Book review: A Columbia student's self-published application essays

Posted by: Sean Augustine-Obi in A&E 1 week, 2 days ago

As a child, I spent a good amount of time in the Charlotte, North Carolina area with my dad. The summers were spent by the lakeside, enjoying the not-too-muggy weather and the wide, open spaces that could only be enjoyed in a town where you'd need to drive to get anywhere. NASCAR was the local sport, and the annual Sprint Cup always drew a crowd.

One would think, then, that I'd find rapport with the sentiments described by Columbia student Benjamin Patrick in his self-published collection of application essays, Accepted. The cover's subtitle reads, "NO BS, JUST THE REAL THING," and this genuineness shows in his candid depictions. He describes a love of NASCAR that drove him to become a full-time spotter for the sport, and one of his major goals appears to be applying the analytical skills he hopes to learn as an economics major to manage a race team. In the end, though, Patrick provides a well-intentioned but ultimately flawed roadmap to writing a good admissions essay.



McBain and Hamilton undergoing asbestos removal

Posted by: Sean Augustine-Obi in News 1 week, 6 days ago

During an inspection by Facilities during scheduled renovations, workers discovered asbestos on the 7th and 8th floors of McBain Hall and the 3rd and 4th floors of Hamilton Hall.

According to a notice posted on the entrance of McBain, asbestos was found in the hallway closets on McBain 7 and 8, as well as in 160 feet of insulation piping on McBain 8. The building has since been blocked off from entry, and no students are being housed there over the summer. A similar notice was posted in the stairwell leading to the third floor of Hamilton, where asbestos was found in 60 square feet of window.

Three separate contractors -- Asbestos Corporation of America, Affiliated Environmental Services, and Omega Environmental Services -- have been hired for the abatement process. According to the notices, removal of the asbestos began in late May and is expected to last throughout the summer.

We asked for comment from Facilities about the asbestos removal projects, and got this pretty cleverly crafted response:

Hamilton Hall is undergoing some window work, and McBain is undergoing some exterior work. I’m not aware of any other summer projects at the buildings.

You should know that if we do ever encounter asbestos containing material during renovation work we follow stated DEP guidelines and work closely with University EHS.

For the time being, the signs in Hamilton urge people to avoid the 3rd and 4th floors. Summer classes and other activities have all been relocated to other parts of the building.

View more photos after the jump.



Convicted felon threatens Spec, prompting temporary office closure

Posted by: Sean Augustine-Obi in News 2 weeks ago

In a series of emails sent to all Spectator staff, the newspaper's leadership urged staffers not to enter the office, following a threat by a convicted felon.

Last Thursday, an email sent to staff informed them that the office would be "temporarily closed, effective immediately," and that the circumstances were "extremely serious." The email told staff that attempts to enter the building would cause "a huge amount of trouble," and to wait for more information before using the office.

An email sent earlier today provided more details, saying that a convicted felon had threatened Spec because of an article written about him in the 1970s. The incident was reported to city police and public safety, and an investigation is currently ongoing. The email did not name the suspect.

Now, Capital New York has reported more details on the situation. According to Capital, Daniel Mingues, who had been indicted for manslaughter (but convicted for robbery,  as part of a plea deal) in a case involving the death of a Columbia law professor, approached and threatened Columbia employees working in the building last Tuesday.

Spec had covered the story, from Mingues's arrest in 1972, to his trial and sentencing in 1974. A search for Mingues's name on the newspaper's archives resulted in 13 articles.

Though Spec does not publish regularly during the summer, full-time hired staff still use the office, according to a source close to the publication. According to another (unverified) source, a security guard had been temporarily posted outside the office. Requests for more information made to the university and Public Safety were not answered at post time.

Read the email to Spec staff below.

Hi all,

Last week we emailed you to let you know that the Spec office building was closed. While Columbia operations in the building have continued following the holiday weekend, we are keeping the Spec office closed for the time being.

A convicted felon who is considered dangerous has made threats against Spec because of an article the paper published about him in the 1970s. We don't feel that it's safe for anyone to be in the office as the cops pursue the suspect. This is a serious situation, but I don't want any of you to be concerned for your safety. We are working with Columbia Public Safety and the police to rectify this situation, and we will let you know when it is safe to use the office again.

Please feel free to reach out to [redacted] with any questions or concerns.

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Summer in Review (June 9-28): Gates, syringes, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Posted by: Sean Augustine-Obi in News 3 weeks, 3 days ago

It's nearing the end of June, and like most of you, the Carman gate has left campus. (Update: Both the Carman and the John Jay gates are being restored and repaired, and will hopefully be back by NSOP.) Here's some news from Morningside Heights to tide you over.


On Thursday, Columbia student and SWS president George Joseph co-authored a timely piece in The Guardian about the rapist lists on campus. It contained some interesting information (one of the accused's parents apparently donated between $10k and $25k to the university after his adjudication) and some...interesting quotes (“The most important thing was understanding the incredible extent of the university’s surveillance of those who challenge them. [...] “We couldn’t use Columbia email accounts or Columbia WiFi … and we had to be extremely careful about navigating the cameras that the university has placed everywhere on campus.”)

