Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Posh and Polite


From this morning’s New York Post:

A posh private school for girls has lost out on an expansion plan that involved evicting elderly residents from an Upper East Side apartment building, The Post has learned.

The Brearley School — whose alumnae include Caroline Kennedy and Kyra Sedgwick — had been trying to buy half of the building at 85 East End Ave. for four years but no longer has a contract to do so, sources say.

Brearley, which said it has run out of space to expand its nearby campus, wouldn’t say why the deal fell through.

This is how honest educational institutions do business: They try to negotiate a deal, and when it doesn’t pan out, they make new plans.

Contrast the behavior of well-mannered Brearley with sharp-elbowed Columbia University, which keeps trying to take private citizens’ property so it can build a basketball gym and other college buildings under the rubric of “eminent domain.” In December a state court ruled against the university’s land grab, so now the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), which is pursuing the legal fight on Columbia’s behalf, has appealed the ruling in New York’s highest court. There’s a good chance it will win.

Never mind the quaint notion that if you own something, you own it; that went out decades ago. And never mind the branding of a thoroughly unexceptionable Upper Manhattan neighborhood as “blighted”; urban planners have long considered any area where rich people don’t live as theirs for the taking, with predictable results. What’s particularly offensive here is that the ESDC isn’t requisitioning land for a park or sewage-treatment plant or transportation facility or other public work that might require a large, unbroken, contiguous space. Instead, a wealthy private university wants the land for a hodge-podge of separate buildings, including restaurants and retail stores as well as the gym. Columbia “needs” the entire space only because that’s how their architect drew up the plan.

Through the years, urban universities across America have somehow managed to expand their facilities by buying property like responsible adults — putting up a building here and a building there when necessary, instead of claiming everything they see and whining for their lawyers when they don’t get it. If it’s true, as Columbia claims incessantly, that the university’s plans will greatly improve the neighborhood, why won’t they let property owners benefit from the gentrification, instead of giving them some bureaucrat’s idea of “fair market price” and hogging all the added value themselves?

What it comes down to is this: Columbia’s administrators want to snatch away someone else’s property simply because they have a really cool plan for it. They could use a lesson in manners from the finishing-school girls at Brearley.


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