The recent resignations of two high-ranking black administrators at Columbia have led some professors to question President Lee C. Bollinger‘s leadership. Last June, the University’s provost, Claude M. Steele, resigned. His resignation was followed by the undergraduate dean, Michele M. Moody-Adams, last week. They were the first African-Americans to hold their respective positions at Columbia.
According to reporter Alan Schwarz from the New York Times, Fredrick C. Harris, a professor of political science, wrote to Mr. Bollinger explaining that these recent departures have “shaken (his) confidence – as well as the confidence of many others at Columbia – in the ability of Columbia to maintain diverse leadership at the top.”
June Cross, an associate professor at the University’s Graduate School of Journalism, was quoted as saying “I’m not saying race is the issue, but it is the subtext.”
These criticisms almost seem inconsistent with Mr. Bollinger’s reputation and background, considering he had been advocating for affirmative action while he was President of the University of Michigan. Mr. Bollinger was involved in two well known U.S. Supreme Court cases, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, where he defended – with success – affirmative action in the school’s recruitment process.
These new problems bring back to the table some of Mr. Bollinger’s old controversies. In particular, Mr. Bollinger was heavily criticized back in 2007 when he decided to invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Columbia. The New York Times also discusses that after interviewing more than a dozen Columbia faculty members, it was apparent that their dissatisfaction with Mr. Bollinger’s policies was growing. Notably, Mr. Bollinger is criticized for shrinking the role of the undergraduate college to expand Columbia’s research activities.
Mr. Bollinger acknowledged that there was criticism but denied that race was an issue at Columbia, expressing that he intends to meet with faculty members to address the issue. Many professors support President Bollinger nonetheless, saying that 15 percent of Columbia’s freshmen last year were black, which is the largest percentage of any of the top 30 universities in the U.S. according to the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.