Columbia University

Communications and Calendars

Letters to the Faculty:

April 11, 2008

Dear Colleagues,

Now that we have begun the spring countdown, I would like to update you on a number of developments in the Arts and Sciences.

But before I do so, I would like to reach out to you about the tragic passing of one of our graduate students, Minghui Yu.  This is a deep loss to all of us in the Columbia community, especially someone so young with a long and bright future ahead of him.  Our condolences go out to his family, friends, and colleagues.  A brief vigil was held on Monday, April 7, in memory of Minghui Yu and a formal memorial will be held when his family arrives in the United States. 

The University’s counseling services are available to anyone who is seeking help to deal with this sad loss.  Counseling and Psychological Services are located on the 8th floor of Lerner Hall and can also be reached at any time at 212.854.2878.  Columbia’s Department of Public Safety continues to provide services to improve safety on campus.  More information about the office is available at or at 212.854.2797. 

Let me now turn to the business at hand.  First, as you know from our recent announcement, we spent a considerable amount of time and effort this winter responding to the spate of announcements from many of our peer institutions of enhanced undergraduate financial aid packages.  Like them, we have been concerned about the affordability of a college education, at the same time we have found it impossible to significantly moderate tuition increases given our overwhelming reliance on tuition for the Arts and Sciences budget.  Working closely with the President, the Provost, and other members of the central administration, with the Dean of the College and his staff (as well as with the SEAS administration), and with the Dean of the School of General Studies and his staff, we were able two weeks ago to announce the details of an aggressive enhancement package. 

We have significantly increased financial aid for all of our undergraduate students in Columbia College, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of General Studies.  Specifically, for those College and SEAS students, including transfer students, who currently qualify for financial aid, we have replaced all student loans with grants.  Furthermore, complementing the financial aid announcement we made in 2006, families with incomes below $60,000 are no longer asked to make any parental contributions.  For families with incomes between $60,000 and $100,000, parental contributions have been significantly reduced.  For students in General Studies, we have increased the total aid budget by 17% which will improve support for about half of General Studies undergraduate degree students who currently receive financial aid.  We have also eliminated term time work expectations for students on financial aid who study abroad, and are creating new opportunities for students to conduct other activities on or off campus that can qualify for a waiver of the work expectation as well.

This enhancement will be funded by increasing the rate of spending from financial aid endowments.  Eventually, the spending rate will return to standard levels as we raise endowment through the Campaign, including the $200 million pledged for College financial aid by John Kluge.  This new financial aid policy is a major accomplishment and could not have been realized without the hard work of many of our colleagues.  It will help us to build further the excellence and inclusiveness of our undergraduate student body.  (Below is a copy of the official announcement for your information.  It can also be viewed here.)

During this academic year we have had standing weekly meetings with the staff of Columbia College in an effort to establish a closer working relationship between the office of the Vice President for Arts and Sciences and that of the Dean of the College.  In these meetings we have addressed issues around student affairs, development and the capital campaign, budgetary planning, and closer collaboration in curricular and academic planning.  On this last subject, we have been meeting with the working groups of the Task Force on Undergraduate Education (led by Martha Howell, Ann McDermott, and David Weinstein), discussing with them their preliminary recommendations for curricular planning mechanisms that will be brought to the Task Force later this spring.  I am extremely grateful to Dean Austin Quigley for his deep commitment to crafting a close and integral relationship between the College and the Arts and Sciences.

We are continuing to work with both undergraduate and graduate students to keep the channels of communication open, especially after some of the challenges of the fall semester.  Specifically, students have presented us with multiple substantive areas about which they would like to be more informed.  For example, we are currently planning a student forum about diversity initiatives on campus, to be led by Geraldine Downey, the Vice Provost for Diversity Initiatives. 

