Anderson to step down at SIPA dean

Eileen Barroso
Lisa Anderson
Lisa Anderson has announced that she will step down as dean of the School of International and Public Affairs at the end of this academic year, after ten years in the position. She’ll remain at Columbia as a professor of international affairs and political science.

“I could have stayed dean forever,” says Anderson. “I think this place is the cat’s whiskers. But at some point, one needs to separate oneself from the institution.” Anderson, by any measure, has left an indelible mark on SIPA: During her tenure, the faculty doubled in size, 40 percent of the school’s 13,000 alumni graduated, the majority of its degree programs were created, and annual giving increased sevenfold. The school, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last fall, currently enrolls 1200 students, half of whom are from outside the United States.

“One of the things that’s been fun about having an association with SIPA, and will continue to be so for my successor, is that it adds a window on the world,” Anderson says. “We don’t recruit most of our students from the United States, and we do not think in national terms about our application pool, our faculty recruitment pool, our employment market. We have alumni in 155 countries, and we take that seriously.”

Anderson, a scholar of Middle Eastern and North African culture, says that she’s stepping down to pursue her own research, including a book about the failures of liberalism in the Arab world. The University’s $4 billion fundraising campaign announced this fall also figured into her decision; she says it’s better that SIPA makes the transition to a new dean now, rather than in the middle of the multiyear campaign.

There was speculation on campus and in the New York press this fall that Anderson’s resignation was related to the cancellation of an appearance by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On short notice, Anderson had invited Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia September 21 at the request of an Iranian student group. Anderson’s offer to host Ahmadinejad drew heated criticism, and the event soon was nixed, apparently because proper security measures could not be arranged in time. Anderson, in any case, had already announced her resignation to SIPA faculty, staff, and students weeks earlier.

Anderson stands by her decision to invite Ahmadinejad. She has invited many controversial speakers to SIPA, most notably members of the Taliban and Libyan president Muammar al-Qaddafi, who spoke to SIPA students via teleconference last spring. “As much as we might not like what some contentious figures have to say, it’s important that Americans have a chance to learn what the rest of the world is thinking.”