Monday, November 06, 2006

Student meeting with President Bollinger

Student Meeting with President Bollinger
October 24th, 2006; 3pm

In attendance: President Lee Bollinger; Christabel Dadzie(SIPA); Fanta Toure (SIPA); Adoma Adjei-Brenyah (Columbia College); Christopher Kuonqui (SIPA)

President Bollinger expressed his agreement with the students’ concerns about the suspension of the Institute of African Studies. He stated that it is an embarrassment for Columbia University to only have 2 or 3 senior Africanist faculty; An institution like Columbia should have 12 or 13 faculty members teaching contemporary Africa, and this will become a reality in the next 3 to 5 years.

It was a shock to him that the IAS was suspended. The Institute was closed down by the Dean of SIPA. Deans have the prerogative to make such decisions. It was unfortunate that Dean Anderson found the need to close down the Institute, and the University is doing all it can to address the issues that surrounded its closure.

He shared various projects that he was working on to promote a better African program at Columbia. He is also working on major funding avenues for African studies. These initiatives cannot be made public yet as they have not been finalized, however, he is sure that most of them will be finalized soon. The President is particularly passionate about research centering on economic development in Africa; and discussing this issue from a practical perspective. He is hopeful that a major grant he is working on will be able to support this initiative, among others.

The President’s Office has committed a couple hundred thousand dollars (was not able to give a definite figure at this time) to running the Institute. This commitment has been shared with Prof. Diouf, a candidate for Director of the IAS.

President Bollinger explained that Vice President Dirks is in charge of hiring Africanist faculty, and has begun to work on various initiatives with current departments to make this a reality. The Administration is incorporating Africa into the larger discussion within the Committee on Global Thought, the Earth Institute, among others.

He believes that SIPA should be the core academic Institution to make the Institutes bigger and better, but unfortunately, SIPA does not have the financial and logistical capacity to make this a reality. The goal is to aid SIPA to overcome these barriers as it makes sense for SIPA to be the central force for the revitalization of all regional institutes at Columbia University. Addressing space issues is one of the ways moving forward, but this will take time. There are plans for SIPA to either move into URIS or Manhattanville, and will have a building of its own. This will solve most of SIPA’s space issues. In the meantime VP Dirks has plans for creating space for the IAS to be reopened.

The Office of the President has plans to offer a major communication to the community in January. This public statement is meant to share the impressive set of projects / funds that have been put in place for Africa. According to President Bollinger, “The University is looking into every opportunity to study Africa, and this is absolutely a central part of my Presidency”

In the meantime, President Bollinger has agreed to issue a public statement about Columbia University’s commitment to African Studies and to elaborate on the projects that the University is currently undertaking to revitalize African Studies at the Institution.

Student Meeting with Vice President Dirks

Meeting with Vice President Nicholas Dirks, Vice President for Arts and Sciences, and Professor Mamadou Diouf, Professor of History at University of Michigan, and candidate for Director of the Institute of African Studies
Wednesday October 11th, 2006 at 5pm

Vice President Nicholas Dirks:
Vice President expressed knowledge about the concern surrounding the closure of the Institute of African Studies (IAS) and explained that Institutes do best with faculty leadership. At the moment, there are a good number of africanist hires and there are several more in the works: Anthropology – 2; Art History – 3; History will have 3 if Professor Diouf accepts the job at Columbia University; Political Science – 2. The plan was also to hire 3 more Africanist faculty by next fall. He also stated that in the next day (Thursday) he would be sending out a letter to faculty about a special committee he was setting up that would foster the employment of African and Africanist faculty around campus.

MEALAC will soon be changing its name to Africa, Middle East, and Asia, so there is a home for the study of humanities in these regions.

It is important for the restructure of the IAS to be viewed as a global initiative with a focus on Africa. He is also working on getting Professor Sachs and the Earth Institute more connected to the ways courses are taught at Columbia, especially since the Earth Institute has received some funding for hiring faculty.

The IAS, which is currently being reviewed by the academic committee, will be re-opening fully in July 2007

About Space: The VP is aware of the space issue and will be having a meeting tomorrow (Thursday) to discuss space. In the short run, the 11th floor at SIPA will be reorganized somehow. In the long run, there are conversations about moving all the Institutes out of SIPA.

