As part of its response to the growing internationalization of higher education, Columbia University launched its first two Global Centers, hubs meant to foster interdisciplinary research on global topics, in Beijing, China and Amman, Jordan this weekend. break The University plans to expand on these two centers in coming years via the construction of more low-budget regional offices that bring University resources face-to-face with problems around the world. The inaugurations of the first offices, which occurred in China on Friday and in Jordan's Middle East Research Center on Sunday, demonstrated efforts to concretize the "global university" rhetoric often touted by administrators, and symbolized a shift from the expensive satellite campus model—for example, New York University has campuses in Florence, Madrid, and Abu Dhabi, among other places—implemented by peer institutions. These offices "are to make for Columbia an interconnected global presence," University President Lee Bollinger said in an interview in February. The development seeks to surpass the confines of academic research constrained to a Hamilton Hall office or a SIPA Institute. The two ceremonies, which featured talks about sustainable development in the Middle East and the global economy, promoted the strengths of a global vantage point. "This will add to the possibility of courses," Kenneth Prewitt, director of the newly created Office of Global Centers and Carnegie professor of public affairs at SIPA, said in a phone interview from Beijing before the event. Centers will aid in connecting Columbians "to more than one part of world, with students in Morningside Heights interacting with students" in China and Jordan on any particular question, he continued. Attendees of the international openings consisted of a slew of top administrators, representing the project's far reach across the University. In Beijing, Bollinger, University Provost Alan Brinkley, Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman, Barnard president Debora Spar, and University professor Joseph Stiglitz made appearances among Chinese university presidents. Bollinger and Brinkley then traveled to Jordan, appearing alongside Jordan's Queen Rania al Abdullah and Prime Minister Nader Dahabi, American University in Cairo Provost and former SIPA Dean Lisa Anderson, Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs, and Rashid Khalidi, who is Columbia's Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies and literature. Despite the potential for curricular enhancements, the Centers exist chiefly for research purposes. "The Center is not a teaching place," said Barnard political science professor Xiaobo Lü in an interview online. Lü, formerly chair of Morningside's Weatherhead East Asian Institute, is heading Columbia's office in Beijing. "It is important to emphasize that the Center's main mission is on research," he added. Activities at both the Amman and Beijing centers strive to tackle regional conflicts, diving headfirst into environmental issues, natural disaster response, and education with the aid of diverse Columbia schools and local private and public agencies. Much of the hype surrounding Beijing and Amman comes from the presence of up-and-running Columbia programs already there. The Columbia-China bond, for instance, goes back 100 years, dating back to the time when Columbia became one of the first American universities to accept students from China. "Certainly a major goal of the Center is to continue and expand the strong ties and add to the illustrious history between Columbia and China," Lü said. As a result, funding mostly comes from alumni donations and government grants—linkages Columbia has established overseas. "The research model is very different. We're not out there to make money and we don't want these centers to be a drain on Columbia resources," said Safwan Masri, head of the Amman Center and former vice dean of the Business School, as he compared this approach to that of other universities like Cornell and Carnegie Mellon, which have accepted hundreds of millions from oil-rich Gulf governments to construct degree-granting campuses in those countries. "Ideally, the centers should not cost the University anything." Prewitt said that the next global centers will open in India and Paris, the latter likely in conjunction with Columbia's Reid Hall for the study of French language and culture.
Columbia Spectator Staff