Sunday, June 12, 2011

Columbia: Roots and Shoots

Columbia University was not always known as such. In 1754, after acts passed in the New York General Assembly to allot funds, the establishment of what would become Columbia University graced Trinity Church—what is now lower Broadway in Manhattan. There, by royal charter of King George II of England, King's College was established.

Columbia began small, with one President—Samuel Johnson—who  who coincidentally served as the only instructor teaching a class of eight students. Nevertheless, the school has always been committed to higher learning, the expansion of the mind, and quality of the individual. This ideal, solid throughout Columbia's many years, remains true today, and it could be traced to its origin as well. An early manifestation of the institution's aims was the establishment of the first American medical school to grant the M.D. degree in 1767.

The American Revolution halted such institutional progression, but the figures Columbia produced managed to keep Columbia's flare lit ablaze: figures such as John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury.

Upon the college's resurrection in 1784, it was renamed: Columbia College. In 1857, the college moved from Park Place, near the present site of City Hall, to Forty-Ninth Street and Madison Avenue, where it remained for the next forty years. The college began to come into its modern shape around this time: the Columbia School of Law was founded in 1858; the country's first mining school and Ph.D. opportunity was offered in 1864 and 1875, respectively; Barnard College for women became affiliated with Columbia in 1889; the medical school came under the aegis of the university in 1891; followed immediately by Teacher's College in 1893. The introduction and development of graduate institutions and undergraduate programs established Columbia as one of the most prominent educators of young minds not only in the U.S. but throughout the world. As such, the college was renamed for the last time in 1896 to Columbia University.

From there, the university moved once more, this time to its contemporary home, to the more spacious Morningside Heights in Manhattan. Columbia emerged as a preeminent national center for innovation and scholarly achievement. The School of Journalism was established by Joseph Pulitzer in 1912. In 1919, a course on peace and war internationally originated both the acclaimed and controversial Core Curriculum that continues to define Columbia University today.
Columbia continued to grow, expand, and prosper, until its most turbulent time in the 1960's, soon after celebrating its bicentennial. Currents of civil unrest and challenge to authority swept U.S. citizens, especially the youth, who formed popular protests to some of the nations most immense issues, among them opposition to the Vietnam War. The protests converged at Columbia University during the last week of April in 1968; students occupied five Columbia buildings, effectively shutting down the University, until they were removed by the N.Y.P.D. These events led to the moral and financial decline of Columbia University, the retirement of President Grayson Kirk, the cancellation of campus projects, and the loss of national prominence. Notably, it also contributed to the creation of the University Senate, which continues today to provide a voice for staff, students, and alumni of the Columbia network regarding university affairs.
Columbia bounced back expeditiously, however, with the creation of new campus schools and programs like the School of the Arts, and the renovation of much of the university's campus. Columbia is a place of "doubled magic," said Columbia alumnus Herman Wouk, a place where "the best things of the moment were outside the rectangle of Columbia" and "the best things of all human history and thought were inside the rectangle." Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, and it is the fifth oldest in the country.
Clear in its historic commitment to the individual and education, led by it's new and current President, Lee. C. Bollinger, Columbia proudly celebrates its recent 250th anniversary as it looks ahead to the many achievements to come in its illuminated future.


  1. Now I know where the "Pulitzer Prize" came from, interesting. Soon you will learn a lot more about their Core Curriculum, it is quite unique.

  2. Will,

    Like so many things I knew about Columbia but only bits and pieces. Had I the desire or the time I could have checked it out myself but thanks to the ILC blog I don't have to make that conscious decision--it's already here for me and I'm the better educated person for it.

    Being the young person that you are with much of Columbia's history occurring long before you came to be, you can rely only on what you read. People like myself, though, have the benefit of having been around a few days more and can offer up commentary on one little quip in your article: I'm not sure I would agree with the supposition that the Columbia riots brought about the moral decay of Columbia. On the contrary, I suggest that this was en epiphany wherein the young students attending Columbia and the thousands who followed in the years after these events, became more socially evolved. Because they challenged authority they helped establish the birth of a new generation that no longer accepted what they were told as being written by the finger of God or believing that the people leading their country were representing the people as a whole.

    At the very least, they opened the doors--and the minds--of countless generations of free thinking people the world over. They weren't alone in what they did but they were an integral part of it all.