Visiting Scholars/Scientists and Seminar Associates

The University is host to many visitors who do not hold academic appointments but use its facilities and participate in its activities. To accommodate the needs of these individuals and recognize their contributions to its intellectual life, the University has created two courtesy designations, visiting scholar/scientist and seminar associate, which are conferred according to the policies described in this chapter of the Handbook. These are the only designations that may be given to visitors and others who do not hold University appointments. In limited situations it may be appropriate to permit visitors to use University facilities without giving them one of those designations. Those exceptions and the policies governing their involvement in the academic life of the University are also described below.

Regardless of whether they receive a courtesy designation, visitors may not be paid for providing services to the University and may not engage in work that would normally be performed by officers or staff. Those who are engaged in research at Columbia are expected to comply with the University’s policies designed to ensure that their work is conducted safely and in a professional manner. In particular, visitors who will participate in laboratory research must receive appropriate safety training and be familiar with the University’s policies concerning laboratory safety and the handling and disposal of hazardous materials. If their research involves human subjects, they need the approval of the appropriate Institutional Review Board (IRB). If they will work with research animals, they must have the approval of the appropriate Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). No visitor may work with patient records or other protected health information without completing the University’s HIPAA training. Further information on these requirements may be found in a policy statement that may be accessed through the Research web page at


Visiting Scholars/Scientists

Individuals who do not qualify for appointments as officers of instruction or research but who wish to use the facilities of the University to pursue their own research may be named visiting scholar or visiting scientist. This status is conferred by the Associate Provost and Director of the International Students and Scholars Office on behalf of the Provost on the recommendation of the dean, director, or department chair in whose academic discipline the proposed visiting scholar/scientist has an interest. Recommendations at the Medical Center require the approval of the Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences before they are forwarded to the Associate Provost.

The title of visiting scholar/scientist is generally reserved for persons in one of the following categories:

  • scholars from American universities and colleges outside the New York metropolitan area who are not teaching at the University or participating in a research project sponsored by it;
  • scholars who work or reside in the greater New York area and are on leave from their home institutions;
  • graduate students from other American universities and colleges;
  • members of research laboratories or institutions;
  • staff and students of foreign academies and universities;
  • officials and former officials of governmental or nongovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations, and their affiliates;
  • practicing professionals and creative artists; and
  • other persons whom the Associate Provost determines will contribute to the intellectual life of the University.

Visitors who will teach or participate in a University research program must be appointed as officers of instruction or research rather than designated visiting scholars/ scientists. Those who want to take courses for credit should enroll as students. In unusual circumstances, the Associate Provost may authorize exceptions to these restrictions.

Individuals may be named visiting scholars/scientists for up to one year. The designation ordinarily may be renewed for no more than one additional year. Further extensions are granted rarely and only when the department chair, director, or dean making the request can demonstrate that there is a compelling justification for waiving the normal limitations on the duration of the designation.

Visiting scholars/scientists are given free reading privileges in the libraries and may obtain four-week borrowing privileges on payment of a monthly fee. They may audit lecture courses with the permission of the instructors. Auditing of summer courses also requires the permission of the Dean of the Summer Session. Visiting scholars/scientists may also use the Marcellus Hartley Dodge Physical Fitness Center and the University’s other recreational facilities on payment of a fee.

“Visiting scholar” and “visiting scientist” are courtesy designations that do not signify a formal association with the University. Individuals named to these titles may not claim a University affiliation for the purpose of applying for grants and contracts and should not represent themselves in their publications and correspondence as having a University affiliation. They should not include this designation on their curricula vitae.

Since persons with this designation do not hold appointments, they receive a special Columbia University identification card. They are not given office space and are not entitled to secretarial assistance. Visiting scholars/scientists are responsible for arranging for their own financial support and benefits. They may not be paid compensation from a University account, given a fellowship, or reimbursed for expenses without the prior special approval of the Associate Provost. They may, however, receive an honorarium for participating in a conference or giving an occasional lecture if they are United States citizens or permanent residents or, in the case of nonresident aliens, if they have an appropriate visa and the prior authorization of the Associate Provost.

Foreign nationals will ordinarily need a J-1 visa in order to visit the University. Upon submission of all the documentation required by the United States government, the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) on the Morningside campus or the Immigration Affairs Office (IAO) at the Medical Center will issue the DS-2019 form needed to support the J-1 application. Federal regulations require that the applicant for J-1 status have sufficient funds for the period of stay at Columbia and that the applicant meet the health insurance requirements of the Exchange Visitor Program while in the United States. The application for the DS-2019 is available from the ISSO or the IAO. It is accompanied by detailed guidelines on its completion and on the government regulations with which applicants for a J-1 visa must comply.

Visiting scholars/scientists may obtain University housing only if the dean of the school with which they are associated recommends that they be assigned apartments from a special limited allocation set aside each year for visiting scholars/scientists and others who would not otherwise be eligible for housing. They may, however, sublet from a tenant in a University apartment if they have the permission of the Residential and Commercial Operations Department of Columbia University Facilities.

Last Revised November 2008


Seminar Associates

Founded in 1944, the University Seminars bring together scholars and specialists of diverse disciplinary backgrounds to discuss subjects of common interest. There are currently more than 70 University Seminars whose members are drawn from the University, other academic institutions, and the nonacademic community. The seminars meet monthly during the academic year. Each determines its own policies, programs, and organization. A list of the University Seminars can be found at

Members of the Seminars are nominated for the designation of seminar associate by the individual seminars and appointed by the Director of the University Seminars on behalf of the President of the University. Those from other institutions may be appointed seminar associates for a three-year term, which is renewable, provided that they have the doctorate, its professional equivalent, or a demonstrated record of professional excellence in the area covered by their seminars. Students may not hold this appointment. Regular attendance is a prerequisite for maintaining membership in a University Seminar. The appointments of seminar associates who do not attend a sufficient number of meetings each year are renewed only in special circumstances.

Seminar associates who wish to use the University libraries receive a special University identification card on the recommendation of the Director of the University Seminars. They are given free reading privileges in the libraries and may obtain four-week borrowing privileges on payment of a monthly fee. The identification card and library privileges are valid for no more than one year but may be renewed if the seminar associate has no overdue books or outstanding library fines.

Seminar associates may also use the Marcellus Hartley Dodge Physical Fitness Center and the University’s other recreational facilities on payment of a fee.

Last Revised November 2008


Other Visitors

In unusual circumstances Columbia will host short-term visitors who do not qualify for the designation of visiting scholar/scientist or seminar associate, such as high school students engaged in an educational program sponsored by their schools in conjunction with the University. These individuals are expected to register with the appropriate office of the University prior to their arrival and to comply with the policies applicable to other visitors. The registration procedures for these visitors are available online at Once approved, they may obtain a temporary University identification card from the Office of Public Safety. The maximum period during which such visitors may remain at the University without an appointment or courtesy designation is normally one year.

Last Revised January 2015



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