Obama's Columbia Years

Michael Iachetta
My fellow Columbian Wayne Allyn Root may well be correct when he suggests that President Obama transferred to Columbia in fall '81 as a foreign exchange student, and I support his challenge to the president to prove otherwise. At the same time, I'd like to provide some context that may explain how Barack Obama could spend two years at Columbia without Mr. Root or a random selection of 400 classmates remembering anything about him.

The first thing to note is that Columbia was a male-only school in those days (the first co-ed class was the class of '87). This means that it was a far less social place than most colleges. Mr. Root was no doubt more outgoing than I was, but in my experience, the time period when it was easiest to meet friends at Columbia was during freshman orientation and during the first semester of freshman year living in a dorm. As someone who transferred to Columbia as a junior, Barack Obama would have missed out on those opportunities. This is in addition to the obvious point that there wasn't much reason for anyone to spend a lot of time hanging out on campus with all of Manhattan a mere subway ride away.

Classes at Columbia typically had 40-100 students in those days, with a few classes having as many as 150-200 students. In my experience, the norm was for students to come to class, sit down, listen to the lecture, take notes, and leave. I only recall one instance of a student asking a question in class in all of my time there. Consequently, I didn't get to know many English majors just because they were English majors. The only exceptions to this pattern were the required core courses in Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization, which were conducted as seminars with 20 or so students. Most students took these seminars as freshmen and sophomores, but as a transfer student, Obama would have taken them as a junior and senior. If this is the case, then he would have been interacting most closely with Columbia students who graduated in '85 and '86, not students in the class of '83.

The fact that President Obama lived off campus for his entire time at Columbia is also significant. Living in dorms was the main way in which I met other students in the time following my freshman year. Obama would not have enjoyed that opportunity. It should also be remembered that the neighborhoods surrounding Columbia in those pre-Giuliani days were pretty scary. My first recollection of emerging from a subway at 110th Street and Broadway was of a woman wrapped in a carpet, raving incoherently. Anything southeast of Amsterdam and 110th street was no man's land as far as I was concerned, and Obama reportedly lived on 109th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue during his first semester. After that, according Phil Boerner, Obama moved into a studio apartment, perhaps in the building located at East 94th Street between First and Second Avenues. I just can't imagine Barack Obama running into many Columbia students living at these locations, and I can easily understand how he would later describe himself as being "painfully alone" during this period.

Other apparent anomalies mentioned on the Internet are easily explained. There is no existing senior thesis for Barack Obama, because there was no senior thesis requirement at Columbia. Barack Obama does not appear in the Columbia yearbook, because there was no Columbia yearbook.

As a long-time reader of American Thinker and an occasional contributor, it should go without saying that I am not an Obama supporter. It is my hope that the background I have provided here will be of some use to those of us who wish to fill in the mysteries and missing pieces of Obama's life.

Michael Iachetta was a member of the Columbia Class of 1984.

My fellow Columbian Wayne Allyn Root may well be correct when he suggests that President Obama transferred to Columbia in fall '81 as a foreign exchange student, and I support his challenge to the president to prove otherwise. At the same time, I'd like to provide some context that may explain how Barack Obama could spend two years at Columbia without Mr. Root or a random selection of 400 classmates remembering anything about him.

The first thing to note is that Columbia was a male-only school in those days (the first co-ed class was the class of '87). This means that it was a far less social place than most colleges. Mr. Root was no doubt more outgoing than I was, but in my experience, the time period when it was easiest to meet friends at Columbia was during freshman orientation and during the first semester of freshman year living in a dorm. As someone who transferred to Columbia as a junior, Barack Obama would have missed out on those opportunities. This is in addition to the obvious point that there wasn't much reason for anyone to spend a lot of time hanging out on campus with all of Manhattan a mere subway ride away.

Classes at Columbia typically had 40-100 students in those days, with a few classes having as many as 150-200 students. In my experience, the norm was for students to come to class, sit down, listen to the lecture, take notes, and leave. I only recall one instance of a student asking a question in class in all of my time there. Consequently, I didn't get to know many English majors just because they were English majors. The only exceptions to this pattern were the required core courses in Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization, which were conducted as seminars with 20 or so students. Most students took these seminars as freshmen and sophomores, but as a transfer student, Obama would have taken them as a junior and senior. If this is the case, then he would have been interacting most closely with Columbia students who graduated in '85 and '86, not students in the class of '83.

The fact that President Obama lived off campus for his entire time at Columbia is also significant. Living in dorms was the main way in which I met other students in the time following my freshman year. Obama would not have enjoyed that opportunity. It should also be remembered that the neighborhoods surrounding Columbia in those pre-Giuliani days were pretty scary. My first recollection of emerging from a subway at 110th Street and Broadway was of a woman wrapped in a carpet, raving incoherently. Anything southeast of Amsterdam and 110th street was no man's land as far as I was concerned, and Obama reportedly lived on 109th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue during his first semester. After that, according Phil Boerner, Obama moved into a studio apartment, perhaps in the building located at East 94th Street between First and Second Avenues. I just can't imagine Barack Obama running into many Columbia students living at these locations, and I can easily understand how he would later describe himself as being "painfully alone" during this period.

Other apparent anomalies mentioned on the Internet are easily explained. There is no existing senior thesis for Barack Obama, because there was no senior thesis requirement at Columbia. Barack Obama does not appear in the Columbia yearbook, because there was no Columbia yearbook.

As a long-time reader of American Thinker and an occasional contributor, it should go without saying that I am not an Obama supporter. It is my hope that the background I have provided here will be of some use to those of us who wish to fill in the mysteries and missing pieces of Obama's life.

Michael Iachetta was a member of the Columbia Class of 1984.