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


At 9:24 AM, Anonymous Kim Lehmkuhl said...

The following is my correspondence with Dean Anderson regarding my decision not to attend SIPA in the fall, FYI (feel free to reproduce or distribute as needed). Please note that the times on the correspondence are a bit funny because I'm in Geneva this summer, which is 6 hours ahead of NY time.

Kim Lehmkuhl

Quoting Kim Lehmkuhl:

At 01:46 PM 7/23/2006, you wrote [to SIPA Admissions, cc'd to President Bollinger, Provost Brinkley, Vice President Dirks, and Dean Anderson]:

Please consider this my formal notice of withdrawal from Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs.

I had planned to enroll in SIPA this fall as part of a joint-degree program with the Law School, in which I intended to focus on human rights law and African studies at the Law School and SIPA respectively. Though I began the Law School portion of my program first, my decision to attend Columbia at all was predominantly based on SIPA's reputation as one of the probably top three schools in the country for graduate work in African studies. However, since I have been at Columbia I have heard repeatedly from different sources the difficulty that SIPA students have had in even registering for the required number of credits to specialize in African affairs, having to take African fine arts or performing arts classes in order to meet the graduation requirements for their professional degree program. While this situation was already untenable, the formal shuttering of the Institute of African Studies in recent weeks has convinced me that the current administration does not have the will to remedy these problems and that it is not an appropriate use of my time or money to commence a program in African studies at SIPA in the foreseeable future, particularly with President Bollinger opining that it is likely to take three to five years to even reopen IAS, with no timeline in sight for addressing the deeper structural problems with African studies at Columbia).

I have cc'd this email to President Bollinger, Provost Brinkley, Vice President Dirks, Dean Anderson, and the SIPA Pan-African Network in the hopes that those closest to the recent decisions regarding African studies at Columbia will note their real effect on student and prospective student decisionmaking. I would also like to note that this decision was made easier for me since I expect my previous graduate work to ease my transition back into the job market; the timing of Dean Anderson's IAS announcement puts most prospective students, who have already turned down offers from Columbia's competitors and committed to leave current employers, in a terrible position that the administration should take full responsibility for.

If the Admissions or Financial Aid offices require any further information from me in order to process my withdrawal, please let me know at your earliest convenience.

Kim Lehmkuhl

Kimberly B. Lehmkuhl
[address withheld]


At 02:51 AM 7/24/2006, Lisa Anderson wrote:

Dear Ms. Lehmkuhl,

I am sorry you have made this decision, particularly since it was done without consulting with those of us involved in either the decision to suspend the operations of the Institute or the planning for the revitalization of African studies at Columbia. That said, I would be grateful if you could let me know where you saw or heard President Bollinger say it would take three to five years to reopen IAS. That, I must say, comes as a complete surprise to me!

If you are interested in reconsidering your decision, please let me know; otherwise, a quite reference to president Bollinger's statement would be much appreciated.

Thank you,

Lisa Anderson

Lisa Anderson
James T. Shotwell Professor of International Relations
Dean, School of International and Public Affairs
Columbia University
420 West 118th Street
New York, New York 10027
tel: 212-854-4604


At 09:26 AM 7/24/2006, you wrote:

Dear Dean Anderson,

Pardon me, I've searched back through my old emails and it didn't say "three to five years," President Bollinger gave a solid five year timeline for making "Columbia a key center for African studies." The "three" must have stuck in my head from the previous line about three hires. In any event, as President Bollinger notes, that timeline is indeed "frustrating" for both current and prospective students, and I don't think any consultation on my part with the administration would have any effect on that basic fact, particularly in light of SPAN's continued and largely ineffective attempts to engage all levels of the administration on these same issues. President Bollinger's email, which you, Vice President Dirks, and Provost Brinkley were cc'd on, is pasted in below for your reference.

Kim Lehmkuhl

From: *Lee Bollinger* Mailed-By:
Reply-To: **
To: *"Christabel E. Dadzie" [address withheld], [plus a bunch of other Columbia students and others I won't reprint here to keep their emails private and save space]

Cc: *Alan Brinkley, "Nicholas B. Dirks", Lisa Anderson*
Date: *Jun 19, 2006 9:44 PM*
Subject: *Re: Open Letter to President Bollinger*

Dear Christabel,

Many thanks for your letter on behalf of the Executive Board of the SIPA Pan African Network.

Let me reassure you that the temporary suspension of the operations of the Institute of African Studies is neither an outcome anyone foresaw, nor an outcome that is in any way desirable. I have asked Nick Dirks, our Vice President for Arts and Sciences, and Dean Anderson to meet with you for a number of reasons.

I would like them to first clarify for you the process by which a director is selected for a regional institute at Columbia. We appoint these directors from within the ranks of our own faculty, and do not conduct external searches.

However, more importantly, I would like for them to reinforce Columbia's deep commitment to African studies, one that extends beyond SIPA. Over the past year, Vice President Dirks has been able to make 3 hires in African studies. We are not yet at a place where we can announce the specific names, but I assure you that in the next five years, Columbia will become a key center for African studies. I understand how frustrating that time line must be for you, as you will no doubt have completed your SIPA program by the time they are all on campus, but unfortunately, that sort of horizon is a reality for any university.

In addition, Vice President Dirks has undertaken a systemic review of all of the regional institutes, with an eye toward ensuring adequate support and an equitable distribution of resources. This review will very much include the Institute for African Studies.

Lastly, I have asked Dean Anderson to make sure that you and your fellow students are aware of the program in African Studies that SIPA offers, as well as the faculty who work in this area. Dean Anderson recently met with Provost Brinkley, Vice President Dirks, and me to talk about increased efforts in recruiting faculty in African studies to augment those already in place. I will ask Dean Anderson to work with you to make sure that any students whose studies may be hampered by this suspension will have access to individual faculty members for their counsel and advice.

Again, I assure you that Columbia is committed to African studies and that Dean Anderson has assured us that the re-opening of the Institute for the 2007-8 academic year is a priority for her.


Lee Bollinger


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