Columbia Spectator

Columbia University science professor Emlyn Hughes made national news last week after his stage performance in front of his class during which he stripped to his boxers, showed clips of the 9/11 attacks, had ninjas slice through a stuffed animal, and other strange acts.

On Monday, he returned to his classroom, where he teaches “Frontiers of Science,” and offered a few more antics, but kept things much more tame.

The Columbia Daily Spectator reports:

Hughes began this lecture, like the previous one, with rap music—“Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio—set to a video of nuclear devastation, and also featured a ninja, who did not return after the introductory sequence.

Clad once again in a black hoodie and sunglasses, Hughes acknowledged the national hubbub over his performance, saying that he had turned Horace Mann Auditorium at Teachers College into “the most famous classroom in America.”

But in spite of his odd attire, he quickly got down to business with a lecture that examined both the physics and politics of nuclear weapons in detail.

Only one other stunt occurred in the course of the hour-and-a-half long lecture. As Hughes discussed the repellent properties of like particles, twin girls walked onstage from opposite sides of the auditorium, sat down at desks, and began to type on laptops in sync.

But as to whether students are paying any attention to the class remains to be seen. Student Alexander Pines, on, offered a scathing review of Columbia’s Frontiers of Science mandate in his post Monday:

I’ll be frank, Frontiers of Science is a bulls**t course. Instead of providing an in-depth exploration of one or two key topics in modern scientific study, it seeks to instead condense incredibly complex subjects (quantum mechanics, particle physics, special relativity, neurobiology, to name a few) into easy to swallow one and a half hour lectures that act as little more than cocktail party fodder. Instead of giving all undergraduates a basic background in science and bridging the “divide between science and humanities in the minds” of college students, Frontiers strips complicated ideas of their nuance and asks students to swallow and regurgitate information instead of considering it critically. It is the anti-Lit Hum, a class of reduction of critical thought instead of expansion. For this reason, it’s one of the most controversial pieces of the Core and is continually being considered for review.

Unsurprisingly, Frontiers is ill attended and students who do show up rarely pay attention–hell, I’m sitting in Frontiers as I write this now. A cursory glance of the crowd will show rows of MacBooks open to Facebook, the New York Times, Oscar night fashion recaps, and shoe shopping on Zappos (and that’s just what I can see from my seat). A friend of mine who had the class last semester told me she sat in the back with her headphones in and watched porn every week. When I tell upperclassmen that I’m off to a Frontiers lecture, they laugh and tell me to take a nap instead. …

An honest glance into the wild world of an Ivy League higher education. It’s worth $40,000 a year, eh folks?

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A science professor at Columbia University on Monday began a quantum mechanics lecture by stripping into his boxers and eating a banana while rap music played in the background.

Then it got weird.

The professor, Emlyn Hughes, proceeded to redress himself in black, complete with sunglasses, and hug himself on stage at the front of the classroom, a large theater.

As Hughes sat in the fetal position, two “actors” dressed in ninja costumes walked onstage and placed white stuffed animals – lambs – on stools before the audience, according to a student-recorded video of the incident posted on by “Bwog,” a campus news website run by Columbia students.

The ninjas blindfolded the lambs, then a ninja impaled one of the stuffed animals with a long sword and banged it against the stool – right as an image of a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers on 9/11 started rolling on a large screen behind the performance.

Students in the video could initially be heard laughing and giggling and questioning the performance when it started, even squealing in shock with Hughes had first undressed.

“I am so confused,” one female student said on the video. “What is happening.”

After the lamb’s grisly “death” and the images of 9/11, the footage turned into a montage that included clips of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Hitler – as well as numerous shots of war images – tanks rolling, bombs exploding, people hanging upside-down, troops marching, and the like.

As the footage continued, a rap song called “Drop It Like It’s Hot” played in the background.

Students’ reaction turned from laughter and amused surprised to concern, according to comments heard on the video.

“What the f**k is happening,” one female student asked. “Is this real life? … How does this relate to anything?”

Eventually, the film ended and the professor began his lecture. But when he first grabbed his microphone, at least one student mistook it for a gun, saying with concern: “He has a gun, he has a gun.”

The bizarre episode lasted less than ten minutes. The Vimeo clip included the very first part of Hughes’ lecture, in which he told students that “in order to learn quantum mechanics, you have to strip to your raw, erase all the garbage from your brain and start over again. … Everything you do in your everyday life is totally opposite of what you are going to learn in quantum mechanics.”

The Columbia Daily Spectator, the student campus newspaper that reported the news Monday of the professor’s performance, quoted several students who said they were troubled and confused by what unfolded.