The Africa Program at SIPA will be maintained and will have close contact with the IAS. The plan is to have such programs in the different students, with the IAS as an overseer of these different programs.

Professor Mamadou Diouf:
Prof. Diouf shared a little bit about his background: He is a Professor of History, West African history in particular focusing on Urban Colleges. He has been at the University of Michigan for 6 years. Has also been the head of the African Research group – CODESTRIA, where his job entailed bringing the discussion of history into the group that was primarily made up of political scientists.

About the job, he had said no twice because he has known about the declining status of the IAS in the past 6 to 7years does not want to lead an almost hopeless case. He will most likely accept to be a professor at Columbia, but has not made a decision about Directing the Institute. He will only take on the directorship if Columbia meets his demands. These are:
1) That the IAS will be an organization with a staff
2) There will be a real institutional support to the IAS, including a financial commitment from the President.
He appreciates that students are interested in seeing a vibrant IAS, as he will need a commitment from the constituency that he will be serving were he to take on the Director position.

It is important that we understand the role of the Institute, if it is going to work. What is its mission? Where does SIPA come in? And what does it mean to the entire Columbia?

He believes that Bollinger is ready to put money into reviving the institute; and thinks that the close down happened because concerned parties were not sure what to do with the IAS. This therefore gives an opportunity for a fresh start and forces people to sit down and negotiate the best terms for the Institute. The IAS should have a clear 3 to 5 year goal.

He would not be prepared to spearhead a fundraising campaign that is not supported by the Institution. Before looking for external funding, the University has to provide a financial commitment of its own, thus creating legitimacy for the request. He believes that one of the main reasons why the Institute fell apart was because of the belief that one could go out and raise money when there was no commitment from the Institution towards the Institute.
Possible Solutions:
Making use of the location of Columbia University – there are many people in the NY area that could supplement economics classes, as well as language courses with seminars, etc.

The creation of different clusters of Africa programs on campus.

View Africa as a member of the global community. Have a sense of the past, but also think ahead about Africa and where it will be best located and incorporated into the global discussion.

Africa Town Hall Meeting (October 4th, 2006)


The SIPA Pan-African Network (SPAN) organized the Africa Town Hall meeting on October 4, 2006. The meeting aimed to address the suspension of the Institute of African Studies (IAS) at Columbia University and to discuss with the University Administration ways forward to re-open the Institute. Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger and Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nicholas Dirks were invited, among other administration, faculty, and heads of academic departments, to join the panel. However, the panel consisted of mainly SIPA administration, although the IAS serves all of Columbia University. Panelists in attendance were SIPA Dean Lisa Anderson, Dean Dan McIntyre and Kenneth Prewitt. Over 80 people consisting of professors, administration officers, and students from across the University were in attendance. SPAN President Christabel E. Dadzie led the discussion.

SPAN President Dadzie announced that Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nicholas Dirks shared information with SPAN that a candidate for the Director of the IAS had provisionally accepted to run the Institute starting in July 2007. He has also asked that students meet with this potential director for the IAS who will be on campus in the coming week.

The following summarizes the dialogue and discussion around two broad themes: Suspension of the IAS and means to re-open it; and the re-invigoration of African Studies at Columbia University.


A. Closure and why

Students left Columbia at the end of the Spring 2006 semester with the impression that the administration would hire an associate director and keep the Institute for African Studies (IAS) open until a permanent director was hired in Spring 2007. Yet during the summer, the institute was instead ‘suspended.’ The Africa Program at SIPA was created as a measure to continue supporting Africa-interested students at SIPA. Concerns were also raised regarding Dean Lisa Anderson, who is also head of the Africa Program at SIPA, stepping down as Dean of SIPA, and the impact this would have on African Studies at SIPA, and beyond.

