Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘columbia’

Living in America!

November 8, 2007 · 1 Comment

After receiving the results from my Econ midterm (by far the hardest exam I’ve ever taken), I gotta say… thank the good Lord for grade inflation!

America!  Where a 66% is a B+!

I feel GOOD!  It’s a MAN’s world!

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Snarky Hiatus

October 11, 2007 · Leave a Comment

I will be taking an extended break over the next 8 days to focus on midterms.  Until that time, this post still applies.

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Morningside Post Article: Donor Disparity

October 10, 2007 · 1 Comment


Reader’s Note:  This article originally appeared in the Morningside Post.

Jonathan Host, MIA 2009

In a comparison of the Woodrow Wilson School of International and Public Affairs at Princeton, and SIPA, the Columbia Spectator reports:

While SIPA has a $30 million endowment to support about 1200 students, the Woodrow Wilson School boasts a $558 million (endowment) for 200 students. This not only allows Princeton to be more flexible and swift in making changes, but makes opportunities possible that Columbia cannot offer its students.

This disparity is made even more explicit when visiting Columbia’s fund-raising campaign website. The endowment per student figures (included at the beginning of this post, as reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education for all degree granting programs, including the International Schools),is nearly four times greater at Princeton than it is at Columbia.

How does Columbia in general, and SIPA specifically, remain competitive?

Quite simply, it’s a matter of more students paying higher tuitions. Columbia’s revenue share from tuition is significantly higher than that of Harvard, Yale, Stanford or Princeton.

The substantial burden of financing an education intended to lead to a career in policy or public service is very distressing. At this year’s orientation session on Financial Aid, when Assistant Director of Financial Aid Claudio Vargas was asked the typical length of time expected to fully pay off student loans after SIPA, he responded: “For some people it’s six months… for others, 60 years.” (I couldn’t tell if he was joking or not, but either way, I assure you… I did not laugh).

Princeton too, despite its impressive endowment, is not without its fair share of financial problems. Last month the Washington Post ran a front page article entitled “Exacting Donors Reshape College Giving.” The article detailed the ongoing lawsuit of Robertson v. Princeton, a case with enormous implications on the interpretation of the flexible use of “restricted” and “unrestricted” donations to educational institutions.

The Robertson endowment– originally a $35 million stock donation underwritten to to “establish . . . a Graduate School, where men and women dedicated to public service may prepare themselves for careers in government service”– today represents a fund that has grown to over $840 million.

Robertson claims that Princeton has “improperly spent more than $207 million (…) and that between 1990 and 2003, only about 10 percent of the graduates funded by the foundation went into international affairs jobs with the federal government.” (Interesting to note that Princeton told the Spectator that “85 percent of WWS graduates have taken employment in public service over the past three years,” although that statistic doesn’t describe “government service in isolation,” whatever that means).

The lesson learned from the Robertson case is that large, restricted donations– especially those earmarked for students– can handcuff the flexibility of a University’s administration.

On the bright side: I suppose you could assume that Columbia’s reliance on student tuition for revenue provides it with more flexibility, right? That a lower share of “restricted” alumni donations allows for greater administrative freedom?

If President Lee Bollinger’s recent opening address to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is any indication, I would speculate that’s not the case. As I’ve previously suggested, donors’ contributions (and more specifically, their threat of withholding future contributions) shaped the embarrassingly political nature of that speech.

Indeed, it seems to be the case in any budget that administrator’s are most attentive to the most volatile component. This is the case with stocks in mutual funds or taxes in national budgets. And it is clearly the case with alumni donations in University income statements.

Meanwhile, not only are students left without any recourse to protest (financially) the actions and decisions of their institutional leaders, but they must also bear the brunt of our predecessors’ capriciousness, or administration’s ineptitude. That is to say, to balance the books, more students are admitted at higher cost of attendance. And that in turn means greater competition for jobs, and rising indebtedness. Rising indebtedness means (even more) constraint in career choice.

And even if the constrained career choice directs alumni into careers and positions of higher lifetime earnings, I suspect that students’ long memories of Columbia’s stinginess will not translate well to future endowments.

But maybe I’m just bitter.

Jonathan Host is a first-year MIA studying Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis. He writes for fun on his blog .

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The $57,000 Elephant in My Head

September 27, 2007 · Leave a Comment

New article on the Morningside Post here. I wish I were as prolific with homework production as I am with writing articles. Nothing makes you more productive with something you like than avoidance of something you dislike.

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I’m HUGE in the UK

September 26, 2007 · 1 Comment

not so much in Japan though.


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Ahmadinejad: Snarky Edition

September 26, 2007 · 1 Comment

Wow! Yesterday was quite the day. I ditched two classes to watch a dictator speak, write an article about it, go to a Mets game, and stay up until 4 am doing accounting/statistics homework.