Student Maura Barry-Garland told The Spectator that “the incident was all the more disconcerting because Hughes did not provide an explanation for using those images.

“It was very disturbing, and I don’t think anyone in the audience got what he was doing. He didn’t explain it or provide a context, and that’s why it was offensive to me and to other people,” she told the student newspaper.

The Spectator also reported Hughes’ performance Monday was not his first “stunt,” noting in a 2011 lecture “he showed students nude photos of Woodstock attendees.”

According to his bio page on the university’s website, Hughes stated that “via my background in nuclear physics activities, I have a deep interest in issues relevant to nuclear proliferation.”

WARNING: Video contains some profanity. (NSFW)

FroSci Gone Wild from Bwog on Vimeo.

Click here to read the Columbia Daily Spectator article on the incident.

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IMAGE: Bwog/


One week after Rebecca Weber started her first year at Columbia, she looked up to see black smoke floating over campus.

It had drifted from the smoldering area that would come to be known as Ground Zero, an image that has remained with Weber for the last decade.

“I felt like Columbia was a world away from the attacks, and yet there were reminders that that was totally not true,” Weber, CC ’05, said recently. “That was a very jarring reminder that although 116th Street seemed very far from [downtown] Manhattan, it is physically not that far at all.”

Columbia University lost 41 affiliates in the terrorist attacks of that day. For the class of 2005, the attacks came to define their four years, and future classes have felt their effects ripple through the University in other ways—academic and religious, social and psychological.

Ten years later, students and administrators who were on campus at the time of the attacks said feelings of fear, confusion, and unity have stayed with them.

Austin Quigley, the dean of Columbia College from 1995 to 2009, described the feeling of loss as a collective emotion—“even if we didn’t know them, they were one of us.”
A decade later, he said the sense of unity that followed has also left its mark.

“There is a much stronger sense of people feeling that they need to contribute to the place, to take some responsibility for it and to strengthen it for people that come after them,” he said.

Read the full story at the Columbia Spectator.


Sean MacKenzie, CC ’13, freezes as a shot is fired from somewhere in the distance. His grip tightens on his gun. The enemy­—a group of Spanish-speaking, Islamic fundamentalists from the Caucasus—has surprised Task Force Blue from a nearby tower. The cadets fall to the ground and wait for orders from their squad leader. This mission isn’t going as planned.

Several times a semester, MacKenzie and the handful of Columbia students who participate in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps through Fordham University, practice tactical drills in a forest in central New Jersey or upstate New York in preparation for the work they will one day do as military officers. On Sunday after two days of simulated wartime scenarios, mostly in the rain, they return to Morningside Heights with just a few hours of sleep and papers to work on in Butler.

“It’s the equivalent of being an athlete at Columbia. Except when an athlete asks a professor for an extension, the professor says, ‘Yes,’” said Jose Robledo, GS and a veteran who hopes to return to service as an officer.

Read the full story at the Columbia Spectator.

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Just days after a national government shutdown was averted, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke about the crisis in state budgets at the Italian Academy.

Gillibrand was the keynote speaker for the 14th Annual David N. Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum on Monday, and in her speech she called on students to create change and get involved in public policy in a time of pressing budgetary crises.

“Budgets are moral documents, they’re about choices that we make, what are our core values, what should we care about,” Gillibrand said.

“What we see at the federal level are choices that are not the right choices for our future—cutting education, cutting women’s healthcare,” Gillibrand said. “How can you cut spending for Pap smears, for mammograms … these are the safety nets that we need for all our families.”

Gillibrand spent little time on budgetary issues at the state level, and instead focused on her personal political experience. She described her interest in politics as stemming from an event similar to the Dinkins Forum.

Read the full story at the Columbia Spectator.


Following revisions to the post-9/11 GI Bill that will decrease federal aid for veterans currently attending Columbia, the School of General Studies is looking for money to make up the difference. But GS Dean Peter Awn said the school likely won’t be able to increase financial aid for veterans next year.

“We’re out fundraising like crazy but that has long-term implications not short-time implications,” Awn said. “Because yes, we’re trying to deal with the dilemma of having the rules changed on students already here, but we want to be able to continue to recruit veterans.”

But while GS will not be able to substantially increase its financial aid to veterans, the school is working to help its 150 veterans find more opportunities for outside aid.

“What we’re trying to do is engage all of the veterans to try to come up with financial plans that would alleviate whatever additional funds [they need], like loans, grant money,” Awn said.

Read the full story at the Columbia Spectator.