Monday, April 18, 2005

Columbia Spectator - STAFF EDITORIAL: Eminently Thoughtless

Columbia Spectator

STAFF EDITORIAL: Eminently Thoughtless
Columbia has some explaining to do
April 18, 2005

For such a supposedly high-caliber institution, Columbia is a surprisingly slow learner. This is nowhere more evident—nor more damaging—than in the administration’s plans for expansion into Manhattanville. The recently revealed documents related to eminent domain are the latest signal that our beloved University has not been drawing lessons from its experience.

The documents, obtained by Spectator, show that the University requested that the Empire State Development Corporation begin exploring the possibility of using eminent domain to condemn property in Manhattanville as early as July 2004. Columbia gave the ESDC $300,000 and a promise of future funds to cover their legal expenses. Regardless of one’s position on the expansion issue, the administration’s attitude toward these documents is disappointingly solipsistic.

The administration has consistently argued that it is unwilling to take eminent domain off the table. The agreement with ESDC was a necessary first step toward investigating that possibility, and it is right in arguing that the documents do not contradict this publicly stated position. But we find it troubling that they choose to pursue this option without broadcasting it.

Given the sensitivity of expansion, Columbia should provide public statements on every action it takes related to the issue, no matter how minor. But for some reason, even Community Board 9 Chairman Jordi Reyes-Montblanc didn’t know about the agreement until publicized by Spectator.

By now, the University must have realized that much of the neighborhood community sees eminent domain as Columbia’s nuclear option and that any actions relating to it must be handled carefully.

The very fact that the administration treated the ESDC agreement as nothing more than a routine legal step is a disheartening sign of arrogance. Even if, as seems likely, the agreement was pedestrian in the eyes of the University’s lawyers, the community is not composed of lawyers. The average person looks at these documents and sees the administration asking that properties it does not own be considered for condemnation. The average person sees money changing hands between Columbia, which does not itself have the power of eminent domain, and ESDC, which does. Three hundred thousand dollars may be a pittance to an institution like Columbia, but it is a huge amount of money to the average person.

One can only conclude that Columbia, by providing no public announcement or explanation of its actions, either didn’t consider the community’s understandable sensitivity to the eminent domain issue or was hoping that no one would notice. In other words, Columbia’s administration is either thoughtless or devious.

We support expansion, but if the University continues to bungle it so profoundly, with or without eminent domain, it will never happen.

Click here: Columbia Spectator - STAFF EDITORIAL: Eminently Thoughtless

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