Low Plaza

Profile of a Dean: Anderson at the Reins of the School of International and Public Affairs

By Katherine Moore

Lisa Anderson

From serving as an Iraq expert for Rolling Stone magazine, to traveling thousands of miles each summer to stay in touch with SIPA alumni, Lisa Anderson is at the top of her game. She is one of the most influential and respected deans at Columbia, chair of the Social Research Council and this year's president of the Middle East Studies Association. Anderson oversees 1,200 graduate students, consults with 75 core faculty members, and helps direct SIPA's world-renowned public policy programs and regional institutes.

Taking over the reins of Columbia's global public affairs school in 1997, Anderson focused on improving SIPA's world-class research capacity and international standing, as well as developing a vigorous fundraising campaign and strong alumni network. Under her watch, SIPA has become as recognizable to would-be graduate students and potential employers as Harvard's Kennedy School, Sciences Po or the London School of Economics.

"During her tenure as dean, Lisa Anderson has reshaped the profile and powerfully enhanced the capacities of SIPA," said Ira Katznelson, Columbia's Acting Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "As a vibrant leader who reflects deeply on ties linking policy schools to academic departments and wider publics, she has forcefully led Columbia's efforts to deepen its global character and educate tomorrow's public servants by equipping them with the tools necessary to confront our most vexing challenges."

SIPA is the only school among its chief competitors that offers students a master's degree in either international affairs or in public administration, and a wide choice of concentrations -- from international finance to science and technology. Anderson is clear about the unique curriculum's advantages. "SIPA is poised to become the leading public policy school in the U.S., if not the world," she said recently. "By the standards of any public policy school, we are already far more international -- whatever they may say about "internationalization" -- while by the standards of any international affairs school we provide far more disciplined training in policy analysis and management."

Most U.S. foreign relations schools were formed in the post World War II era when the necessity of educating Americans about cross-border issues was plainly apparent. SIPA opened its doors in 1946 and was initially dedicated solely to instructing individuals who could afford to spend two years in New York as full-time students. Student population and curriculum have shifted dramatically to reflect the times, with subtle changes in student concentration over the past years. "Today half of our student body comes from overseas. Nearly a quarter of our students are in accelerated 12-month or two-year weekend executive programs," explained Anderson.

SIPA students are unusually alert to trends in world affairs. Therefore, it is not surprising that they are somewhat more likely to be interested in security and less in international finance and business than they were six or seven years ago. While enrollments in Portuguese -- the language of Brazil, one of the world's largest emerging markets -- are holding steady, enrollments in Arabic have increased dramatically over the last two years, according to Anderson. And since 2001, overall applications to SIPA have soared -- up nearly 50 percent.

One reason for this impressive jump: the School is lauded for its close ties, joint programs and relationships with key international forums and non-profits in major world cities, as well as in New York and the Morningside Heights community. In conjunction with New York's Homes for the Homeless, SIPA organizes consultancies and workshops to provide students with the skills necessary to run non-profits. Last academic year, the School launched a joint global economics fellowship with the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and works with the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, the World Bank and countless other organizations.

"We educate public servants," said Anderson. "That same impulse should dictate our institutional posture. That is to say, when we can complement or enhance the strengths of other institutions devoted to similar public purposes, we ought to -- particularly when such efforts simultaneously foster the research of our faculty or the education of our students."

Building on a long history of hosting senior statesmen during the UN General Assembly, SIPA played a key role in the success of the world leaders visits to Columbia in September. "Next year, we plan to develop a program that will showcase a variety of the remarkable connections we at Columbia -- not only SIPA -- have with the UN and with many countries around the world," said the dean.

SIPA's agenda for the rest of the year is no less ambitious. In spring semester 2004, the School will hold its tenth annual Dinkins Forum, hosted by former Mayor of New York and SIPA faculty member David Dinkins, focused on immigration issues. In March, SIPA also plans an all-star conference on humanitarian affairs failures and successes.

A leading political scientist and academic expert on the Middle East and North Africa, Anderson is a frequent commentator for national news programs and the author of more than 40 scholarly articles and four books, including "The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1830-1980" (1986). Last month, Columbia University Press released her latest work, "Pursuing Truth, Exercising Power," which examines the critical link between the social sciences and the formation of public policy in the 21st century.

In writing the book, Anderson wanted to understand how the curriculum of schools like SIPA had developed. Why do we believe that certain kinds of analytical perspectives and skills -- economics or statistics, for example -- are important? How do we understand what teaching management entails? "As soon as I began to investigate those sorts of questions, I realized that the vexed relationship between the world of social science and that of public policy actually has a fascinating history -- a very American history -- and they are both intimately entwined with the history of twentieth century liberalism," said Anderson. "Today's globalization is the engine of the next chapter of this story."

The lessons she learned from "Pursuing Truth, Exercising Power" helped her further define the critical mission of a public policy school. "At SIPA," concludes Anderson, "we believe that our students should be serving the public interest. We also believe that in the United States and more often elsewhere in the world, public service can often be done as well or better in the private or not-for-profit sectors than in government."

"In this, I think we better reflect a world that has grown skeptical -- perhaps a little too much so -- about the power of the state to solve all problems. Yet, we recognize the need to address tremendous problems that confront us all -- social scientists, government practitioners, educators, and the next global leaders now within Columbia's and SIPA's walls."

With this clear perspective, we expect Rolling Stone will soon be calling for yet another Anderson interview.

Published: Dec 01, 2003
Last modified: Nov 26, 2003

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