At Chicago, the incidents led to a student protest a few weeks ago in the name of greater safety measures; approximately 300 faculty members also signed a letter to the administration pointing to “an existential crisis” that they believed would affect the university’s ability to attract new students. What was the value of the school’s commitment to intellectual risk if it could not protect its charges from the most devastating kinds of physical harm?
Visually, there are few clearer illustrations of our inequality than the adjacency of regally designed universities with multibillion-dollar endowments and single-digit acceptance rates to neighborhoods haunted by generations of intractable poverty. Rising crime rates in cities around the country, where campuses typically have porous boundaries, resurrect questions about safety and institutional responsibility, about the tensions between elite universities and the surrounding areas they all too often view merely through the lens of potential real-estate acquisition.
In the case of Mr. Giri, the police quickly arrested someone — a 25-year-old, Vincent Pinkney, with a criminal record, who is accused of wounding a second person that same night, a Columbia graduate student who had just arrived from Italy to be a visiting scholar, and threatening a third. The police announced that more officers would be placed in the park. Columbia added its own safety patrols on sections of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue and around Morningside Park, actions similar to those taken after Ms. Majors’s death. But to Mr. Taylor, the painful irony around this recent incidence of deadly violence is that it took place a block or so away from Columbia University’s School of Social Work, which, in various iterations, has been instrumental in the evolution of a discipline dedicated to alleviating urban suffering for more than a century.
Critics of the entitlements enjoyed by universities often point to the need for them do more out of moral, if not legal, necessity. Last year, after mounting pressure, the University of Pennsylvania announced that it would donate $100 million to the struggling school system of Philadelphia over 10 years. In light of last week’s tragedy, I spoke about these issues with Councilman Mark Levine, whose district includes Morningside Heights and Manhattanville, where Columbia is in the midst of a $6.3 billion expansion. He said that although the data did not show a rise in assaults in Morningside Park, the city was seeing an increase in reports of people feeling threatened by those dealing with obvious mental health challenges.
In the instance of Mr. Giri’s alleged assailant, Mr. Levine said, police officers described him as a longtime gang associate, who, in this case, seemed to be having a psychic unraveling or an episode provoked by substance abuse. Mr. Levine maintained that Columbia should be investing more in mental health services in Upper Manhattan, and that it had an obligation to address the city’s failings.