The Canon

Is Columbia a corporation? Is it even necessarily bad if our university is a corporation?

  • Illustration by Lian Plass
  • Two years ago, the 118th Varsity Show featured the battle between Phineas (Sean Walsh, CC ’14) a noble Classics major pitted against the evil Niamh O’Brien (Rebekah Lowin, CC ’14) who was trying to implement a corporate Core. But what if he was already too late to save the University itself?

    In this week’s Canon, we asked our contributors: Is Columbia a corporation?  

    The University as a corporation or business is a very different vision from that of the idyllic university presented in pamphlets and given by tour guides—but is it so hard to imagine? Consider an $8 billion endowment, brand-name marketing, and the sale of Columbia apparel (no, not that Columbia). 

    On the other hand, there is the undeniable fact of an education given and the mien of academia. Does the encouragement to ask questions like this—even of Columbia—cast aspersions on cynicism that claims corporate supremacy at our University?

    But even if Columbia—as many of our contributors have concluded—is in some ways a corporation, what does that imply? Is it even necessarily bad if our university is a corporation?

    To be sure, we will not have answers of finality for these questions, even in the last Canon of this semester. But, as always, we believe there is merit in our query in and of itself. 

    We hope you’ll invest a few minutes to consider it.

    Emma Finder and Dan Garisto
    Editorial Page Editors

    Limiting our potential as an institution

    If we forget that Columbia shares important goals with all other organizations, including corporations—namely, growth and innovation—we limit its potential as an institution.

    Mario, money, and Marx

    I acknowledge that by accepting Columbia’s status as a corporation, I accept my status as raw material to be shaped by professors and school administrators.


    Plain text

    • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
    Clayton Burns posted on

    I take it that the illustration is an allusion to Brother Bollinger's Sin.

    "A narrow Fellow in the Grass" is the capstone to Emily Dickinson's remarkable half decade from when she was roughly 30 to 35, if we can trust the chronologies in the Emily Dickinson Archive.

    The test of the corporate university "idea" is not Columbia, but Harvard.

    Harvard University Press has published an extremely useful text, Helen Vendler's "Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries" (2010). (John Kulka of HUP suggested that Vendler write the commentaries.)

    The commentary on "A narrow Fellow in the Grass" is quite silly: "The boy, with enough outdoor experience to know that snakes prefer a cool bog to a warm field, has been unnerved more than once in his barefoot forays by unexpectedly encountering a snake" (397).

    But when a Boy and Barefoot
    I more than once at Noon

    Have passed I thought a Whip Lash
    Unbraiding in the Sun
    When stooping to secure it
    It wrinkled And was gone -
    (lines 11-16)

    There is nothing at all in the poem about how the boy has been unnerved by anything. There is no evidence at all in the first 10 lines of the poem that these initial 10 lines are from the perspective of a boy.

    Vendler's reading and the precarious editorial gaze at HUP regarding her commentary on "A narrow Fellow in the Grass" can only be seen as grossly impercipient, but does that impercipience reflect the probability that to an extent the book is just a Harvard commodity?

    At a university, the focus has to be on knowledge and cognitive enrichment. If our books are just commodities, or even partially so, then if nobody notices the lapses, do they matter?

    If what I want is money, then I will not worry about learning how to read the giants of American literature, Henry James, Herman Melville, and Emily Dickinson. Simulations will be just fine, because how will anyone be able to distinguish between fakery and the real thing?

    Brother Bollinger needs to wash his hands of the SAT, twice over. He does not want to have anything to do with Kaplan, and he wants to get rid of the test at Columbia.

    Instead, Columbia needs a formal admissions curriculum, including an American literary grammar.