition to take classes they have no interest in, or otherwise don’t help their degree requirements or field of concentration, until the following semester.

I could keep going with this for hours on end.  Hey Columbia, your enrollment procedures suck.  See: UCLA Registrar for guidance.

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