First, some excellent coverage of the day’s festivities from the J-Schoolers at Columbia: www.obamamccainatcolumbia.blogspot.com. (Disclosure: I contributed a couple pieces on this.)
It’s been a zoo here today at Columbia: police surrounding the campus, entrances closed, having to show a school ID to get on campus.
After finishing classes, I went out and did some reporting, adding to the above blog. I put myself on the protest beat, as I was first to put up a slideshow when protesters gathered a little after 5 p.m. It was very peaceful, I even saw protesters talking with a nearby officer.
The steps outside Columbia were full of students, as a giant TV screen was outside. I watched inside the J-school student center, which has essentially turned into a newsroom, complete with a live feed of the room on the blog.
The part of McCain’s speech that generated the biggest reaction here was when McCain said Columbia should have the ROTC on campus. The reason was that most of us likely didn’t know that, including me. So we looked it up, and yes, it was dissolved in the ’60s, though students here can go to Fordham or Manhattan College for it.
All in all though, his speech didn’t provoke anything too controversial here. Or anything too memorable, aside from this line about service: “The busiest people are the busiest, and the busier they get the busier they get.”
When Obama came out to meet McCain in the middle, a few of the more partial students in the room cheered, which led to laughs and a comment: “Wow, look at us impartial journalists.”
Obama started his speech with a joke that fell flat about not being able to afford Columbia’s neighborhood anymore. But he recovered, talking about service in groups like Peace Corps and Americorps, as well as tuition credits for those who serve the country.
Obama was asked if universities like Columbia, which exclude ROTC, should bring it back, and he quickly and emphatically answered yes. I’m kind of surprised it’s not here myself.
Time Editor Richard Stengel, a moderator tonight, called out Columbia for inviting Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but not the ROTC to have a voice here.
Our blog was popular enough that another blog, Ivy Gate, came into our room to post from here.
All in all, the speeches were a bit of a letdown compared to the rest of the day. I guess that was to be expected watching from a video feed. Still, it’s pretty cool that I got to be a part of this, both the blog and the day’s festivities.
If only I had gotten inside. Oh well…