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Alexa Davis for Spectator

University President Lee Bollinger spoke at the launch of the European Global Center in Paris, France this March.

While some have expressed reservations, Columbia administrators say the newly opened Global Centers have helped enhance the University's position on the international stage. Columbia has opened four Global Centers since 2009. In March 2009, it launched two centers in Beijing, China and Amman, Jordan, and this March, it opened the European Global Center in Paris and the South Asian Global Center in Mumbai, India. The centers are meant to be low-budget research sites that offer curricular, internship, study abroad, or research opportunities for students, rather than satellite campuses abroad. Directors have previously said that the centers will benefit locals while simultaneously offering students more international opportunities and resources. According to University President Lee Bollinger, the centers have received good feedback and support from faculty members. "On the whole, I hear very positive things about the centers, and the amount of faculty and school and department engagement through the centers is the most wonderful and heartening part of the whole enterprise," he said. In February, Vice President of Global Centers and Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs Kenneth Prewitt stressed that Columbia is the only university with a program encompassing seven or eight regions around the world. But other institutions have established centers abroad as well. The University of Chicago has a center in Paris, Harvard University has one in Latin America, and the University of Michigan is considering opening a center in China. Despite having satellite campuses, Cornell and New York University have already set up collaborations in Dubai. Administrators said the establishment of the Global Centers was necessary to cement Columbia's growing role as a global university, one of Bollinger's stated goals. Provost Claude Steele said in February that the centers will be advantageous for Columbia's academic programs. "As time goes on, we will really want to take advantage of those opportunities academically. That will be our high priority as an institution," he said. At the March 15 launch of the Paris center, Bollinger said that the institution "will make it possible for students and faculty to reach out to others in the community and become a global university." Still, one criticism of the centers has been that the money being spent to fund them could be used for other purposes at the University. Bollinger said that these apprehensions may be the result of misunderstandings about the nature and source of the funding. "I know that argument has been present over the past several years about how to think about setting up the global centers around the world, but that's why I'm emphasizing that, largely, these are being ... funded on a very small scale," he said. "This is not millions of dollars that's going into every single center." To get an office running with staff and a program started, he said, costs anywhere from $250,000 to $1 million. "The sources are not fungible with other University sources," he added. Prewitt also highlighted the importance of careful planning and administrative regrouping. He said 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. In addition to its four existing Global Centers, the University is discussing possible centers in Africa, Central Asia, and Latin America. Bollinger stressed that he did not put together a concrete plan for the institutions, but rather allowed those more directly involved to shape the centers. "We just didn't know whether the demand would be there to use the centers for advancing our understanding of global phenomena and advancing our educational purposes," he said. "We just didn't know, and we still don't know. Part of my whole theory here is, 'Do not plan this, do not over-plan this,' and you see how people want to use them and then you help them, and so far we're finding just wonderful efforts." madina.toure@columbiaspectator.com

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