Thanks to all the well-wishers for my article in the Huffington Post. The backstory on that is: my friend Colin (an Editor for the HP) e-mailed me right before the event asking me if I could write something from the perspective of a Columbia student. I literally ran home to type it and send it off, scooped most of the other bloggers on the “Bollinger was an a-hole” angle, and now there’s over 400 comments. Prettayy, prettayyy goooood.

In all honesty, hearing the President of an Ivy league institution use such crass language, was really quite shocking. The crowd was completely jingoistic about it too, because he’d mix in really passionate charges (about detained scholars, capital punishment of minors, repressed women and homosexuals, denial of the holocaust, nuclear ambitions, meddlings in Iraq) with petty capstone insults (”face of evil”, “ignorant and uneducated,” “intellectually uncourageous.”)

So I found myself clapping at some parts and cocking my head sideways at others. At the end, he walked off the stage like a rapper dropping the mic before on encore. It was really weird. I wonder how much self-loathing went into that address– he has a strong history as a legal scholar in free-speech, and he was clearly pandering to a political base that writes very large checks to the university (read: Upper West Side Jewish community). So maybe he stormed off for effect… maybe he stormed off out of shame. Who knows.

So that’s that. On to snark:

The Persian Hand Wave
Ahmadinejad’s “here’s the back of my hand, kiss my ring” wave has got to be in the top 3 most hilarious salutes of all time, with Nixon’s “two-handed shaking my peace fingers” and Hitler’s “Heil! I have a silly mustache, please be seated!” gestures.

Let’s Make a Stop at Filene’s before the Speech
Um, so apparently our economic embargo on Iran really limits the quality and availability of non-cheap suits. Ahmadinejad was wearing the suit I had in 4th grade that my parents got me to wear to a wedding, because they knew I’d grow out of it in 6 months anyway. Hey dictator! Get with the program, throw on some fatigues!

“We Don’t Have Homosexuals Like You Do”
To me, this was the most important moment of the entire day. A room full of rational people LAUGHING like a studio audience at an irrational person for revealing a nonsensical position. How important is that? Domestically, people fear this man, they are jailed secretly or sent to the army for criticizing him. Gays are arrested and even hung for excercising their sexual preference. And we LAUGHED at him. It felt really, really good to do that.

What does that have to do with the price of rugs in Persia?
Ahmadinejad did a superb job orating until the questions turned to internal repression. That’s when he lost a captive audience. When asked about capital punishment of women, gays and minors, he started talking about drug dealers and thugs, about the need to “eliminate microbes” from the body to keep it healthy. I was proud of our Dean when he interrupted him and said, “Sir, the question wasn’t about punishing thugs and drug dealers, it was about women and sexual preference.” SCOREBOARD!

Denying the Holocaust is not a good way to make friends
I’ve read that this rhetoric doesn’t even play very well in Iran, that it’s spoken mostly to gain legitimacy within the greater Arab world. Whatever. It’s stupid. You want to calculate the exact number of people that were exterminated by Nazi Germany? Go ahead. Does that exact number matter? Does it change the current state of affairs? Does it make the state of Israel less legimitate if the number was 4 million instead of 6 million? Why is there a requisite threshold of deaths for something to be a “holocaust”?

I understand that it’s an issue used to question the legitimacy of the Israeli state. But why must you broach an important issue that has some merit, with an illogical issue that has NO merit, and moreover is extremely painful for those involved? I just don’t see the benefit.

He blinded me with science
Man oh man, the opening epistemological discussion of the “purity” of science was a snoozer. Look, people (including scientists and researchers) pursue things more actively for material gain than for immaterial gain. Sure, many are looking for glory and prestige. But that is secondary, especially in the West, where last time I checked, most scientific research is taking place.

Moreover, material satisfaction is pursued more peacefully and rationally than immaterial satisfaction (unless you’re Buddah). Once someone has something the rest of the world doesn’t, they’re going to try to collect rent from the knowledge. This is how economics works. If God or Allah or whomever intended for all of humanity to be illuminated by all knowledge equally, we would be born omnipotent and divine. If you want the equipment and technology needed to power your country with nuclear energy so you can sell your oil instead of consuming it, you’re certainly not going to get it from us for free.

All things I wish Bollinger would’ve said as a RESPONSE to what Ahmadinejad actually said, instead of the pre-emptive attack he gave. What kind of debate tactic is that? Why is forceful rhetoric the debative norm in US politics now (and apparently US academia)? It’s astounding…

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Thoughts on Ahmadinejad at Columbia

September 24, 2007 · 4 Comments

Readers Note: The following blog post was written for The Huffington Post on a tight deadline. Snarky post to follow.

Leading up to today’s event, I kept hearing and reading that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a “controversial” figure. But controversy implies a dispute, and there seems to be a unanimous consensus on campus that the Iranian president is repugnant, and his world views reprehensible.

