What a drag it is getting old

By Michael J. Smith on Monday February 20, 2012 03:42 PM

One John Coatsworth, hailed in some circles as a fellow-Lefty, has been appointed Provost of Columbia University by the vile unspeakable Field Marshal Lee Bollinger, the president of that Borg-like institution. Since Coatsworth is said to be one of us, this is greeted as good news by a couple of my fellow superannuated Left old ladies -- some of whom, it must be said, collect a Columbia paycheck in 'umble non-teaching capacities:

[Coatsworth] was very helpful procuring space for someone on a speaking tour for an EZLN spokesman....


it is better to have him there than someone more like Glenn Hubbard.

There's a lot of very important struggles around academic freedom that have taken place at Columbia since I've been there. They have ramifications beyond the campus. For example, it would have been very bad if Joseph Massad had not gotten tenure. Lee Bollinger is pretty awful in many respects, but I do credit him as a principled free speech defender. He needs people like Coatsworth to have his back. The administration stood up for Edward Said and Nick DeGenova....

The other thing to keep in mind is that Columbia is a very fertile ground for Marxist scholarship. Granted, most of the professors who have such an orientation are like my Film Studies professor, people who have never been involved in struggles and write for small-circulation magazines to burnish their CV's.

But getting close to retirement, I can say that on balance the university deserves a lot of credit for providing a platform for unpopular opinions.


When it comes to moving from the classroom to administration, I obviously cannot speak for John (it's been many years since we've spoken) --- I can only note that when I had a chance to become chairman of my department I took it -- It reduced my time in the classroom where I was most comfortable but it gave me the opportunity to have an important role in hiring decisions and in creating an atmosphere for new members of our faculty to thrive and achieve.

Time for the kids to take over, I think. Away with all provosts, and department chairs with them.

One must confess a personal interest here. I live a half-mile from Butler Library, or Barad-Dur as we call it here in the nabe -- or rather, as the half-dozen of us who still don't work for Columbia call it. So I really hate hate hate Columbia University and all its works. It's an octopus. I suggested as much of one of the Columbia employees quoted above -- a guy who, in his spare time, makes Leon Trotsky look like a pussy; let's call him Strelnikov -- and here's what I got back:

You should have immolated yourself to protest the wanton destruction of Tuck-It-Away. I would have gladly supplied the kerosene.
O Comrade, where art thou?

The Tuck-it-Away reference may require some elucidation. Columbia's latest grandiose expansion plans have made use of the state's power of eminent domain to condemn a lot of property in the nabe -- property on which, as it happens, a number of small businesses we depend upon eke out their existence. Tuck-It-Away, for example, operates storage lockers, a service much in requisition for West Siders who live in small cramped apartments like mine. And as a matter of fact, I have a storage locker there, myself.

Columbia wants Tuck-It-Away gone -- and they probably want me gone too. Tuck-It-Away's space might become dorms, or it might become yet another Student Center for Columbia's hand-picked overachieving suburban Philistine hatchlings; or perhaps Comrade John Coatsworth will end up in a nice penthouse apartment gazing down, from a safe distance, on the un-meritorious teeming masses of Broadway and 132d Street

Or what's left of them, anyway.

Strelnikov & co. seem to be right down with all this. Tuck Tuck-It-Away away. The important thing is to create a Free Speech Zone for Joseph Massad, and whatever careerist Larchmont hellspawn can afford the tuition and bother to go hear him.

Comments (16)

Wow, Smiff; fascinating recollections and impressions of Columbia U., there.

Now that you mention Columbia... one of the senior editors of my old high-school paper, a guy who graduated a year or two ahead of me (1973 or '74), ended up going to Columbia J-school. I wonder where he is now, and what he's doing with himself.

Something I also wonder about... you may or may not remember a famous foto in Life Magazine of a bunch of Columbia students who'd taken over the administration building as part of a big antiwar protest, pictured in the President's office; remember the one dude with the moustache and the funky glasses, kicking back in the chair at the President's desk, smoking one of the President's cigars? I also wonder where he is now, and what he's doing with himself...

michael yates:

From Cheap Motels and a Hotplate (Fuck Columbia!):

During a visit to the city a few years before we moved there, I got a taste of the social chasm between poor and well-off workers. I was invited by a friend, a former Assistant Editor of Monthly Review, to visit the Chinese Staff and Workers Association (CSWA) in Manhattan’s Chinatown. The CSWA is a Workers’ Center, a place where residents can go, and an organization they can join, to win justice in their workplaces and neighborhoods—unpaid wages, overtime, minimum wage, unjust evictions. The Director of this center was Wing Lam. Wing showed Karen and me around their offices, which had recently been firebombed, no doubt by angry employers. The center’s members and those it helped were mainly undocumented Chinese immigrants, who, after paying as much as $25,000 to secure passage from Asia to the United States, were put to work in Chinatown’s restaurants and garment sweatshops. Wing’s organizing philosophy was that grievants could use the Center only if they became actively involved in prosecuting their own cases and also helped others do the same. The need for such an organization was obvious. Wing told us that restaurant employees typically labored 100 hours a week, for a wage of $2.00 an hour. Organized labor had done little to aid them; even in unionized workplaces, employers sometimes paid below minimum wage. Out of their paltry income they had to repay their passage debt and meet their daily expenses. As many as fifteen might share a one-bedroom apartment, divided by thin wooden partitions into several bedrooms. In such a space the only privacy people had was their thoughts.
After telling us about the Center, Wing took us to lunch at a nearby restaurant. He insisted on picking up the check.