The panel responded noting the history of the suspension of the IAS. The recruitment effort for a Director of the Institute was slower than the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GSAS) expected. SIPA also expected the GSAS to match funds for the Institute but when that was not available, a decision was necessary. It became a question of how the IAS can best serve students’ needs with the available funding that SIPA had to support it. Should the IAS continue as a part-time institute, but with no funds? Or would students be best served if the Institute provided more programming (conferences, students, events)? SIPA chose the second option. The IAS is not disappearing entirely and the Administration remains fully confident that an IAS Director will be hired soon.

B. Director

Several questions pivoted around the criteria, demands, and means to recruit an effective and permanent Director for the IAS. These questions included directly addressing the criteria for hiring a Director, their appropriate background, and what students seek in a Director. The question was also asked, of whether the specific issues raised about the decline of the IAS as presented by the last full-time Director, Professor Mahmood Mamdani, had been considered.

The panel clarified the procedures to hire a Regional Institute Director. All directors are senior Columbia faculty. Faculty are recruited by academic departments, not schools or Institutes, and are thus required to foremost meet the needs of specific departments. In an effort to address the question of how to ensure Africa-interested and expert faculty are hired, it would be appropriate to further a dialogue on the broader question of African Studies in the American Academy. The problem is greater than one specifically at Columbia University.

As to date, there have been no solutions to the demands made by Professor Mamdani as he stepped down from the Directorship of the Institute.

The panel also noted that the University, including current students and faculty, is interested in recruiting a Director for the IAS who is both qualified for and interested in pursuing the challenges of running the Institute. The voices of tenured faculty were noted as key, and the distinction between the functions of a Director regarding curriculum and funding was drawn. Additionally, the point was raised that if the Director is to be an individual of significant fund-raising experience, whether (s)he should be an African or Africanist scholar, and possess experience within the United States educational system, would be critical questions.

The panel asked what the criteria for a Director are from a student’s perspective. Students responded that the director should be one willing to undertake fund-raising, mentor students, and demonstrate a passion and commitment to Africa. Students also raised a concern that the history of how Africa is taught in the American Academy is one that focuses on a colonial Africa and one constructed from a Western perspective. Therefore, to move forward with a new Director in the area of African Studies, it would be beneficial to learn Africa from an African perspective, and it would therefore be critical to have an African scholar lead the Institute.

C. Associate Director

The issue of hiring a full-time Associate Director for the IAS who will also be responsible for significant aspects of fund-raising was raised. What would be the procedures, timeline and expectations with regards to the hiring of the Associate Director?
The panel responded that currently Natalie Tevethia, in her capacity with Dean Anderson on the Africa Program, is acting as an Associate Director, but that this is not the solution to the challenge. The panel also noted that it would be critical to have a Director involved in the hiring of the Associate Director as a matter of principle.

D. Funding

The audience inquired into the current funding status of the IAS and the means towards expanding its funding base. Questions included the role of students in supporting fund-raising, as well as alumni. Students have previously made the effort to be involved in seeking funds, but were informed this related primarily to the Director’s function.

The panel noted that currently all Regional Institutes have an endowment except the Institute for African Studies. Additionally, all Institutes except Africa have Title VI grants. The criteria for securing Title VI funding include a critical mass of faculty and resources in Africa, which is the current problem at Columbia. Former Interim Director Linda Beck was successful, regardless of the lack of a critical mass at Columbia, to acquire FLAS [Foreign Language Area Study] funding, which is a part of Title VI grants. A proposal for Title VI needs to be written and it can be tied in with the Capital Campaign. The issue is how to address the upcoming funding year that will take place in 3 years. The Administration is confident that by then the University will have the needed criteria for a successful application. In order to involve students in fund-raising, Dean Anderson will arrange a brainstorming session with students to examine ways forward.

E. Courses

A key element of concern regarding the suspension of the IAS is that of providing courses to meet students’ needs and interests. Questions were raised on the criteria for deciding on offered courses, and on the use of adjunct faculty to fill-in offering gaps.

