J-School A-Team Spinning Wheels in Dinner Summit

Lee Bollinger’s Columbia Journalism School All-Stars-Anna Quindlen, Ken Auletta & Co.-have been meeting for long dinners at the Century Association to chew over the new president’s directive to re-examine the purpose of journalism school and so far the zzzzzzzzzzz ….

“People are taking pains to agree with each other, “said one Bollinger task-force source. “There are no fireworks. Anyone who thought this would be like the French Academy, with angry minds exchanging angry words, would be disappointed.”

New Yorker writer and Bollinger task-force member Nicholas Lemann agreed that there hadn’t been much rancor from the predicted clash between journalism-school-as-a-trade-school traditionalists and the airier types who favor a more philosophical approach to journalism education.

“You know how in Evans & Novak columns, there’ll always be an office shouting match?” Mr. Lemann asked. “That didn’t happen at either of the meetings.”

Of course, there were those on Columbia’s faculty who grumbled that Mr. Bollinger’s gang of heavyweights weren’t going to rattle any trees, anyway. As one faculty member told Off the Record the day following the Sept. 24 announcement: “It is certainly an impressive list-but in the end, it’s irrelevant. [Mr. Bollinger] is going to do what he wants to do. That’s what people don’t understand. It’s completely irrelevant.”

So far, according to sources present, the meetings have done little to dispel that notion. Following the first two of four dinner meetings planned for the fall, sources said the task force has done little but politely chat about the differences between real-world journalism training, like chasing down fire engines, versus more academic examinations of the role of media in society.

This appears to be by design. Task-force sources told Off the Record that Mr. Bollinger has kept the conversation at its most theoretical level.

“Various people asked him for background papers or whatever to discuss the issues, and he discouraged it,” one source said. “He made it clear he wouldn’t do it. He didn’t even give them catalogs from the school, so they didn’t even know what the school was doing [now].

But, said the task-force source, “he didn’t give out a catalog because he didn’t want it to be a discussion about the school. He wanted to make it about what a school ought to be. He wasn’t interested in talking about what Columbia was doing or what other schools were doing. He wanted people to think freely about what a journalism school should be in a city environment.”

That’s a nice assignment if you’re, say, a Ph.D. candidate carrying two courses a semester. But, sources said, Mr. Bollinger has told the group that it won’t have to issue any physical evidence of its work, such as a signed written report. These sources also said that the committee’s final recommendations may be few-like recommending the creation of a two-year program at the J-school.

When asked about the task force, a university spokesperson said, “It’s really premature. We’re not discussing the task force at this point. We’re still in the middle of the process.” But in a recent interview with the Columbia Journalism Review , Mr. Bollinger said he hoped to combine a broader range of study and options for the school with a renewed emphasis on case study, as in business and law schools.

As for the task force, Mr. Bollinger said he hoped “there will be a general sense that these are directions in which a school such as ours ought to move over the long term. I am asking for a long-term perspective, not what should be implemented next year, but what should we be driving toward over a decade.”

Having seen the new Columbia president in action, Mr. Lemann was optimistic.

“You get a pretty good sense he has an idea here,” Mr. Lemann said. “He doesn’t have the specifics, but he has a general sense of changing the school in a certain direction.

But, Mr. Lemann acknowledged, “the relation of a committee of a large number of people to that project is unclear. Because our job in life is to have four dinners.

“The art of being a university president involves figuring out a lot of stuff,” Mr. Lemann continued. “It involves funding. It involves talking to people who’d hire graduates of the school. None of that is part of the discussion of the committee. It’s very hard, from a seat on the committee, to answer the question about what this is going to amount to. In the meantime, we’re having a very interesting, valuable discussion about what a journalism school should do.”

He’s left the office and now, baby, he’s off the market. Outgoing New Yorker fiction editor Bill Buford has gotten hitched to girlfriend and Harper’s Bazaar senior features editor Jessica Green.

