Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Word from the Vice President

The University-Wide Global Initiative

Why Now? Universities have a unique responsibility. We expect from them deep thinking and fresh understanding at critical junctures in world history. Globalization – where it is coming from, what its consequences are, who is benefiting and who not – needs to be explained, and shaped in ways that serve not just private interests but the public good, and not just for a few places but across the planet.

The Challenge. No observer of research universities can fail to be impressed by their determination to “internationalize” or “globalize.” But has this not already happened? Columbia, University is already deeply internationalized. There are hundreds of research collaborations, dual-degree programs, internships, and related programs spread across every professional school and discipline—there are regional institutes; the Mailman School of Public Health, present in 102 countries; the Earth Institute; and so on.

What is Missing? Columbia’s leadership believes that this growing faculty energy and student demand can reach new levels of scholarship and teaching through a network of integrated global centers.  In the 19th century, there was an explosion of scholarly specialization—in response, Columbia helped invent the now familiar disciplinary departments. In the early 20th century, there was a need for institutions to house research and teaching spilling across departmental boundaries—in response, Columbia helped invent the now familiar interdisciplinary centers and functional Institutes. In the mid-20th century, there was need for strengthened language instruction and area expertise—in response, Columbia helped invent the now familiar regional institutes. The history of universities is spelled out in institutional re-invention when current structures inadequately service expanding scholarly ambitions and courses relevant to new careers. The faculty demand for global scholarship and student demand for global careers is not being adequately met today, especially in ways that do not require a lifetime commitment to regional expertise. What structure can provide these opportunities?

What are Global Centers? 

They are not satellite campuses, overseas profit centers, or operations under the umbrella of a partner institution. Each will be independently chartered. Two exist: Middle-East (Amman) and East Asia (Beijing ); next in line are Europe (Paris) and South Asia (Mumbai), with Russia/Central Asia, Africa, and Latin America to follow. Directed by resident faculty members, and guided by university-wide faculty steering committees, centers individually and the network collectively will favor teaching and research that coordinates across two or more world regions, that connects multiple departments and schools; and, that involves scientists and scholars from those regions. Activities that combine research and teaching with service opportunities – as is the case for many professional school and Earth Institute initiatives – will receive valued logistic support from the Centers.

Ken Prewitt is the Vice President for Global Centers and Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia . 

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