For that reason it might be more appropriate to label Ahmadinejad as a “divisive figure.” The controversy, after all, isn’t about him, so much is it about us. Whether we can extend tolerance to those who espouse intolerance and hatred, and whether we are secure enough in our own positions and institutions to listen to public criticism from someone who would censure such discourse within his own nation.

President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University expanded on this important distinction during his frigid welcoming remarks to Mr. Ahmadinejad: “We are required by the norms of free speech” to “excercise extraordinary restraint and not retreat” in the “face of evil.” “We do not honor the dishonorable,” he said, but “do it for ourselves, to understand the world we live in.”

Mr. Bollinger’s remarks were not addressed to Mr. Ahmadinejad. In fact, I don’t recall him ever even looking at the man. They were addressed to those within the greater audience that would criticize Columbia for offering it’s institutional legitimacy as leverage to a Holocaust denier and terrorist sponsor. “I am only a professor who happens to be the President of a University,” Bollinger said, before briskly walking off stage. “I speak for those yearning to express their collective revulsion. I only wish I could do better.”

As a student of Columbia, and an American citizen, I wish Bollinger had done better too. I found his petty insults (at one point he charged “I doubt you have the intellectual courage to answer these questions”) to be unnecessarily aggressive and uncivil. He promised a “robust discourse” and delivered a bait-and-switch public admonition, to which Ahmadinejad rightfully took offense, as a guest of the University.

Just as we must show restraint in not retreating from contentious debates, so must we constructively engage in these debates in an effort to embolden our own positions and weaken our enemies’. Insults are, and have always been, the trademark of the insecure.

Ahmadinejad, for his part, recognized his role in our internal debate over free-speech and discourse. He warned that self-absorption allows for misconstrual of the actions and intentions of others. That questioning the rights of others to ask questions is in itself a questionable practice.

All very enlightening guiding principles, if they were actually practiced and recognized within his country, or if the questions he was asking weren’t the veracity of the Holocaust. (The highlight of the event by far was when, in response to accusations of repressing homosexuality, he stated: “Iran doesn’t have the issue of homosexuals,” and the audience collectively laughed at him.)

Ahmadinejad is a crackpot, certainly. But it is not enough to dismiss him with an insulting label and move on. We must be willing to listen to the accusations of our enemies in order to properly defend the actions we take in the world in which we live. And I am proud to be part of a University and country that is strong enough to allow such discourse.

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I’m Seeing Ahmadinejad!

September 19, 2007 · 2 Comments

It turns out, compulsively checking your e-mail pays dividends.

Nearly a year to the day that Columbia University’s President Lee Bollinger nixed then Dean Lisa Anderson’s invitation to Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to come speak at the School for International and Public Affairs, it was rather quietly announced that he will be making an appearance on Monday.

Based on the number of times the server crashed at the World Leaders Forum site while I scrambled to reserve a seat, I think this should be an interesting affair.

What do I ask him??? Do I invite him to play a game of Risk??? Israel’s not on that map… I think we could find common ground. Until I conquered Australia, swept through Indonesia and marched across Asia to send him back to the Middle East in shame.

This puts my official “crazy world leaders seen in person count” at 3: Bush, Castro and Ahmadinejad.

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Check it Out!

September 13, 2007 · Leave a Comment

My very first article at the Morningside Post!

The Morningside Post is the official blog for Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. Its aim is to foster the debate (we as students) didn’t have in class and to feature the most passionate and inquisitive voices in SIPA’s community.

It should be fairly easy for me to cross reference my “Dropping Knowledge” and “Why Can’t PhD’s Communicate?” -style posts onto the MP. Should be fun.

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Looks Like I’ll Fit Right In!

August 31, 2007 · 5 Comments

Yesterday we had a reception for incoming students (beer provided! Hooray for private schools!) and I signed up to be a contributing writer for The Morningside Post. (More to come on that front as it develops.)

I didn’t get a chance to meet with the student group that puts on an end of the year production called Follies, but given its snarky irreverancy targeted toward points of authority (see my latest post on financial aid), the group seems right up my alley. From Ivygate:

This time the story is set at Columbia University’s School of International and
Public Affairs, an institution that we imagine buys red tape by the mile. These
are students training to be parts of bureaucratic machinery. Navigating the
school’s rigid hierarchy, financial aid office, and shoddy advising system –
that’s just part of your education! At the very least, a few students saw enough
similarity between their school and the existential mudpit of The Office to
write and shoot their own remarkably faithful remake. It’s got the same
characters as the NBC version, only everyone is Columbia-fied: Michael Scott
burns time surfing J Date. Dwight denies students financial aid. The deans award
fellowships by picking out the cutest applicants’ photos and throwing darts at
the finalists to determine the winner. It’s worth a gander, but you’ll have to
fill out a permission request first.

This is fantastic! Al, clearly your advice to “be myself, but not FULLY myself” was misguided.

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