During the past decade, the Berlin Wall fell, the Soviet Union was dissolved and many of the authoritarian governments of Eastern Europe and other parts of the world were replaced with constitutional democracies.
Although there have been attempts to document these sweeping changes, Columbia University officials say there has been no systematic effort to conceptualize or study the practical consequences of the adoption of new constitutions.
To fill that void, Columbia President George Rupp announced today the establishment at Columbia of the Arnold A. Saltzman Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracies, believed to be the first program of its kind in the United States. The initial focus of the Center will be on Eastern Europe, Russia and the former Soviet states, with future plans to include Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
The Center, funded by a $3 million gift from Ambassador Saltzman, a Columbia College graduate and chairman of Windsor Productions who has served five American Presidents in a wide-range of policy-level diplomatic and economic assignments, will be located within Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs but will also draw on the resources of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the Schools of Law, Business and Journalism.
"I wish to thank Ambassador Saltzman for his generosity and to acknowledge his foresight in helping establish this important Center," said President Rupp. "Comparative constitutionalism is not merely a matter of intellectual interest but is gaining in practical relevance as well. With the transition to constitutional culture, more and more issues of foreign policy, internal policy and daily international trade will be considered in constitutional terms.
"As the knowledge of foreign constitutions and practices becomes increasingly important, there will be a growing need for experts both to act as advisors to emerging democracies and to offer information and guidance to people seeking constitutional solutions to their international problems."
"I am pleased to help launch a center that will be of great academic and practical significance," said Ambassador Saltzman. "With the changes that have taken place in the international political landscape in the last half dozen years, there has never been a more important time to create a center devoted to the study of the issues confronting fledgling constitutional democracies. The Saltzman Center expects to work with such governments to implement constitutional democracy, and Columbia University, with its outstanding professional schools and Political Science Department and with its international orientation, is the ideal location for such a center."
Ambassador Saltzman's gift to Columbia will endow two Arnold Saltzman Professorships to be held by senior scholars whose primary research interests are in the field of comparative constitutionalism, help support the work of students pursuing advanced work in constitutional democracies, and provide funds for course development at both the graduate and undergraduate levels as well as for conferences and the administration of the Center.
Ambassador Saltzman, who has had a distinguished career both in public service and in the private sector, has carried out diplomatic assignments in the former Czechoslovakia and Soviet Union, South America, Central America and Vienna. He has served the government in policy-level economic positions in the Office of Price Stabilization, Procurement Policy Board, Office of Economic Opportunity, and Agency for International Development, and was Chairman of the Federal Blue Ribbon Commission on National Growth and Development. He received a Presidential Commendation for his efforts on the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Since 1985, in an unofficial capacity he has fostered dialogue between the Soviet Union and the United States, and currently acts as an unpaid advisor to the presidents of former Soviet Republics.
Ambassador Saltzman has also served as Advisor to the New York State Congressional Delegation in Washington and as Chairman of the Speaker's Committee of the Assembly of New York; his function in both positions was to propose legislative agendas to benefit New York State. He is President of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and is a member of the advisory board of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs.
Former chairman of the Columbia College Board of Overseers, he has served as a chairman of the Columbia College Fund, the John Jay Associates, the Committee to Create the MacArthur Chair in History, and Dean's Day. He is co-founder of the Double Discovery Program, which assists first-generation college students from low income families, and he helped create the first advisory board for the School of International Affairs. His generosity enabled Columbia to establish the Study Library and the Black Students Lounge.
Ambassador Saltzman and his wife, Joan, have a daughter and two sons, both of whom are Columbia College graduates.
The importance of the new Arnold Saltzman Center has been described by leading scholars at Columbia and elsewhere. Professor Wiktor Osiatynski, of the Central European University in Budapest and Warsaw who is currently at Stanford University, has taught comparative constitutionalism in Europe and the United States for years. Before the establishment of the new center, he was unaware of any program of teaching and research in comparative constitutionalism, either in political science or law, anywhere in the United States.
Columbia Political Science Professor Jon Elster, a specialist in emerging constitutional democracies, added that, as far as he is aware, the Arnold Saltzman Center is the first program of its kind in the United States where a graduate student interested in comparative constitutionalism can pursue a program of such courses under faculty guidance.
And Columbia Provost Jonathan Cole also attested to the fact that the new Center is being established at a critical moment in history. "Over the last 15 years there have been more transitions from authoritarian totalitarian regimes to democracy -- and transitions covering a larger part of the world's population -- than at any time in history," he said. "What has happened in these countries amounts to a gigantic laboratory for study and research. It is possible, in particular, to get a better understanding of the relation among the three main aspects of transition: the introduction of constitutional democracy, the introduction of a new economic system and of retroactive justice -- restitution and retribution."
Columbia is well positioned to launch the new Center because of existing strengths in the field. In addition to Elster, one of the most distinguished political theorists in the world who joined the Columbia faculty last summer, Law Professor George Fletcher is studying the emergence of constitutionalism in Hungary and Russia, and Professor Andrzej Rapaczynski, also of the Law School, is doing similar work in Poland. Economics Professor Stanislaw Wellisz is also focusing on Poland, while Political Science Professors Jean Cohen, David Johnston and Ira Katznelson have research interests and have published in the general subject of liberal democracy.