In the announcement of Mr. Bollinger’s pending departure, Columbia said it had worked with communities surrounding the new campus “to support priorities like housing and education and to build alliances that are creating vital bonds with our neighbors and defining a new era of collaboration and progress.”
However, those sentiments hide a more contentious reality. At first, the expansion threatened to become a new chapter in Columbia’s long history of friction with the surrounding Harlem neighborhood in a town and gown conflict between the privileged world of academia and the often forgotten world of the poorer neighborhood around it.
A spokeswoman for Columbia, Victoria Benitez, said the university had tried to address community concerns by helping businesses to relocate or preserving them, stepping up resources for local youth and building affordable housing for residents in the affected area.
Keith Wright, a state assemblyman from Harlem for 44 years, was intimately involved in negotiating with Columbia over the expansion, which Harlem residents feared would displace them and local businesses. Mr. Wright, now a consultant, recalled that negotiators had spent almost 24 hours locked in a room before they came out with an agreement over the project.
“I think we got a lot of community giveback,” he said.
Mr. Bollinger also attracted attention in 2007 by inviting the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to speak at Columbia and then attacking Mr. Ahmadinejad’s record as he sat nearby. At least one professor at Columbia accused Mr. Bollinger, a First Amendment scholar, of inappropriately dabbling in politics.
Mr. Bollinger was a prominent figure in two pivotal affirmative action admissions cases, Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, as president of the University of Michigan before he arrived at Columbia.
In Grutter, the 5-4 opinion delivered by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor found that the law school’s process passed constitutional muster because it was highly individualized to achieve a diverse student body. But in Gratz, the Supreme Court found that a points system used in undergraduate admissions was too formulaic.