Columbia's global centers may soon expand into India and France. As the University develops its recently launched centers abroad and plans to build new ones in Europe and South Asia, Columbia must manage an increasingly complex set of interactions among the University's international institutions. Just months after Columbia opened centers in Beijing, China and Amman, Jordan, Vice President of Global Centers and Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs Kenneth Prewitt reports that his office is "actively planning" to open centers in Paris, France and Mumbai, India by spring 2010, as well as an Africa center based on campus. At the same time, the centers in Beijing and Amman are creating study abroad and internship programs for undergraduate students while collaborating with more of the University's graduate schools. The flurry of activity both on campus and abroad—for example, University President Lee Bollinger is scheduled to head to China later in October—underscores the University's growing aims to unite the disparate parts of projects meant to give Columbia an edge in a globalizing world. Far from the satellite campuses operated by Cornell and New York University, these centers serve as physical spaces for Columbia research activities in the Middle East and East Asia, maintaining low budgets and receiving support from University alumni in the respective regions. "We're inventing a new model," Prewitt said, that involves "more than just plopping campuses around the world." Prewitt noted that the offices exist to ease the logistical burden on faculty and students interested in global programming. A permanent connection and presence in world regions could simplify financial and legal transactions. If launched, the center in Paris is likely to use space in Reid Hall . The Columbia-owned building currently houses humanities and cultural studies programs directed by Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania. Referring to the plans for Paris and Mumbai, Prewitt stressed the need for "a platform for other schools of the university which do not have research opportunities in other countries." He pointed out that while regional studies centers on campus, such as the Institute of Latin American Studies and the Institute of African Studies, globalize academics in the arts and sciences, they do not extend this international perspective to disciplines such as law, medicine, and public health in the way that a center based in another country and culture would. One of the first means toward this end is the establishment of study abroad and internship opportunities for undergraduate students at these centers. Xiaobo Lu, a Barnard political science professor and the director of the Beijing center, said his center employs a Columbia student intern studying in Beijing, and provides a physical help line for other students participating in programs in China run by the Center for Career Education. "We have been helping with finding housing, developing contacts with potential employers, and helping arranging meetings for a visit by CCE dean and her staffer later this month," Lu said. And according to Prewitt, the Center for Career Education has been meeting with his office to discuss using the centers for undergraduate endeavors. Safwan Masri, head of the Amman center, said that on the undergraduate level the center focuses on academic programs. The center is preparing for the debut of an Arabic summer program in 2010, and may offer arts courses as well. Both centers have expanded their programs—which in Amman include work by the School of Social Work and the School of the Arts, and in Beijing, partnerships with the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation—and have tried to publicize Columbia's presence not only in their countries, but in the broader regions. "We've attracted the attention not only of scholars in the region, but of governments, business leaders, and NGOs [non-governmental organizations]," Masri said. "In the coming months, we expect to expand partnerships in Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, for example, which will continue to spread the message of Columbia's presence in the Middle East." Yet the desire to fortify and then replicate this in other regions calls for careful planning and administrative regrouping on campus. "We need to get all of our programs to talk to one another," Prewitt said, adding that every center should be monitored by a campus liaison—who would aid those going abroad to the regions—and that each subject area, such as sustainability, human rights, and arts, should be represented by someone specializing in foreign activities. "We see how important it is to have someone on campus whose task is to interface faculty and students with the center," Prewitt said. "Columbia is already very international," he added. Now, "we need to link across schools and across regions."
Columbia Spectator Staff