For a short while, it seemed that Columbia University President Lee Bollinger, an ardent defender of affirmative action and diversity, had backed his beliefs with action. He could boast of having African Americans in two key positions: Claude Steele was provost and Michelle Moody-Adams was undergraduate dean. Then Steele resigned in June to take a position at Stanford University, and Moody-Adams quit last week under more mysterious circumstances. According to the New York Times, this has set off some soul-searching in upper Manhattan.

Fredrick C. Harris, a professor of political science and director of Columbia’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies, said in an interview that the resignation of the university’s provost, Claude M. Steele, in June, followed by the more acrimonious departure last week of the undergraduate dean, Michele M. Moody-Adams, were significant not just because the officials were the first African-Americans to hold those key positions, but also because their authority appeared to wither during their tenures.

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Dr. Harris said that he wrote to Mr. Bollinger this week to explain how the departures "have shaken my confidence — as well as the confidence of many others at Columbia — in the ability of Columbia to maintain diverse leadership at the top."

June Cross, an associate professor at the university’s Graduate School of Journalism, said in an interview on Wednesday, "I'm not saying race is the issue, but it is the subtext." She added, "Michele Moody-Adams was advertised as, 'Here's our commitment to diversity.' If you're not going to stand behind what you say you hired her to do, what does that say about your commitment?"

Such criticisms are unusual for Mr. Bollinger, who built a national reputation defending affirmative action cases at the University of Michigan, and who has brought more minority students and faculty members to Columbia’s campus in Morningside Heights. In an interview Thursday, he acknowledged the criticism but said it was off base.

Steele, who left to become dean of the the School of Education at Stanford, denied that there was anything racial about his departure. Moody-Adams had complained that undergaduate education at Columbia was suffering as Bollinger focused on building a research institution.

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The two exits may be coincidental, but in a universe where blacks at the top are so rare, there's reason to be concerned. And as the Times pointed out, there's the delicate matter of Columbia's massive expansion into Harlem, using the city's power of eminent domain. Clearly, Bollinger will have his hands full — and we'll keep an eye on his handling of the situation.

Read the entire story in the New York Times.

In other news: Libyan Rebels Rounding Up Black Africans.