I had come to Manhattan to give a talk at one of Columbia University’s ongoing seminars. Faculty and outside scholars have organized these on a wide variety of subjects; the same one might run for many years. I was to speak to the Seminar on Full Employment. I walked through the great university’s gate at Broadway and 116th Street with some trepidation. I had never spoken at an Ivy League university, and I wondered if the group’s participants would be as brilliant as I sometimes imagined people at such schools were. We found our way to Faculty House, where we were to have dinner and where the meeting was to be held. We met the person who had invited me, a friendly elderly man of some renown. The first thing he did was inform me that I would have to pay for my wife’s dinner. I was astounded. I should have refused, but I gave him the money. Dinner was a lavish affair, with fine food and table settings. The dining room overlooked the slums of East Harlem. Everyone was white except the servers. The conversation revolved around trips these elite academics had taken and the research they were doing. When the talk turned to children, we silenced the polite chatter when we said that our three sons were cooks. Apparently no one could believe that a college professor had children who did such work. After dinner I gave my talk. It went well, but the questions were abstrusely academic and trivial. Later we were dragooned into going to a professor’s apartment, which overlooked Central Park, to watch a television show about the overboard spending of American consumers. The host served cheap beer; I got a half a glass. When the show ended we had to go around the room in order and make comments. These were so convoluted, egotistic, and laden with academic jargon that Karen and I wondered what we would say. I was glad her turn came first. She stated that the show was shallow and again that pretty much stopped the discussion. Thankfully we left soon after. As we walked out the door, we heard one person remind another that she owed a dollar for the short cab ride from the college to the apartment.

Al Schumann:

The egalitarian division of shitty beer and cab fare is their way of keeping the spirit of the Paris Commune alive (and screaming in the basement).

If you google for images of Boris Johnson, and immediately afterwards google for images of Lee Bollinger, you get a perfect "before and after" dipshit, I mean diptych.

remember the one dude with the moustache and the funky glasses, kicking back in the chair at the President's desk, smoking one of the President's cigars? I also wonder where he is now, and what he's doing with himself...

Would that be Mark Rudd?


a superb set of comments

these same meritoids can read shaw scratching at em and agree with a warm smile

such are the conflicting motions in the hu-mind's heart

start inside class station zebra and you can morph spontaneously from
just outside camera frame with mark rudd to just outside camera frame with bollinger

i hasten to add

to be in the frame
in either case
requires some mix
luck talent sharp elbows
as a base
an uncommon degree of functional egocentricity
which of course comes in several flavors



was vickrey among the gathered "lights"
of intellect that night ??

the careful apportioning of petty costs
economic "tower scientists"
feel grounded in the day to day nicety
of any transactional system's constraints

always the key to binding
the people bellow them
to by and for
their commodity economy


and yes they look groosly foolish
they are not adepts
and lack the ironic whimsicality in similar petty back and forths
so telling in the broker princes of finance itself
who seem more like pro athletes
"playng catch "


my guess lu lu
wrote the homage

seems he'd delight more
in finding another marxist professor
then an actual
marxist wage slave

i'd trade em
at 3 professors
to one wage slave myself

even if i found a near hen's teeth paucity
of such professors

but then again
the hypothetical
professors for wage slave
barter rate
in struggle heaven

--where all "types "
are limitlessly supplied to the agents ---

is prolly more

those hideous zionic prisoner exchanges

i'll trade you a thousand palestinians
for one jew

-- some how that analogy turns sinister
but i'll let it stand ---


however lu lu

is a paragon of earthiness
compared to
the soul behind passage deux

under uncle joe
guys writing shit like this

"I can only note that when I had a chance to become chairman of my department I took it "

got a scholarship to the gulag

".. It reduced my time in the classroom where I was most comfortable.."

ach poor students !!!~

" but it gave me the opportunity to have an important role in hiring decisions and in creating an atmosphere for new members of our faculty to thrive and achieve. "

there can not be
many more grating successions
of english words
then that last bit


as far as father S dosing
himself for a fire

my guess in a fashion
he's doing that slowly already
but from the inside out

a terrible soak ...don't ya know

Michael McIntyre:

