Nicholas Lemann And the Columbia J-School

Last week, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger announced that he had hired Nicholas Lemann, a New Yorker reporter and noted book author, to be dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. This was no ordinary appointment: Six months ago, in pursuit of what he declared would be an entirely new approach to teaching journalism, Mr. Bollinger had suspended his search for a dean and created a committee of over 30 journalists to discuss how journalism could best be taught. Common sense and experience indicate that a committee of that magnitude is a way of making sure that the worst, not the best, minds will prevail. But the illustrious cabal of columnists and commentators from places like The New York Times , The Washington Post , Newsweek and ABC News held meetings and thought big thoughts. Rather than getting down to work, Mr. Bollinger preferred to let the bureaucracy grind on. Until last week, when Mr. Lemann-who himself was part of the committee-accepted the job.

While Mr. Lemann is a highly respected and well-liked journalist, early indications of what came out of Mr. Bollinger’s committee are not promising. In addition to sensible and somewhat obvious suggestions, such as giving students more grounding in economics and political theory (they needed six months and a 30-member committee to come up with that?), Mr. Bollinger intends to expand the current 10-month J-school program to two years. This is pure folly, the purpose of which can only be to double the J-school revenue for Columbia. Unlike the study of business or law or medicine, which require a substantial pool of basic knowledge before one embarks on a career, reporting and writing are crafts that one learns by doing. While an argument can be made that a year of postgraduate study to earn a master’s degree in journalism is helpful, a second year is a waste of time that could be better spent burning up shoe leather for a small-town newspaper or local TV station. But if Columbia’s board of trustees approves Mr. Bollinger’s plan, students who previously saw merit in a year spent learning the basics of reporting may be forced to endure a second year of servitude while their peers are out in the world, reporting real stories and building a name for themselves. A two-year program will drive away the best, and attract those who want to linger in academia.

Frankly speaking, it’s difficult to name a great journalist today who attended a graduate school of journalism. Maureen Dowd, Tom Brokaw, Frank Rich, Andrea Mitchell, Russell Baker, Ted Koppel, Thomas Friedman-none has a graduate degree in journalism hanging on his or her wall, yet each has risen to the pinnacle of print or broadcast journalism. And one can search among the storied names of journalism’s past, such as H.L. Mencken, Edward R. Murrow, James Reston, Walter Lippman, Murray Kempton or Walter Winchell, without finding any formal training in journalism.

Mr. Lemann and Mr. Bollinger are in strong agreement that the Columbia J-school program should be lengthened to two years. Apparently, one irony has escaped them: Mr. Lemann himself never attended journalism school.

The Partisan Review : 1934-2003

With the closing of the Partisan Review , New York’s intellectual community has lost a treasured friend, and the nation has lost a memorable voice. The Review’s demise was announced on April 16, when the periodical’s owner, Boston University, decided it could no longer afford the cost of publication. The university had supported the Review since 1978.

When the intellectual and cultural histories of the American Century are written decades from now, the Partisan Review will serve as a primary source for insight into some of the nation’s greatest thinkers and writers. The journal provided a forum for people like Mary McCarthy, Dwight Macdonald, Norman Mailer, Irving Howe, Lionel Trilling and Susan Sontag. Left-wing intellectuals who saw Stalin not as a champion of the proletariat, but as the bloodthirsty dictator he was, poured out their passion and their arguments in the magazine’s pages. It took courage to make that point in the 1930’s and 40’s, but there was never any shortage of courage at the Partisan Review . Though the quarterly magazine’s circulation never exceeded 15,000, its influence among New York’s intellectual elite was profound. It surely was one of the most influential periodicals in American history.

The Review’s power and circulation in recent years was not what it had been. Times have changed, and so have the issues. Still, it’s a shame that Boston University believed it could not make a go of the magazine after its remarkable co-founder and editor in chief, William Phillips, died last September.

Perhaps the Review will return in some form, or at least its spirit will live on in other brave and bracing publications. Regardless, the journal’s place in American history is assured. The talented men and women who contributed to the Partisan Review will be read, their ideas debated, long into the 21st century. Their contribution to New York, and to the world of ideas, is eternal.

Sam LeFrak

“I gave the people what they wanted, at a price they could afford to pay.”

That profoundly wise voice belonged to Sam LeFrak, the flamboyant developer who revolutionized middle-class housing in New York City and who passed away last week at the age of 85. Thanks to his stubborn belief that New Yorkers deserved decent, safe and affordable housing, thousands of the city’s residents lived their lives in comfort and security. Sam LeFrak took over the family real-estate business in 1948, and proceeded to build over 150,000 apartments and houses in the New York area over the next 40 years. He demonstrated that the private sector can and must play a key role in maintaining New York as an attractive and affordable place to live. From six-story walkups to the vast LeFrak City in Queens, with its swimming pools and doormen, to the $10 billion residential and commercial Newport City in Jersey City, LeFrak made sure that his apartments were rented at reasonable rates and were outfitted with private security forces and high-tech safety equipment. And he put his name on his buildings not out of ego, but because he wanted his tenants to know that he was accountable. And he made it a good business-as The New York Times recently noted, he followed his parents’ advice: “Just be smart and never get caught overleveraged.”

Sam LeFrak’s generosity to his tenants extended to other areas. In addition to being a noted art collector himself, he was a major philanthropist, funding a concert hall at Queens College, a sculpture terrace at the Guggenheim Museum, a learning center at Temple Emanu-El-not to mention helping finance the team that found the Titanic .

Sam LeFrak’s zest and compassion will be missed, but his name will always remind New Yorkers that one individual still has the power to transform the world’s greatest city.