Monday, August 20, 2007

Community to Columbia: "We Will Not Be Moved"

In yesterday's NY Daily News, the paper's Albor Ruiz had a powerful column that detailed the reactions of CBM9 chair, Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, to last week's board 17-1 vote that slam dunked the Columbia expansion proposal. As Reyes-Montblanc told Ruiz, "They think they know better than us what is good for the community...There attitude is, 'What is good for Columbia is good for humanity,' which in their mind justifies pushing people around."

Foremost in the community's mind is the fear of residential displacement-an issue that even Columbia's puppet consultants found to be problematic. As Ruiz observes, "...the fear that the elite school's expansion will mean the end of the working-class, racially and culturally diverse neighborhood is pervasive. Rising rents have already displaced many people." Reyes-Montblanc concurs: "'And the Columbia expansion has made it even worse.'"

There is an irony here, of course. Columbia's President Bollinger has been in the forefront of the campaign to maintain racial diversity on this country's college campuses. He was, while president at the University of Michigan, the lead plaintiff in a pair of affirmative action cases that sought to counter efforts to impose color-blind admissions policies.

Apparently, when it comes to the university's own corporate interests, however, diversity is a mere slogan-and the removal actions against the low-income folks at the Till houses is the prime manifestation of this blatant hypocrisy. Mindful of the thin ice it's treading on, Columbia has begun to talk compromise, with university spokesman Kasdin calling the 17-1 vote, "a vote to negotiate."

Now would be a good time to begin. Reyes-Montblanc told the News that compromise was still possible, but the university needs to overcome the severe mistrust it has engendered in the community. Any compromise, according to the chairman, would have to involve conditions, "such as building low-income housing and taking measures to protect the environment."

Reyes-Montblanc has the final word on all of this: "What we are looking for is for Columbia to couple its plan with that of the community...You's true that they do good things for humanity. But they just cannot do them at the expense of the people of Harlem."