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Douglas Kessel / Senior Staff Photographer

(Right to left) Global centers directors Ipek Cem Taha (Istanbul), Karen Poniachik (Santiago), and Nirupam Bajpai (Mumbai) take part in the directors' summit on Monday.

The directors of Columbia's eight global centers gathered at Faculty House on Monday to start hammering out a long-term business plan for the fledgling network of international hubs.

That network has expanded rapidly—all eight centers having opened in the last three and a half years—but it's still unclear where the centers fit into Columbia's complex organizational structure.

These concerns prompted Safwan Masri, who became vice president for global centers in July, to call for the directors' summit, which started on Monday morning and will continue through Friday. At an introductory event Monday morning, Masri—who also directs the global center in Amman, Jordan—told the other directors that he wants the centers to become "part and parcel" of a Columbia education.

"In five years from now, if you look at the global centers, one noun that I'd like to emerge is ‘permanence,'" he said. "Maybe locations will change, but permanence will lead to indispensability."

Masri also discussed the importance of finding ways for the centers to collaborate, clarifying the vague roles of their faculty steering committees, and standardizing their branding. He said that the centers' staffs will work together to reach out to other countries in their regions, partly because that "will help with fundraising."

"Now with the Rio center up and running, one of the things that we'll be looking for in Latin America is expanding beyond Chile and beyond Brazil into other Latin American countries," Masri said.

The directors have an extensive itinerary planned for the rest of the week, including discussions with student leaders and deans from several schools and meetings with administrators who handle admissions, public affairs, and technology. Masri told the other directors that the summit is intended to send a signal to the rest of the University that "we are here, and we are here in a very positive and very organized and very ambitious way."

Ipek Cem Taha, the director of the Istanbul, Turkey, center, also called for a "stronger bond between campus and the Centers" in a recent email to Spectator, saying that "the students, the professors, the alums and even the Trustees need to recognize the value of the Centers, and the synergy from the Centers."

Monday afternoon sessions on fundraising and budgeting were closed to the press, but Masri said at the introductory event that he wants to formulate a business plan for the centers by December. Thomas Trebat, the director of the global center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, said in a recent interview that he also plans to write a business plan specifically for his center by the end of the year, as "the individual features of the individual country need to be recognized too."

Additionally, the directors started to articulate their plans for funding their centers primarily with local gifts. Karen Poniachik, the director of the center in Santiago, Chile, said at the summit that her center's current business plan is to "spend money on programming and putting our name out there," rather than adding staff.

But throughout the discussions of structure and funding, Masri returned to the idea that in order for the centers to be successful, the directors must convince schools and offices around the University to buy into the idea of the global centers. He noted that the Committee on Instruction originally rejected the Global Scholars Program—currently the only major opportunity for undergraduate to travel to the centers.

"It's a very important group on campus, and it's a group that we need to have a very strong relationship with," Masri said, referring to the Committee on Instruction.

The directors will meet with members of that committee, as well as with members of the newly formed Educational Policy and Planning Committee, later in the week. They will also take part in several events at University President Lee Bollinger's house, which Masri said reflects the importance of the centers to Bollinger.

"If you look at the time that we're getting in terms of the president's schedule, that's a big invitation," he said.

But if Bollinger puts a premium on the global centers, convincing students to do so is another matter entirely.

Paul LeClerc, the director of the Paris global center, said that the directors have to deal with the issue of "how hard it is to get students at Columbia and Barnard off this campus and having an educational experience abroad." LeClerc, a former head of the New York Public Library whom Columbia hired in April, argued that the University should create incentives that would induce 50 to 60 percent of undergraduate to study abroad.

"There are all kinds of factors that account from that, including the Core—that keeps students on campus for two years, and immediately after that they have to start majoring," LeClerc said.

Outside of the Global Scholars Program, which Bollinger will discuss at a summit event Tuesday evening, and the fifth-year study abroad program, there are currently very few ways for undergraduates to travel to or do research at the centers. Belay Begashaw, the director of the Nairobi, Kenya, center, said that the Nairobi center is preparing to launch a new semester abroad program for undergraduates, "Tropical Biology and Sustainability in Kenya."

Columbia's professional schools, meanwhile, already boast an array of programs at the global centers.

"Professional schools tend to have more resources, tend to have systems and funding in place to generate funding for important projects," Masri said. "That's less true for Arts and Sciences."

To that end, one of Masri's goals for this week is to convince Arts and Sciences department chairs—a group of whom are meeting with the directors on Wednesday—that they can benefit by working with the global centers. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences encompasses Columbia College and the School of General Studies, among other schools.

"Getting the buy-in of the Arts and Sciences faculty is incredibly crucial to our success," Masri said. "There's a history to that—some have been more embracing than others."

Trebat said in a recent interview that this summit and the directors' other efforts to build bridges with different parts of Columbia mark a crucial step forward in the centers' progress.

"I think that when these global centers are truly part of a global university, people are going to look back at this time and say that this is when it took its most important steps," he said.

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study abroad globalization Global Scholars Global Centers fundraising development Core Curriculum
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