Welcome for the 2006-2007 Academic Year

September 14, 2006

Fellow members of our Columbia community,

I would like to add my voice to all of those welcoming you to the new academic year. I hope those of you who are new to Columbia are beginning to feel at home, and I thank everyone who has helped newly arriving students, faculty, and staff become part of the Columbia community. Now that summer breaks are receding into memory and the University is in full swing, I'd like to update you on some important ongoing initiatives and highlight a few key endeavors in the coming semester.


Among the most promising developments of the last academic year are the strides that the University is making in our efforts to increase faculty diversity through recruitment, retention, and faculty development. As I reported to faculty and staff last spring, through the diversity hiring initiative in the Arts and Sciences, we have recruited some outstanding women and minority scholars to join the Arts and Sciences faculty. We have hired ten new faculty members and have extended offers to several more. This is a very strong start to our three-year initiative under the leadership of Professor Jean Howard, vice provost for diversity initiatives.

Acting on a recommendation from the Professional Schools' Diversity Council that Vice Provost Howard initiated last year, we are committing $2 million to expanding our faculty diversity efforts to the professional schools. This funding will support the recruitment, retention, and career advancement of outstanding women and minority faculty in fields where these groups are underrepresented. It will also support other faculty members who have demonstrated a commitment to diversity and equal educational opportunity in their research, teaching, service, or mentoring activities. Schools may apply for funding for research fellowships for new and untenured faculty and for short- and long-term visiting fellowships for promising scholars.

We have diversity initiatives at schools across the University. For example, Dean Zvi Galil and his colleagues at the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences have, with a National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant, made significant gains in recruiting women to the faculty and expanded efforts to recruit students from underrepresented groups. Other programs at Columbia are looking at ways to encourage women and students of color to pursue careers in the sciences and engineering, and helping faculty search committees conduct more inclusive searches so that we will continue to diversify as part of the natural process of ongoing faculty searches.

We have undertaken these diversity initiatives because overcoming the long-standing underrepresentation of people of color and women in many academic disciplines is an important goal both here and in higher education generally. We believe as an institution that our faculty and students benefit enormously from diversifying the perspectives and experiences that we bring to research, teaching, and learning at Columbia. We undoubtedly have more work to do, but we are making progress.


Globalization is a theme I come back to often because it points to an emerging era of dynamic and profound shifts in our world, including our thinking about that world. Columbia is ideally suited to reflect on and respond to this new reality, and there are many ways we are trying to think through globalization's impact and opportunities.

This semester, students are enrolled in the first of several new courses being developed by the faculty Committee on Global Thought, which we launched last year. The graduate course, "Issues of Secularism and Diversity in Global Thought," is co-taught by Professor of Philosophy Akeel Bilgrami, Professor of Anthropology Partha Chatterjee, and Vice President for Arts and Sciences Nick Dirks. The committee is also sponsoring a series of public symposia and an undergraduate initiative to explore what 21st-century graduates need to know about the world and how to gain that knowledge. In addition, 40 Faculty Fellows of the Committee on Global Thought will come together to discuss the goals of increasing cross-disciplinary and transnational exchange among senior and junior faculty, graduate students, and the wider University community.

Later this month, as part of our World Leaders Forum, University Professor of Economics Joe Stiglitz will chair a distinguished panel to consider how best to ensure that all citizens reap the benefits of the global economy. Also as part of the World Leaders Forum this month, Professor in the Professional Practice of Public Affairs Mary Robinson-former President of Ireland and U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights and now also director of the Ethical Globalization Initiative-will lead a panel of women leaders from dozens of nations, addressing human security issues.

I have also begun conversations with colleagues around the University about expanding Columbia's already extensive engagement in global health. From Mailman School of Public Health Dean Allan Rosenfield's pioneering leadership on maternal and child health and AIDS to the Earth Institute's efforts under Jeff Sachs in meeting the U.N.'s Millennium Development goals in African villages, we are already deeply involved in many efforts to advance education, research, and service in global health and the institutions needed to deliver health care. In the coming weeks, I will announce a Committee on Global Health that will be charged with answering the question of what else the University can and should do to promote health and health care, in our own local communities and in regions in need across the globe.


As you may have read in The Spectator last week, we will be honored later this semester to welcome Vaclav Havel to Columbia for a seven-week residency integrating his work as a writer and democracy advocate into the intellectual and artistic life of the University. The playwright-turned-president of Czechoslovakia, and then the Czech Republic, is one of the remarkable leaders of our time-an artist and human rights advocate who survived years in prison as an opposition leader determined to perform the highest calling of active citizenship. Under Gregory Mosher, the Columbia University Arts Initiative is coordinating President Havel's visit and working closely with Columbia College and faculty in the Core Curriculum, the School of the Arts, the School of International and Public Affairs, and other parts of the University in another example of global, multidisciplinary thought. President Havel will participate in a range of activities, including delivering this semester's all-class lecture in Contemporary Civilization.

