As last semester drew to a close, Columbia quietly announced that Jonathan Schiller, CC ’69 and Law ’73, would be the successor to Bill Campbell. Campbell, as chair of the board of trustees, is ostensibly the most powerful person at Columbia. There is no doubt that Schiller, an influential alumnus with internationally renowned litigation experience, is qualified to lead the board. However, Schiller’s appointment as co-chair prompted no email to students and was virtually unreported, except for a blurb buried in Columbia’s website, which reappeared in the January 2014 edition of the Columbia College Alumni Newsletter. Evidently, it was decided that Schiller’s appointment was of great interest to alumni, but largely irrelevant to students.
To be sure, this is not a censure of Schiller, nor is it a request for an audit of his credentials—Columbia has given him much fanfare in the past, presenting him with a John Jay Award in 2006 and holding the Alexander Hamilton Award Dinner in his honor in 2012. In contrast, the announcement of his promotion to co-chair seems like a hushed changing of the guard.
We sincerely hope that his quiet appointment is not indicative of the way administrators will be communicating with the student body going forward. But we have high hopes for Schiller, who University President Lee Bollinger claims is “deeply dedicated to Columbia.” Moreover, Schiller has only recently sent three of his own children through the University’s gates, and while this may not grant him real empathy for our causes, we cannot help but hope he will listen more keenly.
When Campbell retires, Schiller will be leading the board of trustees through a pivotal period. With the coming completion of the Manhattanville campus, Columbia will need to make decisions about space reallocation. Schiller will play no small part in the planning and implementation of the global centers and Columbia’s other global initiatives.
It is because of this crucial chapter that we need greater transparency and communication. Schiller’s decisions will undoubtedly impact the day-to-day lives of Columbia students, faculty, and neighbors. Our request for transparency on this matter is not unreasonable. We do not expect Schiller to hold office hours—that is not his job. However, we would like to hear more from him, and for him to listen. By presenting the issues up for debate to members of the Columbia community, and asking to hear from them, Schiller can gain our trust—and more importantly, our cooperation. Proposals, when vetted by our community, can only become more sound. We hope that, when the time comes to plan a new global center, allocate space, or find a new dean, Schiller will look for input beyond the highest echelons in Low.
Hopefully, our worries resulting from this quiet announcement are unfounded and Schiller will strive to be more open and engaging with the Columbia community than his position requires on paper.
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