University President Lee Bollinger unveiled Columbia World Projects, an initiative that will fund faculty and student research projects on global issues, in an email to the community on Tuesday.
The program seeks to bridge the gap between Columbia and the outside world by facilitating research that will result in concrete solutions to world problems. Projects will be spearheaded by faculty, with participation from both graduate and undergraduate students.
“I think there are many faculty ... that would benefit from opportunities to work on things in the larger world,” Bollinger said in an interview with Spectator. “It helps your work, it helps your underlying research, and in some ways it’s a form of research—that is, you learn things that end up in your academic work.”
While specific projects have not yet been finalized, Bollinger offered examples that have been discussed with faculty and are under consideration, including research on short-term climate change, incarceration reform, the loss of languages around the world, and expanding Columbia’s precision medicine research.
Still, Bollinger acknowledged in his email that there are many decisions to be made in regards to CWP, including the exact criteria on which projects will be chosen, what qualifies as a “solution” to world problems, and how the University will organize academic work beyond Columbia.
In order to more closely integrate academia and society, CWP will also be collaborating with external partners, which Bollinger said may be governments or other organizations that will work with faculty. Bollinger also expects proposals to come from both faculty within the University and outside contributors.
“Once we get up and running, I have no doubt that there will be a constant stream of proposals,” Bollinger said.
While Arts and Sciences faculty have raised concerns in the past that focusing on ambitious initiatives like CWP is detrimental to the University’s core needs, Bollinger said that “one helps the other—that is, the excitement of one carries over into benefits for the other.”
“I am simultaneously working to store up the fundamentals of the University, and that involves all the things from basic research support, to salary, to renovation of buildings and laboratories, and we have major efforts underway on all those funds,” Bollinger wrote.
The email also stresses that funds for CWP will be raised individually.
CWP is expected to be a new way for the University to interact with and address the recent needs and conflicts that have arisen in the world, according to Bollinger.
“The world needs more university involvement, that’s the basic idea,” Bollinger said. “[The projects are] interesting to do, it’s enjoyable and so on, but the real message is that the world is filled with needs, and universities have a responsibility I think to help meet those needs.”