The panel listed the courses currently scheduled to be offered in the Spring 2007, which would be roughly the same number of courses offered the previous year. A current gap is the search for an instructor for a Development or Economic Development in Africa course, which was unfortunately cancelled for the Fall 2006. Courses are decided from a baseline. The Administration looks into course evaluations as an indication of what courses should be offered. Professors bringing ideas to their respective departments usually lead the course development process. Students within concentrations also suggest course ideas. There are situations in which the Department of International and Public Affairs (DIPA) makes suggestions to professors, but these are rare. Dean McIntyre asked audience members to email him names of practitioners to explore for further course offerings. The panel also made the point that other non-SIPA departments also bear the responsibility for course offerings.


A. Alumni and SIPA in Africa

The audience raised several questions regarding the role of Africa-interested alumni. The limitations of current students, on 2-year degree programs, to effectively further African Studies were noted, and that a call needs to be made for alumni involvement. The university must commit to put in place an administrative framework for this to work.
The audience also questioned why no celebrations were held in Africa over the summer for SIPA’s 60th anniversary, relating the problem to the lack of leadership for the IAS.

The panel clarified that there were no alumni receptions celebrating SIPA’s 60th anniversary in Africa and the Middle East. For Africa, the issue was that many SIPA alumni are spread across the continent, and that there were no significant numbers in one location to make a meeting possible. Panelists agreed that alumni need to be more effectively engaged.

B. Africa and other academic departments at CU

The audience noted that the suspension of the IAS poses a much deeper problem than it appeared on the surface. At Columbia, Africa is the only area of the world that does not have a department that is designated to teach Africa. These departments are available for French, German, Italian, but not for Africa. This is a fundamental problem for the academic prosperity of Africa. Currently, Africa is taught in places where there is an emergency. It is not taught as an intellectual endeavor. There is an under-appreciation of the damage caused by the suspension of the IAS as attracting funds to an Institute in crisis will be difficult. The call was made for a public statement from the President of Columbia University on the University’s commitment to Africa. It was noted that in University politics, SIPA took the blame for the suspension of the Institute. The GSAS said that the Institute is effectively a SIPA problem. The leadership of SIPA in turn responded rightly that it was a broader University problem, when it decided to suspend the Institute due to lack of funding. The point was made that the relations between Africa and all departments require restructuring, not only with SIPA. Students were further called upon to assert pressure on the Administration.

The panel pursued the point that it is necessary for the University to look into revitalizing African Studies by visiting the question of where Africa should be housed in the University. All parts of the world have a language and literatures department. The only part of the world without a comparable department is Africa - African languages have no home. DIPA is the only place that offers African languages, but this poses a constraint on the department.

C. African studies and other CU Schools

The audience posed the question of the poverty of African Studies in other University Schools and Programs, the Mailman School of Public Health being a specific example.

The panel emphasized that the question of African Studies at Columbia University is not exhausted by SIPA. If there are difficulties with other Schools, for example, the Mailman School of Public Health, with regards to course and resource offerings on Africa, is important the Schools seek their own solutions as well. They cannot rely on SIPA alone. Other University Schools need to contribute to the solution of furthering African Studies at Columbia.

D. Courses and curriculum

The audience posed the question of offering courses that can meet students’ needs for specialization in specific topics in Africa.

The panel invited students to engage the Administration in a dialogue on how to provide course offerings and resources for a community of both introductory courses and specialization courses.

E. Partnerships with African University and Institutes

The audience offered the suggestion for Columbia University to build links with African universities and institutes in order to forge stronger ties with African Studies.

F. Faculty and student involvement

The audience and panel emphasized the need to involve faculty in the revitalization of African Studies at Columbia. The panel remarked that many non-Africa focused faculty find the question of African Studies important and are capable of being mobilized as a center of gravity for furthering African Studies at the University.

The audience noted that students have already been a part of the process of acquiring more classes, and questioned to what degree this is expected for every academic year. Students were also encouraged to get in contact with the Senate representatives for their respective schools in order to raise the African Studies curriculum issue through channels already existing in the University. Wendy Carrasco is SIPA’s senator.

The panel noted the frustration involved in SIPA students looking for an education, but then having to involve themselves in the construction of courses and curriculum. The panel further noted that even the most endowed Regional Institute cannot meet every student need. Students are always encouraged to bring ideas. So even if the Institute were working well, a dialogue with students should continue.