Community Benefits Agreement (Columbia University-Grant & Manhattanville Houses)

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Created date

November 20, 2019

Critical Commentary

There is much contention regarding whether Columbia University has been fulfilling its side of the bargain per its commitments to the community via the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). 

I spoke several times with a resident at Manhattanville who was actively engaged in the community and part of the development’s RA. He described the relationship between Columbia University and neighborhood residents as a hierarchical but mutually-informing relationship between the “Senior” (the institution) and the “Junior” (unaffiliated residents of the institution). He asserted that each maintained a responsibility for the other, but that the relationship was largely unequal: while residents of Morningside Heights lived within the bounds of the government-designated “Empowerment Zone,” the boundaries between Columbia and the community persisted, and were not only physically, but ideologically embedded. He argued that Columbia University only fulfilled its “baseline” responsibilities in order to positively market itself to both the direct community and the overall landscape of higher educational institutions.

Part of this baseline included the CBA’s allotment of 40 scholarships for residents per year over the past 6 years, of which only 34 in total had been utilized. He claimed that over $12 million worth of scholarships that could have been used by residents went to waste, largely due to the fact that Columbia University did not engage in outreach in the housing developments aside from sending brochures to the RA meetings. In addition, Columbia provided opportunities to build up “community leaders,” but limited their selection to those specializing in the arts or literacy, whereas proposals by leaders for political engagement were largely ignored.