In the fall, the administration lacked both a clear vision for the University's new global centers and an understanding of what it means to be a global university. Not much has changed since the last time the Editorial Board sat down to discuss Columbia's global centers a semester ago. The "Columbia Goes Global Conference" held this past Wednesday revealed only a slightly more clarified stance on the issue of global centers and their role in forging Columbia's international presence. The major issues that remain unresolved are how global centers will take shape, how they will contribute to a sense of "global-ness," and how they will benefit undergraduates. Since global centers have been envisioned as centers for specific research programs led by professors, it's unclear what students will be able to do within such a limited framework. The administration has given few suggestions for how undergraduates will benefit from global centers, though the centers are frequently cited as compelling tools to attract prospective students. The conference on Wednesday was designed partly around the realization that undergraduates have been left out of the discussion around global centers. One of the three panels at the conference was for students, demonstrating the need to include undergraduates in Columbia's global vision and mission. Though the administration has displayed its intention to include undergraduates in their plans to make Columbia a "global university"—a term yet to be clearly defined—its steps have been superficial thus far. There have been no substantial endeavors to garner undergraduate opinion or thoughts on the global centers, which is reflective of the fact that the global centers have been designed without undergraduates in mind. The administration must engage students directly if it wishes to do more than pay lip service to the place of undergraduates in Columbia's new global initiatives. Polling, emails, focus groups, and professor discussions with students can all help publicize and gather undergraduate reactions towards global programs. The one place in which undergraduates take center stage in Columbia's global vision is the new Global Scholars Program, which is an enhanced version of a study abroad experience. Interim Director of the Columbia Global Center in Paris Victoria de Grazia praised the Global Scholars Program's ability to enhance undergraduates' global exposure as one of the major strengths of the expansion. While the Global Scholars Program is compelling, the number of students who would actually be able to take advantage of these programs is relatively small. What's clear in the obscurity of Columbia's global mission is that, whether we like it or not, the University is moving toward a more international presence. What isn't clear is how undergraduates will be a part of this global campus—despite the administration's lackluster attempts to include undergraduates into the existing programs that were never designed with undergraduates in mind. Though insufficient, events like the conference held last week demonstrate a commitment on the part of the administration to increase undergraduate representation in the global centers debate, and we hope that more substantial efforts will follow. Students need to realize that as Columbia stands on the cusp of becoming a global institution, we have a unique opportunity to shape the undergraduate experience. As Columbia's global mission continues to take shape, undergraduates will have less flexibility to influence how and what they will take away from the University's globalism. But for now, undergraduates should seize the day and make their mark on a changing Columbia.
Columbia Spectator Staff