Joseph was then called out on Twitter by Luke Barnes (a deputy Spec editor) who said that Joseph should have disclosed his involvement in the group. In response, Joseph has told both us and Barnes that he is not part of No Red Tape, and that no conflict of interest exists. To date, no list of NRT members (or allies) has been published, likely due to the "incredible extent of the university's surveillance" surrounding the group.


Book Culture employees were apparently fired for attempting to join a labor union. The store issued a response to the accusations on their blog, saying that store supervisors are not allowed to join in a collective bargaining unit, according to labor laws.

Although they "expect to be engaging in contract negotiations soon and we look forward to working amicably with the union," readers have pointed out that many of Book Culture's employees are technically "managers," which puts them at risk of being fired as well.


Board of Trustees co-chairman and Lions football lover Bill Campbell has retired as promised, leaving the board to be led by Jonathan Schiller, CLS grad and Lions basketball lover.


Apparently ceiling collapses, like protest and Westside cheese, have become a part of Columbia life. The NY Post reported that in May 2010, a Columbia College student had the ceiling in her UAH dorm fall on her head, resulting in a herniated disk. When she sued the school, lawyers representing the university claimed that she must be fine, considering she graduated magna cum laude from Notre Dame Law School.


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Andrew Hamilton, (GS '13) passes away

Posted by: Sean Augustine-Obi in News 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Andrew Hamilton, who graduated from the School of General Studies in 2013 with a degree in Neuroscience and Behavior, passed away earlier this week. The cause of death has yet to be released to the public, and there is an ongoing police investigation.

Hamilton was known on campus as a lover of board games, a member of the Philolexian Society, and the maker of a documentary on democracy in Russia which can be previewed below. He had been working in President Bollinger's office for the past few months.

According to a Facebook group in memory of him, there will be a public memorial service on campus on July 19, as well as a funeral open to Andrew's friends on July 20. More information will be made available over the coming weeks. (Update): An email sent out to the Philo listserv has also confirmed that there will be a memorial service at St. Luke's Theatre on July 1 at 7 PM.

Check back for updates.


Over opposition, trustees extend Bollinger's contract through 2018

Posted by: Sean Augustine-Obi in News 1 month, 1 week ago

Following yearlong speculation and a meeting by the board of trustees, President Bollinger's contract was extended by two years to 2018.

Since Bwog reported the decision on Saturday, multiple sources with knowledge of the situation have come forward to explain some of the details and reasoning behind the decision.

The contract extension was informally discussed at the Alumni Thank You Reception on Friday at the President's House, to a crowd of predominantly alumni volunteers. The day before, trustees had held a secret meeting (in addition to their official meeting) to discuss the change, and according to one student present at the event, had already made the decision prior to the official vote.

Their rationale was that Bollinger's prowess as a fundraiser, including the $6.1 billion raised during the eight-year capital campaign, outweighed recent criticism over his initially lukewarm response to sexual assault activism. His term has also seen the creation of numerous revenue-bringing global centers. Additionally, the trustees wanted Bollinger to continue to oversee the multi-million dollar Manhattanville expansion, which is expected to be completed in 2030.

As a result, the consensus among the trustees was that Bollinger had acted in the best financial interest of the university, and one source described the event as little more than a "pep rally for Bollinger's accomplishments."

However, not all alumni and faculty members shared the trustees' views. According to one source, the board was given a presentation on sexual assault by Sharyn O'Halloran, a current professor and chair of the University Senate's Executive Committee, and Zila Acosta, co-chair of the University Senate's Student Affairs Committee. Zila was also one of the panelists at a discussion last month organized by Columbia Alumni Allied Against Sexual Assault (CAAASA). Following the presentation, a group of survivors and activists comprised of students and alumni signed a letter to the trustees requesting that Bollinger's contract renewal be postponed. According to one of them, "The Trustees ultimately decided to prioritize the President's fundraising success over his failure to keep students safe."

In addition, several members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (which houses the Faculty of Columbia College and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences) drafted a letter to the trustees arguing against the contract extension. However, the letter was not submitted in time to be considered in the deliberation process, and the decision was ultimately approved.

From what we know, these concerns were justified. During Bollinger's term, the division of Arts and Sciences implemented a hiring review board and decreased the number of open positions for tenured faculty, despite increasing student applications to many of Columbia's schools. At the same time, the university has begun to incentivize retirement for many tenured profssors.

Such hiring practices have a direct effect on the average CC student's academic experience, increasing the number of adjuncts and non-tenured professors in teaching positions throughout the university. The Core seems to be disproportionately affected — according to a 2011 Spec article, "More than a third of Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization classes were taught by graduate students [in 2010], and more than 15 percent were taught by adjunct professors, while a quarter of Lit Hum and CC sections were taught by tenured or tenure-track professors."

In 2012, these disputes between financial and academic priorities came to a head with the resignation of former College Dean Moody-Adams following the McKinsey Report on the Arts and Sciences.

