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


At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why was this done?
1. If the problem was having acting directors, why was a search not launched to find a permanent director?
2. If the is a temporary expedient, why close the IAS rather than some other measure?
3. If the program to replace it really resembles the IAS in its service, then (a) why make the change or (b) why limit it to IAS and not other parts of SIPA?
4. If the bottom line is, as is so often the case, money, then it can't have been discovered just now - so why weren't steps taken to address the funding issue earlier?
5. In the end are we to understand that it's all really because Africa doesn't matter that much anyway??

At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In an email forward I received, there was mention of a letter writing campaign as well as other efforts to restore the Institute of African Studies to Columbia University. What is the status of these efforts. Additionally, if such a campaign is still in effect, I think documents like a sample letter or other information regarding the process leading up to the closure of the department should be posted on the blog or elsewhere for supporters to access.

Secondly, similar to the questions of the author of the previous comments, I would like to know how in year 2006 one of the most prestigious universities in the United States can reach the point of having to close its Institute of African Studies? Also, is this "temporary" closure really a temporary decision?

This whole thing really just seems like an undercover political move that reinforces the reality that African Studies/African American Studies and other cultural studies are not valued and deemed vital programs in the arena of post-secondary or collegiate education. One would never hear of a college/university closing down its English Department, so why do we allow for the Institute of African Studies to be shut down?

At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In many ways, Columbia University's decision to "suspend" the Institute of African Studies" represents more of a continuum than an aberration. As someone who came of age in the 1960's, I can remember when black students were not that warmly welcomed at many Ivy League schools, includion Columbia. Why should we be surprised at this move? Obviously, Dean Anderson fears no repercussions from "temporarily" taking direct control, even though she is not an African studies/languages specialist. What this says to me is that Columbia has been neglecting the Institute of African Studies for years, and has gotten away with it.
Frankly, if the school cannot be shamed into supporting the Institute, properly, then a more forceful outcry is needed from the African American, and wider communities.


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