Some of the city's most influential artists and civic leaders will join members of the Columbia community in events on campus and throughout New York City exploring the links between art and citizenship, both during the extraordinary period of Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution of 1989 and more broadly in society. Columbia's Center for New Media Teaching and Learning will make videotaped interviews, archival footage, photographs, documents, and other materials available to faculty and students, as well as to the public, online. To learn more about this exciting undertaking that so well reflects our commitment to ideas that cross both traditional academic and national boundaries, please visit www.havel.columbia.edu.


We are deeply committed to the proposition that a university has a responsibility to promote a sustainable environment. Columbia students have long been leaders of this movement, and a group of administrators has formed an Environmental Stewardship Task Force. The task force is working on practical programs across the University to promote conservation, energy efficiency, and sustainability, and has launched an Environmental Stewardship Web site that provides an evolving catalog of these efforts at www.columbia.edu/cu/environment.

Columbia will be able to expand and accelerate these initiatives with the hiring of Nilda Mesa, whom Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin recently appointed to the newly created position of environmental stewardship director. Building on an array of environmental initiatives already in place on our campuses, Nilda will work with administrative colleagues, faculty, and students to minimize the University's environmental footprint and further enhance the culture of respect for the environment within the Columbia community. As the search committee of students, faculty, and staff who took the lead in recruiting Nilda found, she is extraordinarily well qualified for this role in our community. A Harlem resident and graduate of Harvard Law School, Nilda served in a number of key environmental posts in the Clinton administration. Please join me in welcoming her to Columbia for this important assignment.


I have written to the campus community on many occasions about Columbia's 30-year proposal to create a new urban academic center in the old Manhattanville manufacturing area west of Broadway from 125th to 133rd Streets. Because this long-term plan to create new common ground for campus and community is so important to the University, our neighbors, and the city as a whole, I continue to share information with you about our progress. I have committed the University to open conversations within our community and to ensuring that the proposal not only meets Columbia's future needs to remain among the world's leading research universities, but also brings genuine, tangible benefits to our immediate neighborhood-weaving together the urban fabric of the area by creating an open, pedestrian-friendly link between West Harlem and the Harlem Piers park now taking shape along a revitalized Hudson River waterfront.

As the fall begins, we are nearing the completion of a draft Environmental Impact Statement, a document that is an essential part of the official process for reviewing major new developments and providing for extensive citizen comment. We look forward to taking part in this public review process-as well as in conversations that we have begun about a community benefits agreement in conjunction with the project. This is an extraordinary opportunity for Columbia to reach a consensus with our neighbors on a shared future in upper Manhattan, fulfilling long-standing hopes for revitalization of these blocks into a new center for teaching, research, and cultural and community life in West Harlem. I hope to have more developments to report on this front in the weeks ahead.


At the end of this month, we will officially launch the largest fundraising campaign in the history of Columbia, and, at least at the moment of its announcement, the most ambitious campaign yet undertaken by any university. As we take our first steps in this venture, one can't help but be mindful of having just completed the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the University. This milestone should remind us of the remarkable efforts of our predecessors that brought us to where we are today. The question before us now is, How can we, in our time, do the work needed to lift up the generations of Columbians yet to come? The Columbia Campaign will provide the endowment resources to recruit and support the most accomplished faculty and provide the financial aid needed to ensure that no qualified student is denied the opportunity to attend Columbia based on ability to pay. Fundamentally, we know that bringing together powerful and creative minds to teach, learn, and pursue ideas in an academic ethos will both take the University to new heights and bring benefits to the broader world.

Finally, on Monday a number of events on campus commemorated the fifth anniversary of the attacks that resulted in such a terrible loss of innocent lives here in New York at the World Trade Center, as well as at the Pentagon outside Washington, and in a field in southwestern Pennsylvania. Our country and our world continue to struggle with the consequences of that day even as individual families continue to bear the loss of loved ones, including a number of Columbians. Yet the beginning of any academic year-at any school in any city anywhere in the world-should be a hopeful time. And I hope that, as a university community, we will use the year ahead to pursue our mission of teaching and learning, research, and public service with an appreciation for the remarkable opportunities we have to fulfill such vital goals, and with some humility in the realization of how little we actually know out of the universe of things we wish to know. This is a place and a moment of great opportunity, not only to take a huge step in our own intellectual, professional, and personal development, but, in ways unique to an academic community, to serve our city, our nation, and our world.

I wish you the very best in the year that lies ahead.

With best regards,

Lee C. Bollinger