PrezBo's term has been very profitable for the university, and his compensation reflects this. According to information filed with the IRS and published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Bollinger's salary was $2,327,344 in 2011, making him the fourth-highest paid university president. It remains unknown whether the renewed contract would increase this salary to reflect his recent successes.

Should Bollinger retire in 2018, he will be 72 years old. His term will have been the fourth-longest in university history.

By post time, representatives of the university had not responded to requests for comment. We will update if and when they do.

Read the letter sent by students and alumni to the trustees after the break (names redacted).



Summer in Review (May 30-June 8): Ferraris, strippers, and Flo Rida

Posted by: Sean Augustine-Obi in News 1 month, 2 weeks ago

A red Ferrari roped off near Alma Mater earlier this week.


NYTimes "sin and vice reporter" Mosi Secret (not a pseudonym) wrote a bit about a Manhattan strip club for the Sunday Times, in which he interviewed a stripper who studies at Columbia and calls herself Naiad, after the water nymph from Greek mythology. This has to be one of the strangest Core references yet.

From the article:

On another night, one of the women, a Columbia University student who called herself Naiad after a water nymph from Greek mythology, floated around the room in an airy silk robe over matching undergarments. It was her second night at the club. She asked men, “What’s your story?” When they asked her the same in turn, she told them she was a mermaid from the waters of Riverside Park.

“I only grow limbs in the nighttime,” she said. “And I enjoy what being a woman below the torso offers, because I don’t take it for granted as much.”

A man asked her to go to a private room after a couple of dances.

“It was really weird having sex with someone I didn’t know and had zero attraction to,” Naiad said later. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, what’s going on?’ ” But the $250 she said she had earned helped with her unease; she has since returned.

“I want to eat good food and pursue life’s pleasures and have it come from my own work,” she said, adding that she did not want to ask her parents for money. As an international student, she cannot work legally off campus.

“It’s not a brothel where everyone is beaten up,” she said. “Everyone is there by their own free will.”

The contents of the exchange come as absolutely no surprise to us.

Columbia alum Adam Weinstein wrote about it on Gawker (in case the 1020 reference didn't tip you off about his provenance), and the article has gotten enough fame to warrant an NYMag profile of Secret. In the profile, Secret mentioned that he hopes to extend his coverage of the seven deadly sins to investment banks — in other words, more Columbians.


Bwog has a new editor-in-chief. Former Internal Editor and rising Barnard senior Maud Rozee will be joining Sarah Faith Thompson as co-editors-in-chief for the second half of Thompson's term.

View her author tag here.



Global mayor Michael Bloomberg rejects speaker invitation from global university

Posted by: Sean Augustine-Obi in News 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Conor Skelding reported for Capital New York that Michael Bloomberg turned down invitations in 2013 and 2014 to speak at SEAS Class Day. This year, he spoke at Harvard instead, in which he gave a condemnation of the increasingly liberal political climate at many elite universities, and the lack of discourse that came with protesting controversial commencement speakers.

To editorialize: perhaps in some alternate universe, Bloomberg accepted the invitation, only to be protested by students for his stop-and-frisk policies.

In Bloomberg's place, Dean Boyce invited Jon Oringer, founder of Shutterstock, whose speech made one student "feel better about things."

One might ask how admins went about selecting potential Class Day speakers as disparate as Oringer and Bloomberg. During a press conference where Daniel Futterman was announced as the CC Class Day speaker, College class president Conan Cassidy described the selection process, which had CC seniors vote online as to what field (business, politics, etc.) they wanted a speaker from.

But while CC opted for a speaker from the entertainment industry, Bloomberg and Oringer had little in common career-wise. Apparently, each class president has their own way of gathering student input.

Communications Director for Student Affairs, Kat Cutler, provided some insight on the process.

The School of Engineering, the Class Day Speaker Advisory Committee, and the senior class president put a lot of thought into narrowing the field and choosing a candidate to invite to speak at Class Day.

Every year, the selection process is handled a bit differently by the class president, who is tasked with coming up with a list of names to present to the Committee for discussion. The dean then makes the final decision and extends the invitation on behalf of the School. Scheduling well enough in advance is always challenging, as is often the case with high profile figures and alumni. 

As I'm sure you know, scheduling far enough in advance is always a challenge, especially with high profile figures and alumni.  During his term in City Hall, Mayor Bloomberg was a regular speaker on campus, sometimes addressing events and forums multiple times in a single year, including the annual New York City Global Partners forum produced in a partnership between the University and the City.  He also spoke at several Engineering-related events, including the 2012 announcement of the Data Science Institute.

SEAS senior class president Dan O'Leary, who sat on the committee that eventually selected Oringer, told us, "Ultimately, we couldn't have asked for a better graduation speaker. Jon's speech drew on his own Columbia experience and was very well received by the graduating class."

In the end, Bloomberg's office was too busy in Cambridge to make the trip uptown, and his successor seems more concerned about his son's admission chances than giving a speech. Fortunately for the Class of 2015, there are other candidates in the field of city politics who have a Columbia connection and might just be available.

Read the full letter from Dean Boyce to Bloomberg here.

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