Thursday, July 13, 2006

African Studies at Columbia

For those of you who want to join the letter writing campaign asking Administration to re-open the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University, below is a Factsheet of the series of events that took place prior to the closure of the Institute and gives lots of topics to include in your letter. It was written by two Alum of Columbia. If you have questions, don't hesitate to email me at
Thanks a lot! Christabel


While Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) is holding world-wide celebrations to commemorate its 60th year Dean Lisa Anderson and Vice President Nicholas Dirks suspended the Institute for African Studies (IAS), which is in its 59th year. This should be a year of celebration for the Institute of African studies rather it is a year of termination. As we distribute this fact sheet we understand that the moving of IAS has already begun.

June 2006 Dean Lisa Anderson, SIPA notified the students and faculty that she is essentially dismantling the African Institute: ‘suspending’ its operations, closing its office and reallocating the space to the Center on Energy, Marine Transportation and Public Policy. In its place they are creating a new ‘Program in African Studies’. This decision was made without consultation with a faculty that has been very active in trying to get the university to address the crippling problems confronting the Institute.
Dean Anderson, a Middle Eastern specialist, appointed herself the director of this ‘Program in African Studies’.
Program staff will consist of SIPA’s Assistant Director, Faculty Affairs and Curriculum, Natalie Tevethia and two student program assistants. However, the students will be ‘officially’ attached to the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies.
Dr. Ousman Kane, political scientist of Islam in West Africa, who had an office in IAS will be moved to the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies.
To view Anderson’s letter and other documents see

This announcement comes after the administration of SIPA and GSAS failed to respond to initiatives by faculty and students of African studies to rebuild the Institute for African Studies.

· Spring 2004: SIPA’s failure to give IAS Director Dr. Mahmood Mamdani permission to hire an associate director leads to his resignation. Mamdani calls for a university wide commission to address the fate of African studies at Columbia.
· 2004-2006: confronted with university inaction committed faculty agreed to serve as part time directors of the institute: Dr. Gail Gerhart (2004-2005) and Dr. Linda Beck (2005-2006). Under Beck IAS launched two successful initiatives. They developed a major April 2006 conference on immigrant Africans supported by the Mayor’s Office and Museum of African Art and secured four graduate fellowships [$134,000] from the U.S. Dept. of Education FLAS (Foreign Language and Areas Studies Grants ) program.

· February 2006: a group of prominent Columbia African studies faculty petitioned the Dean of SIPA, Lisa Anderson, VP Vice President, Arts and Sciences, Nicholas Dirks, and President Lee Bollinger and Provost Alan Brinkley, to develop a comprehensive plan/strategy to revitalize the African institute and to give the institution a sufficient period to establish structures for sustainable development. They provided a detailed picture of the resources that would be necessary to create a strong competitive program. Only the Dean of SIPA responded and with a brief note of acknowledgement.

· April 2006: SIPA students call for a town hall meeting to express their concerns about the decline of African studies at Columbia. They highlighted the discrepancies between publicized African curricular offerings and courses actually taught. It had become impossible for them to complete an African focus for their desired specializations.

The meeting was attended by interested faculty and SIPA students, Vice President, Arts and Sciences, Nicholas Dirks, SIPA Dean, Lisa Anderson, and SIPA Associate Dean for Faculty and Curriculum Affairs, Rob Garris. V.P. Dirks noted that GSAS were beginning to address the lack of Africanist faculty and noted several hires. Garris and Anderson asserted that they were trying to identify a part time director or interim director. Additionally, SIPA was reviewing the relationship between regional institutes and academic departments and was exploring the possibility of providing budgetary incentives for departments to hire regionally-focused faculty.

Why the Institute for African Studies needs your support:

Both Deans Anderson and VP Dirks have led students and faculty to believe that the institution would make a ‘good faith’ effort to rebuild African studies
However, the Anderson/Dirks plan does not reflect an effort to rebuild the institute rather to terminate it.
· The Anderson/Dirks plan calls for a period of intensive planning for the future of a strengthened African studies presence at Columbia. However, this unilateral ‘restructuring’ and a past of extensive neglect raises serious questions about the future of African studies at Columbia.
· The absence of IAS even in the interim, threatens the FLAS fellowships that the faculty secured. This creates an irregular fellowship selection process and the absence of an African Language Coordinator and the Institute deprives the FLAS program of adequate supervision. We are concerned that this decision violates the U.S. Department of Education’s Guidelines for the FLAS grants.

The legacy of African Studies at Columbia should not be one of institutional neglect. As alumni we need to express our dissatisfaction and assist in revitalizing African Studies.

Please send your letter to:

(1) President Lee Bollinger
Columbia University in the City of New York
535 W. 116th Street
2002 Low Library
New York, N. Y. 10027

Mail Code: 4309
Phone: 212 854-9970
Fax: 212 854-9973

(2) Provost Alan Brinkley
Low Library, Room 205
Columbia University in the City of New York
2860 Broadway
New York, N. Y. 10027-6902

Mail Code: 4313
Phone: 212-854-2404
Fax: 212 – 932-0418E-mail:

(3) Vice President Nicholas Dirks, Arts and Sciences
208 Low Library
Columbia University in the City of New York
2860 Broadway
New York, NY 10027-6902

Mail Code: 4315
Phone: 212 854-8296
Fax: 212 854-5401

(4) Dean Lisa Anderson, School of International and Public Affairs
1414 International Affairs Building
School of International and Public Affairs
420 W. 118th Street
New York, N. Y. 10027

Mail Code: 3328
Phone: 212- 854-4604
Fax: 212-854-4647