Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bollinger's "New Frontier," Who are the Indians?

In yesterday's NY Sun Columbia president Lee Bollinger eloquently laid out his "new frontier" vision of a university campus that would be host to the kind of scientific research that will put fear in the hearts of diseases everywhere. As he put it:
"Columbia plans to meet this challenge by assembling one of the greatest and most diverse concentrations of brain power anywhere in the world. A key part of the university's proposed expansion in the Manhattanville area of West Harlem will provide the opportunity to add approximately 500 new researchers, who will collaborate across traditional academic boundaries to address the signal challenges of our time."

It just really comforts us to know that Columbia will be there for us-and there's no ailment that scares us anymore with Sheriff Bollinger and his research posse on the trail of disease. It is, however, a vision that encompasses more than just the cures for all of those diseases that have so far resisted our medical knowledge. No, Bollinger has bigger aims than just that. His real goal here-and who would have thought that this could have been seen as part of the revitalization of a "blighted" 18 acre area of West Harlem-is to save the planet: "For the first time in history, it is now possible to imagine an integrated global society. Yet it will elude us if we do not focus far more resources, talent, and energy on figuring out how to sustain the health of our planet and those inhabiting it."

And to think that Nick Sprayregen is worrying selfishly about his little bitty warehouses. What strikes us here, is what Bollinger's vision doesn't encompass-the actual folks who live in and around the expansion footprint. Given the enormity of his vision of the future, Bollinger can perhaps be forgiven if he's unable to wrap himself around the concerns of all of the little people and their mundane survival worries.

Where are the current residents of West Harlem in the following foreshadowing of a greater tomorrow? "In upper Manhattan our scientists will not only study this future, they will invent it if we can offer them the state-of-the-art facilities they need to excel. The problems of the world demanding our attention call for a new combination of academic and technological expertise, and with it, new ways of organizing space for teaching and research. The result will be a buzzing community of diverse perspectives and expertise that reflects the historic dynamism of this City at its best."

The answer? They are disappeared; joined up with Ralph Ellison and his band of invisible men. Putting aside the Bollinger hubris for a moment-our last image of Columbia after all was the portrait of a snarky looking Iranian nutcase addressing the university-isn't it a bit much to outline such a future and to completely ignore all of the folks who now live and work in the neighborhood? Maybe, like the Indians of the Old West, they will be found on some nice reservations away from all of the elite research. How Columbia of him!