Mr. Buford, speaking from England, confirmed his nuptials to Off the Record, saying that he and Ms. Green got married at City Hall on Oct. 18, with Babbo chef Mario Batali (a recent profile subject of Mr. Buford’s) serving as “witness, audience, best man and bridesmaid, or whatever they call it … the first one.”

Earlier this fall, Mr. Buford announced his decision to step down from his post as the magazine’s fiction editor to become its European correspondent. He said that he and Ms. Green had gotten a marriage license a couple of months earlier and were married with “a good five days left” before it was set to expire.

“We’d finally found some rings that fit,” Mr. Buford said. “In fact, I took mine back the night before to get a slightly bigger size just before Tiffany’s closed, with five minutes to spare. I suppose if we’d been late or got held up by the subway, we wouldn’t have gotten married.”

But they did, alongside Mr. Batali-who’s also the star of a forthcoming book by Mr. Buford-and a room full of strangers “who were very enthusiastic, even though they mainly did not speak English. They were all very cheerful.”

As for his and his new wife’s future abroad, Mr. Buford confirmed that his bride had given notice to Bazaar , but said they weren’t precisely sure where in Europe to spend their days of marital bliss.

“But we’re here in London,” Mr. Buford said, “looking for a place to settle and trying to figure out which country to live in. Maybe it’ll be England. Maybe Bulgaria.”

In December’s issue, Mad -the magazine that helped generations of kids hone the art of folding a sheet of paper-goes after its fellow pranksters at The Onion .

Using a mock front page with the title The Bunion , the kids at Mad spank their Onion counterparts with stories whose headlines include “Area Man Finds Headline Amusing, But That’s About It” and “Inconsequential, Everyday Occurrence Covered With Gravity, Detachment.”

“We had two pages to fill,” Mad co-editor John Ficarra told Off the Record, “and our blistering takeoff of the Madonna movie [ Swept Away ] didn’t seem worthwhile, since nobody saw it.

” Mad spoofs everybody that’s in the culture,” Mr. Ficarra said. ” The Onion is in the culture-it just seemed like a likely candidate. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a while, and it wasn’t the easiest thing to do.”

Asked to compare Mad with The Onion , Mr. Ficarra said: “It’s apples and oranges. It’s the difference between two different people that make you laugh in entirely different ways. There’s Dangerfield and Letterman, you know.”

Errr … which one is which?

“I don’t know if I’d assign it to either of us,” Mr. Ficarra parried.

As for the transplanted boys from Madison, Wis., Onion editor in chief Robert Siegel, when called, said he hadn’t seen the parody. However, when asked what he thought of being spoofed, Mr. Siegel said: “It’s great. I guess that means we’ve finally arrived.”

And now, the Off the Record genitals update. The November-December issue of the bimonthly lit-and-art mag Index features more than a cover feature on the shaven, shiny-headed Daniel Day-Lewis. It also showcases the controversial Tom Ford–designed ad for Yves Saint Laurent’s new men’s fragrance, M7, picturing the buck-naked martial-arts champion Samuel de Cubber … fig leaf excluded.

That’s right-you can see his penis! Previously rejected by the likes of GQ and Interview , the full-frontal Y.S.L. ad will only run in four publications, but makes its American debut in Index and V this month.

Michael Bullock, Index ‘s advertising director, said they’d been approached by the Gucci Group-which owns Y.S.L.-earlier this year and asked “how we felt about nudity.”

“We’ve had a Russian gay-porn star on the cover before,” Mr. Bullock continued, “so we’re really not afraid of nudity.”

After seeing the ad and deeming it-um-tasteful, the magazine decided to go with it. But, Mr. Bullock said, this issue had something for everyone.

“In order to prevent the magazine from going in a direction that we thought might be too gay,” Mr. Bullock said, “we added a photo middle section that features some female nudity. We had the idea to do it anyway, but then, once the ad came in and it came together, we thought it worked well.”

A spokesperson for Y.S.L. declined to comment.