Entries in Columbia University (3)


Custodian to Graduate from Columbia University After 19 Years

ABC(NEW YORK) -- A Yugoslavian-born custodian at New York's Columbia University will be trading in his uniform for a cap and gown this weekend when he graduates with honors after working on his degree for 12 years.

Gac Filipaj, 52, will graduate with a bachelor's degree in classics with honors from Columbia's School of General Studies.

"I'm proud and I'm extremely happy," Filipaj told ABC News.

It's been a long road for Filipaj, who fled to the United States from war-torn Yugoslavia in 1992, leaving behind his parents and siblings on a family farm in Montenegro.

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Filipaj has always been a dedicated student. When he was living in Montenegro and working on his family's farm, he attended the Law College in Belgrade as a part-time student.

"As a part-time student, I only had to be present for the exams. So I would travel overnight by train, for eight hours, to take exams and then return to help my family on our farm," he said in a statement. "Eventually I began rooming with a friend near campus, but the fighting in Yugoslavia prevented me from finishing my degree."

He arrived in New York speaking virtually no English and settled in the Bronx, where he started taking English classes at Theodore Roosevelt High School.

Filipaj asked a friend what the best school in New York was and his friend pointed him to Columbia University, one of the country's top Ivy League schools.

He took a job there as a custodian for six years while he learned to speak English. When he was proficient enough, he began taking classes part-time.

The dedicated student and worker would go to class in the morning and then do his custodian work from afternoon until night before heading home to the Bronx to study.

The university provides tuition exemption for employees for a number of courses per semester. The school does not have special classes for employees and instead mainstreams them into classes with all of the other students and the same tough requirements.

"They're in class with all of the other highly talented undergraduates," Peter Awn, dean of the School of General Studies, told ABC News. "Students with untraditional backgrounds add significantly to intellectual discourse."

Awn has been a longtime admirer of Filipaj's work ethic and positive attitude.

One or two classes a semester and 19 years later, his hard work has paid off.

"I am extremely pleased and happy to see the results of my efforts pay off after all of this time. I have truly enjoyed my professors, especially Professor Gareth Williams, and being in classes with young people who are extremely mature in their approach to their coursework," Filipaj said in a statement.

Filipaj told ABC News that his only regret is that his father died three weeks ago and did not know how Filipaj had been working on his education. He wished he could have told his father "because he thought that I'm not that smart," he said.

He still sends most of his salary to his family in Montenegro.

In addition to being smart, he is ambitious and intends to earn a master's degree or PhD in classics, languages or philosophy.

"I would say that I have fulfilled half of my dream -- going to graduate school would complete it," Filipaj said. Awn is confident that Filipaj will continue his education.

"I'm sure I'm going to see him in a classroom, at some point, on the other side of the desk," he said with a laugh.

According to Columbia, Filipaj wants to take a semester off to focus on his job and then he plans to start studying again, probably at Columbia, where he would get the tuition exemption.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Columbia‚Äôs Marching Band Allowed Back on the Field

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Columbia University’s marching band, booted from the field after it mocked its own team, will now be allowed to play during the team’s last game of the season against Brown University.

The decision to allow the band to play was a reversal of the school’s policy after the band played, “We always lose, lose, lose, by a lot, and sometimes by a little,” during halftime of last weekend’s loss to Cornell. The loss put the Columbia Lions' record at 0-9.

The band, known on campus for its sometimes politically incorrect sense of humor, altered the lyrics to the school’s fight song, offending some of the Columbia rooters in the stands. Nevertheless, the sarcastic lyrics were ultimately in line with the college’s principles of free speech, Dr. M. Dianne Murphy, director of intercollegiate athletics and physical education, told the Columbia Spectator.

The prank, and the punitive measures that followed, had provoked passionate reactions on both sides. Some were pleased to see the band finally taking some flak for its “sophomoric antics,” the school newspaper reported, while others said the ban was an assault on free speech.

The Athletics Department reversed its decision late Thursday night.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


NYPD Busts Columbia University Drug Ring

File photo. Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The NYPD has arrested five Columbia University students for their involvement in a campus drug ring.

The students, along with three off-campus drug suppliers, were indicted Tuesday and accused of selling drugs at fraternity houses and on-campus residences.

Over a three-month investigation, dubbed “Operation Ivy League,” undercover NYPD narcotics officers made 31 drug purchases from the five students. Drugs included cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy, Adderall and LSD, according to Bridget G. Brennan, Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York.
A majority of drug sales took place within three on-campus fraternities and from dorm rooms in on-campus housing.

Robert Hornsby, director of media relations for Columbia University, addressed the incident in an e-mail to students Tuesday. “Each of us, through our individual behavior and actions, helps define our campus environment,” Hornsby said. "Decisions made by individuals affect the community as a whole.  Please consider the potential impact of your actions on both your individual lives and the University community at-large.”

One of the drug dealers charged in the case also faces charges that he plotted to kidnap and kill a pair of rival cocaine traffickers he said owned him money. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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