Columbia is still a small college in a big city.
Despite popular misconceptions of the "Colossus on the Hudson," undergraduate enrollment totals only 2,000--up from a pre-war norm of 1,750. But because of the confusion between small Columbia College and huge Columbia University, and because of the college's pre-eminent position in the world's largest city, people have come to expect big things of the institution which once turned out such graduates as Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Robert Livingston, and Gouverneur Morris.
And surprisingly enough, Columbia satisfies these expectations. Its football team is "'big-time," as Stadium-goers will see this afternoon. And educationally, Columbia has always been a leader. In recent years, it pioneered the move away from the free elective system and substituted instead a course of study that anticipated much of Harvard's General Education program by about 30 years.
But the price of this pre-eminence has been a degree of paternalism that makes Harvard students sit up and take notice. From 1755, when King's College--the original name for Columbia--rules decreed that "none of the pupils shall fight Cocks, play at Cards, Dice or any unlawful game;" to 1946, when the college was able to dominate the Columbia Spectator, Columbia's daily newspaper; and to 1947, when college officials refused to let a student group sponsor a talk by Howard Fast, convicted of contempt of a Congressional committee, only the degree and not the spirit of deans office intervention into student life has changed.
Educationally, Columbia follows the same tack. Almost the entire first two years of a student's program are prescribed for him in the form of required two-year courses entitled Contemporary Civilization and Humanities--shades of GE. These courses are given by top men from the Social Sciences and Humanities departments. The Contemporary Civilization course was first given in 1919, thus antedating Harvard's similar General Education courses by 27 years. The Humanities course was first given in 1937.
Only in the last two years does the student have the opportunity to select his own program. A Columbia innovation for upperclassmen is that they may combine their last year at college with their first at professional school and thus save a year.
On the other hand, paternalism has its undisputable advantages. Student organizations are provided with office space, and often given financial assistance when the need arises. But the price that Columbia has exacted in return for this beneficience is a rule that "the University reserves the right to pass upon the acceptability of the policies and programs of an organization with which the University's name shall be publicly associated."
The Big City
Being in a big city has its advantages and disadvantages. At Columbia, the chief disadvantage is the commuter problem, and the split between resident and commuting students can be seen in the epithet "carpetbagger" which the former apply to the latter.
Despite the city environment, however, an attempt is made to preserve a little of the rah-rah spirit that is usually found only in a small-town college. The chief item in this effort is the Freshman--Sophomore rush, a traditional event in which the Sophomores defend a greased pole which the Freshmen are supposed to fight through to and climb in order to capture a dummy at the top of the pole. Freshman victories are unusual.
Neither coeducation nor "joint instruction has as yet tainted Morningside Heights undergraduate life. Back in the 1880's, a Columbia president, Frederick A. P. Barnard, had wanted to open the college's doors to women. He died in 1889, however, and so a women's college was set up and given his name instead. In 1900, Barnard College was officially declared the undergraduate college for women of Columbia University. It maintains its own faculty, and remains completely independent of Columbia College It has, however, a tradition reminiscent of Columbia's Freshman--Sophomore Rush, except that at Barnard they dress it up a bit and call it the Greek Games. The Greek Games consist of chariot races--one girl pulling, another wielding the whip and other Grecoid divertisements. The Games are reputed to be an even finer spectacle than the Wellesley Hoop Race.
Columbia makes a tradition of having presidents who dabble in politics. Seth Low was a noted reform mayor of New York. Nicholas Murray Butler was, for a time, a considerable power in Republican politics, and reputedly harbored White House ambitions.
Hence General Dwight D. Eisenhower came as quite a surprise to many Columbians. Some think Eisenhower is biding his time until 1952 Others think he really prefers the academic life. Meanwhile lke isn't talking.