As the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination approaches a pivotal and possibly conclusive moment with primaries in Texas and Ohio, top left-leaning University administrators' allegiances raise questions about the significance of the race on campus.
If Illinois Senator Barack Obama were to win the November election, he would be the first Columbia College graduate in the Oval Office -- which would likely generate positive implications for the University's reputation. Yet many top administrators have donated to the campaign of Obama's rival, New York Senator Hillary Clinton.
Law regulates that Universities are not allowed to officially endorse any particular candidate, to ensure the political freedom and privacy of affiliates. Personally, though, powerful Columbia and Barnard officials have supported Clinton. Records include Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin, Executive Vice President for Government and Community Affairs Maxine Griffith, and Barnard College President Judith Shapiro as contributors, as well as University President Lee Bollinger's wife, Jean.
Shapiro declined to specify which candidate she now supports, saying that she prefers to remain "agnostic" to allow all Barnard affiliates to make their own decisions.
"If the pope should decide to say that Jews do sometimes eat Christian babies, but 'I am not speaking as the pope when I say that,' you're never not speaking as the pope," President Shapiro said of her personal politics reflecting upon those of the college she represents.
She explained further that, "When I gave money to Hillary Clinton I saw a strong politician and, by God, was I glad to see a woman in that position. She's impressive, she's smart as hell, she's done important things, she has a track record as a fine and successful senator from New York and she deserves my support."
As Shapiro articulated, the vast Clinton support from administrators may not derive from how these administrators feel about promoting Columbia's status, or even the relative competence of the two Democratic candidates, but rather may be more attributed to the Senator's ties to New York and her record in Congress.
"When I sent a large check to her it was also partly in the context of being a member of a group that was being very supportive of her which was the New York building congress," Shapiro said. "This is kind of a group which I'm on the executive committee of. This is a group that cares about the city and sees a senator with a strong record."
As home state senator, Clinton has cultivated greater relationships in the city and the University than Obama has. Support of a New York senator aids Columbia as it interacts with the federal government and she has often been the natural person to call for help.
"Such relationships are extremely helpful when the University confronts issues like Manhattanville -- issues like these would escalate into even larger ones if the University were to antagonize Clinton and so lose her support. So, understandably, there is a measure of self interest considerations," history professor David Eisenbach said.
Coincidentally, Bill Lynch Associates, the consulting firm for Columbia's Manhattanville project, also does political consulting for the Clinton campaign.
Meanwhile, Obama's relationship with the University and the city has been somewhat of a mystery because he doesn't give his Columbia experience much attention in his autobiography, nor has he played it up as having a crucial role in shaping his political and personal development. Obama has also avoided Columbia during his visits to New York despite repeated invitations from campus groups.
"Obama probably transferred after two years at Occidental because he felt that degree wouldn't ge him where he wanted to go. He transferred out of ambition rather than any affection for Columbia or for New York," Eisenbach explained, adding that "To him, Columbia was just a stepping stone, and one that wasn't too pleasant. This could explain his ambivalence toward Columbia. Naturally, it's hard to embrace someone who doesn't want to be embraced."
© 2008 Columbia Daily Spectator via U-WIRE