Monday, June 19, 2006

Letter from Dean Anderson about IAS Closure

Students, Faculty and Friends of the Institute of African Studies,

As you know, the Institute for African Studies at Columbia has beenwithout either a permanent faculty director or a full-timeadministrative director for several years. Both Gail Gerhart andLinda Beck served our community well as acting directors-we areespecially grateful to Linda for her hard and successful work towin us FLAS fellowship funding. In the absence of faculty willingand able to assume the responsibilities of the director, however,we have agreed with the Vice President for Arts and Sciences,Nicholas Dirks, to suspend the operations of the Institute for thecomingacademic year.

So as to ensure that students, particularly SIPA students, who cometo Columbia to study Africa are able to do so, SIPA will offer aprogram in African studies. I will serve as program director, andI will be assisted by Natalie Tevethia, assistant director in theSIPA Office of Faculty and Curriculum. We will continue to manage a FLAS committee to award FLAS fellowships to Columbia Universitystudents in African languages, and the program will retain theInstitute's two student Program Assistants, who will continue toassist with Africa-related programming and administration.

In addition to ensuring that we offer several new courses oncontemporary Africa at SIPA next year, Natalie and I will beassembling a small advisory committee of faculty, staff andstudents to assist in recruiting speakers, mounting extracurricularevents (including, I hope, the annual student-sponsored AfricanEconomic Forum), and developing programming for students interestedin Africa. If you would like to be involved in such a committee, orto help in any other way with African studies at Columbia next year,please let me know.

The office suite currently assigned to the Institute is to betemporarily reassigned to SIPA's Center for Energy, MarineTransportation and Public Policy. The several offices in the suitehousing the Middle East Institute that had housed the Center willassigned to the Africa program, and at least one of these will beavailable for visitors, adjuncts, and student program assistants. The Institute's website will direct visitors to a page on the SIPAsite that will be devoted to this Africa program. We expect to havea list of the new courses available on the website by early August.

Although this arrangement is clearly only a temporary expedient forAfrican studies at Columbia, it has the merits of both beingtransparent about the limitations of the program now and creatingthe critical pressure to rectify the situation that our previouspractice of recruiting temporary Institute directors, howeverdedicated, did not.I look forward to working with you next year, as we plan the revivalof what should be one of the most significant and vibrant programsof study at Columbia.

Lisa Anderson
James T. Shotwell Professor of International RelationsDean, School of International and Public AffairsColumbia University420 West 118th StreetNew York, New York 10027tel: 212-854-4604fax: 212-864-4847 END

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Students' Letter - Closure of Institute of African Studies


June 8th, 2006

Dear President Bollinger,

Through a letter from Dean Lisa Anderson (Dean of SIPA) dated Friday June 2nd, 2006 we are aware that a decision was reached to temporarily suspend the operations of the Institute of African Studies (IAS) at Columbia University. We were informed that operations at the IAS was suspended primarily because a ‘search committee’ was unable to find a faculty member to take up the position of director. On behalf of students interested in Africa and African Studies at Columbia, we would like to express our deep disappointment at this tragic decision. The decision forces us to question the commitment of Columbia University to African Studies. By allowing African Studies to wither away without support for the IAS, Columbia University sadly joins the rest of the world in the continued marginalization of Africa. The death of one of the oldest and most prestigious Institute of African Studies in the world is due to a lack of political will and commitment to African Studies by the University administration. We call on you, President Bollinger, to prove to the student and academic community, and the larger world, that Columbia is different, and to lead the charge against the marginalization of Africa.
We commend Dean Anderson for her effort in creating the African Studies Program at SIPA in an attempt to alleviate this problem, and even going further to take leadership of this new program at such a difficult time. Nevertheless, there remains a crisis. Due to the dismantling of the IAS, all Columbia students will lack classes, programming, and access to funding that was previously made available through the Institute. This is an unacceptable state of affairs for African Studies. It also demonstrates a lack of recognition on Columbia University’s behalf of the support needed to sustain and further the commendable works of Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Dr. Mahmood Mamdani, and others who have helped to increase global awareness of the difficulties and opportunities in African development.
Below are the key reasons why students are aggravated by the current situation and feel that this decision is disrespectful and deceitful: We ask you to consider the multitude of students who enrolled in Columbia University hoping to pursue African Studies, and those who will no longer have the opportunity to discover African studies for the first time.
• Continuing lack of commitment to Africa: Over the last five years, the Institute has failed to operate at its maximum capacity, when compared to other regional institutes on the campus, due to a number of problems: a lack of a permanent director, high turnover of interim directors and weak administrative and financial support which meant that it was unable to serve students on a full-time basis. Several campaigns by Africanist faculty and multiple generations of students to resolve the Institute’s problems have fallen on deaf ears. This recent announcement only confirms the low priority Columbia lends to Africa.
• Lack of transparency and candor in the search of a director for the IAS: On April 26th, 2006, a number of students, faculty, and staff gathered for a student-led town hall meeting on Africa to discuss the dying state of the IAS. Vice President Nicolas Dirks indicated at this meeting that a search for a director of the IAS was underway and that the Administration was hopeful of having a director by January. Students were also informed that the Dean of SIPA had been assigned to appoint an associate interim director who would run the day-to-day operations of the Institute until a new director arrived. Students questioned the process of the search and demanded inclusion in and transparency of the procedures, yet these concerns were buffeted by claims that the situation was under control. This left the impression on students that we should be hopeful that the IAS would be functioning in a better state in the coming academic year. • Loss of vital support system: Due to the disbanding of the IAS, students interested in African Studies, and especially African students, have lost a vital support system and access to resources enjoyed from the Institute. Furthermore, funding for such students, already a challenge, now becomes an even graver issue.
• Timing: President Bollinger, the timing of this announcement even further aggravates the situation since the University is well aware that students are away on summer vacation and therefore cannot react to such negativity. We are sure you would agree students joining Columbia for the 2006/07 year in the hope of pursuing African Studies are entitled to feel deceived by the Administration given the timing of this announcement. While we stand ready to understand the cyclical nature of University decisions, we wonder whether the plenitude of students we ourselves greeted at an accepted students reception in April would have still chosen Columbia if they had known the truth about the University’s lack of commitment to African Studies, as demonstrated by closure of the Institute.
It is impossible to devote serious study of international development and the needs of globalization, as your own recent initiatives show, in such a prestigious institution like Columbia University, without attention being given to the African continent. We believe Columbia University is heading in an unfortunate direction with the closure of the IAS, and as President of the University we would like to share with you the fact that students are very disappointed in this institution and its mandate to produce future world leaders.
It is our hope that the school’s administration will take the concerns of students seriously and immediately provide a timeline for the reopening of the IAS and a firm demonstrable commitment to create an Institute that is befitting to the reputation of Columbia University. We call on you, President Bollinger, to lead the efforts to remove this stain from the reputation of Columbia University.

The Executive Board of the SIPA Pan African Network (SPAN)On Behalf of Concerned Students