This article has been updated with a comment from Safwan Masri about the Beijing center's new director, Joan Kaufman.
More than two years after its last permanent director resigned, Columbia’s global center in Beijing has new leadership.
Brandeis University professor Joan Kaufman has been named the new director of the Beijing center, a global centers spokesperson told Spectator on Thursday. It was one of newly appointed Vice President of Global Centers Safwan Masri’s first major decisions as he works to institutionalize the centers’ role at Columbia, an effort that will be bolstered by a directors’ summit in Morningside Heights later this month.
Kaufman, a scientist and lecturer in health policy at Brandeis’ Heller School for Social Policy and Management, is a specialist in gender equality and public health in China. She was not available to be interviewed Thursday.
"I'm delighted that Joan is on board," Masri said in an email. "I have no doubt that she will bring great leadership, knowledge, and credibility in engaging faculty, as well as experience and networks, especially having lived and worked in China for 10 years."
Kaufman's appointment marks the end of an exhaustive effort to find a new director for the Beijing center, which opened in 2009. Barnard political science professor Xiaobo Lu, the center’s last permanent director, resigned in 2010 after two years as director.
Until his appointment as global centers VP, Masri had served as the Beijing center’s interim director. University President Lee Bollinger appointed him this summer to replace former global centers VP Ken Prewitt, who resigned in July.
“I had told the president when I took the job that I didn’t want to do it for a long time, but [only] until we had the network up and running, staffed, offices open—which seems to be happening now,” Prewitt said.
Kaufman’s appointment means that there are now permanent directors for all eight global centers, which staff members are beginning to describe as the complete global centers network.
“It’s just going to be these eight centers,” Rio de Janeiro center director Thomas Trebat said, although he added that other centers could join the network later. “So now we know who we are.”
All eight directors—including Masri, who has retained his position as director of the center in Amman, Jordan—will meet at a directors’ summit on the Morningside Heights campus in two weeks. The summit is the first step in Masri’s effort to transition from opening new centers to molding the centers into a cohesive network—a network that is also connected back to New York City.
“Really, the first goal is to recognize that we have eight centers now and to, at the appropriate point of time, bring structure and organization institutionally,” Masri said.
During the summit, the directors will meet with faculty members, administrators, and students to discuss the goals of the global centers. They will also officially launch the global center in Rio de Janeiro, and representatives from the Brazilian government will be on hand to sign a document supporting the new Science Without Borders initiative.
“The government of Brazil has announced a new program to send 100,000 Brazilian students abroad for MAs and Ph.D.s in the sciences,” Trebat said. “We expect we’ll be signing that agreement, which will encourage an increase of enrollments of Brazilian students in the sciences at Columbia.”
Additionally, one of Masri’s main goals at the summit will be to formulate a business plan and a system of branding that unifies the global centers and clarifies their mission.
“We need to ensure that they operate and they do things and they represent the University in a coherent, cohesive, and uniform manner,” he said.
Masri added that the centers will not adapt all existing Columbia policies, but will instead work on “adjusting them where they need to be adjusted,” based on issues that affect each individual center.
“We need this to be part of the core and fiber of Columbia University,” Trebat said. “And that means there are policies, procedures, protocols, and the individual features of each country need to be fully recognized too.”
Trebat said that the management decisions Masri is making to unify the centers speak to his expertise in process management and operations research.
“We had visionary leadership with the first four years of the global centers under Ken Prewitt, and now Safwan Masri takes us to a new level,” Trebat said. “Now that the original vision has been implemented, we need someone to make it work together in a coordinated way.”
Ipek Cem-Taha, director of the global center in Istanbul, said that the global centers are starting to flourish “now that the existence and survival issues are no longer in question.”
“This is the time to start thriving, and to do that, there needs to be an even stronger bond between campus and the centers,” she said.
Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Xiaobo Lu as a history professor, rather than as a political science professor. Spectator regrets the error.