I have nothing to add about Columbia University. I live in Chicago and I've never visited Columbia University. But I do know John Coatsworth. I took courses from him in graduate school and he served on my dissertation committee (until he took off for Harvard). John was one of the principal leaders of the antiwar movement at the University of Wisconsin while he was a student there. When he was in Chicago, his politics were still firmly on the left (and not the squishy left, either). He always said that a good haircut and a good suit allowed him to say whatever he wanted. Not too long ago, I saw a vimeo of an appearance at SIPA by the chair of the French oil company, TOTAL. Since John was head of SIPA at the time, and a commenter at this appearance, I watched the clip to see if John had sold out. Not at all. When it came John's turn to comment, he nailed the bastard's hide to the wall with questions about TOTAL's role in Burma and a bribery case in Italy. The fucker squirmed furiously trying to get off the hook.

So, seriously, when you've compiled a record on the left that matches John Coatsworth's, then you can cavil. Until then, kindly go fuck yourself.

Al Schumann:

Why would you think the commentary is directed at Coatsworth, whose appointment is incidental to the post, rather than the actual subjects? If he stops any of the abusive eminent domain seizures, the general faculty fatuity and Todd Gitlin's insufferable maundering, I, for one, will raise a cheer.


U know Al it amazes me how a hot head leads to a dysfunctional comment
I've made many myself

MM strikes me as a decent enough chap though I don't recall a comment here
B4 the Or fuck yourself above

A deep prejudgemental streak against professors like I have
and father S in fact does not
Strikes me as fairly inoffensive

frankly I know not of this cottswald thingy
But I don't trust him

The system does not reward it's opponents
Loyal oppositionists tend to be disloyal to the real opposition
And as seems understandable. They tend to be testy when called to account by their neighbors to the left

All together they serve each side well enough as. Bridge work
in times of class struggle
When all out fights for domination are a distant prospect

But come the clutches then bridge work is just false teeth


I don't know a thing about Coatsworth except what I read on Wikipedia, and what a few people who know him have said about him. Oddly enough, his time and mine at U of C seem to have overlapped, but I don't recall ever having met him. I'm quite willing to believe that he's a decent guy and his heart's in the right place, but elite universities don't usually put unreliable people in the provost's office. The notion that they might do so usually rests upon a lot of wishful thinking about the nature of the institution.

Another commenter on the mailing list wrote:

A couple of points about Professor Coatsworth. He'll soon be 72. Columbia's nod to youth I take it. He has served on what Laurence Shoup calls the imperial brain trust, the Council on Foreign Relations. He was a founding member of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. Head of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this doesn't sound like a leftist to me, unless SIPA and CFR have morphed into training grounds for erstwhile revolutionaries.
Speaking of Wikipedia:
While addressing the President of Iran's upcoming visit to the University campus on Fox News, Dean Coatsworth was asked whether the administration would have allowed Adolf Hitler to speak on campus if he had asked. Coatsworth replied that "If he [Hitler] were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly invite him.... Look, if Hitler had come to the Columbia University in 1936, I would have been outside with the peaceful protesters. Or if I had been dean, I would have been inside presenting him to our students to be challenged.... we're providing not a platform but a classroom and we're going to challenge this guy as he has not been challenged in other places.”
Noteworthy here is that the Ahmadi/Hitler parallel goes uncontested, and the stated goal of having Ahmadi on campus is to 'challenge' him -- as opposed, say, to hearing what he might have to say, with an open mind.

Just sounds like a liberal to me.


That defense by Michael McIntyre was only half the story: Dean Cornswoggle gets a turn, yes, finally, and then "nails the poor bastard to the wall with some questions." Brilliant! Capital! I daresay - questions, mind you, questions!
Dean Cornswoggle then, to be fair, slipped out directly after these withering, nay, devastating "questions" to check on whether his paycheck had cleared - oh, yes, indeed, it had! He went back, clapped the poor dear fellow on the back, and said, "Good lord, dear chap, you and I are doing just fine today! Those corporate endowment paychecks are just the sweetest thing, aren't they? Now about that Burma business - know any good golf courses there? Defending the rights of the working class to rooms of their oppressors is such hard, hard work!"


"I took courses from him in graduate school and he served on my dissertation committee (until he took off for Harvard)."

"... he nailed the bastard's hide to the wall with questions...The fucker squirmed furiously trying to get off the hook."

Reads like parody. With stuff like this, try reading aloud as if it were an excerpt from Monty Python.

Paraphrasing MM's closing:
So, seriously, when you've served on a dissertation committee, before decamping to Harvard, or asked some oil executive questions that make the fucker squirm (but don't change his company's policies and practices one iota), then you can cavil. Until then, kindly go fuck yourself.

Paco Picopiedra:

Posted by mjosef | February 21, 2012 6:35 PM

There it is.

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