Mr. Kasdin, who is Mr. Bollinger’s point person on the expansion, said that Columbia already could point to many examples of serving northern Manhattan, among them a mobile dental clinic, which treats 3,000 children a year, and a Washington Heights free legal aid clinic for immigrants run by its law school. Columbia, along with the city’s Department of Education, is opening a public math, science and engineering middle and high school starting this fall—a public-private partnership that looks a lot like Penn’s Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander School, although Columbia administrators say it came about differently.
“The strength of the university is its ties to the surrounding community,” Mr. Kasdin said. “And that echoes a number of points that President Rodin makes in her book. In both the cases of Penn and Columbia, we seek partnerships that are both large and dramatic and small and incremental.”
Dr. Rodin, who left Penn in 2004, is the first to admit that every campus is different, but she outlines in her book various themes that she thinks can apply everywhere.
“It is something that really needs to be led from the top,” she said in an interview with The Observer. “This is not something that can be delegated to a vice president. Your own internal people need to see how important it is because there are a million decisions each week that can make it work or not, and they’ve got to know you care.”
Also, in contrast to typical relations between urban universities and their surroundings, the West Philadelphia initiatives did more than treat neighbors as clients needing social or health services. Three projects put neighbors in decision-making or advisory roles, Dr. Rodin said. Columbia expects to add some of that as well, Mr. Kasdin said, but the details are being worked out in a community benefits agreement between the university and a local development corporation.
David Maurrasse, an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia and chief executive of a community relations firm called Marga, said that the university’s interest in community partnerships, while laudable, appear to have developed after the school decided to move into Manhattanville, not before, making it harder to win Harlem’s trust.
“Manhattanville pushed the question,” he said, “but I don’t think the question existed prior to the rolling out of Manhattanville. There was the rolling out, then there was the community response, then there was the community benefits agreement.”