As you know, we are still faced with a difficult financial situation, one that has become significantly more challenging as a result in part of recent growth in the faculty of the Arts and Sciences.  Although we are therefore well aware of the need to moderate growth over the next few years, we also must continue to support our key initiatives, including our efforts to build the basic sciences and support the diversity initiative while also strengthening ethnic and African American studies, initiatives in economics and other social science departments with high undergraduate demand, our undergraduate core curriculum, and an increasingly global curriculum both in the core and at all other levels of our teaching and research.  We are working closely with the central administration to ensure that we will not lose the extraordinary momentum of the last few years, and to find ways to support our needs more effectively than is possible with the current deficit model.  This is not an uncomplicated process, and we will update you as we move forward. 

We continue to make good progress on the Arts and Sciences portion of the campaign, now in its second public year.  As of the end of March, total gifts and pledges for the Arts and Sciences stood at $602 million toward our goal of $1 billion.  Thus far, the campaign has raised nearly $270 million in financial aid endowment for the College and 20 professorships, 12 of them using the Lenfest Professorship matching program.  Austin Quigley, Peter Awn, and I have spent a significant amount working together on the campaign for undergraduate education, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have assisted the development staff in various ways through events, meetings and planning.  All the Deans in the Arts and Sciences have been hard at work in the campaign, which is so critical to our academic and financial future, and we look forward to its successful outcome.

We have also been working closely with the Provost, who is conducting a comprehensive review of the sciences at Columbia, including the Arts and Sciences, SEAS, and the Health Sciences uptown.  The goal of the review is to assess where we are now, where science will be in twenty years, where we want to be, and how we would plan to get there, with a particular focus on collaborations across the disciplines and units.  Although individual faculty members already collaborate in crossing divisional boundaries in numerous ways, we need to develop better institutional structures that support these types of collaborations rather than relying exclusively on the entrepreneurial spirit of the faculty. 

As you know, on December 19th the New York City Council voted in favor of Columbia’s physical planning proposal, thus clearing the way for the University to develop a new campus on the seventeen-acre site known as Manhattanville in West Harlem.  I cannot stress enough the importance of this milestone to Columbia’s future as a world class academic institution.  The opportunity to pursue new areas of academic endeavor and strengthen existing disciplines brought through a combination of new facilities and space relief on the Morningside Campus, is unprecedented in our collective history.  Not since Columbia’s 1896 relocation to Morningside Heights has the future been so secure for current and future generations of Columbians.  Formal planning studies for possible moves of the School of the Arts and the School of International and Public Affairs to the new campus will commence in 2008.  

One consequence of the expansion to Manhattanville, specifically the possible move of the Business School, is that Uris Hall will be available to the Arts and Sciences to relieve some of our dire space constraints.  I will be creating a faculty committee to advise me in deciding where our most pressing space needs lie and how Uris may be utilized to meet some of these needs.  I am also working with President Bollinger and Provost Brinkley to establish a high level committee to assist the administration in planning the moves to Manhattanville and the questions that emerge around the creation of a new campus with significant opportunities, both direct and indirect, for the Arts and Sciences.  

We continue to make progress and have been focusing our immediate efforts on the new Interdisciplinary Science Building (ISB) at the corner of Broadway and 120th Street and on Knox Hall.  The new science building, with an aggressive building schedule, will be available for occupancy in the Fall of 2010.  Knox Hall is also on schedule and is scheduled for occupancy in the Fall of 2009.  As a result of these efforts, we can look forward to significantly more space for the Arts and Sciences in the short term. 

I have also begun meeting with groups of faculty to discuss the university’s efforts to establish a greater global presence, focusing in particular on planning – still at a very preliminary stage – for the possibility of opening research offices abroad.    The input of the faculty has been invaluable, and I will continue to talk with wider groups of faculty to learn more about faculty interest in and advice concerning this exciting possibility.  John Coatsworth, Acting Dean of SIPA, has been playing a key role in this planning effort.

I would like to call attention to the new Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life, which has recently been approved by the Senate. Led by Professors Mark Taylor and Al Stepan, the Institute is already bringing together scholars and students in religion, anthropology, history, political science, economics, social psychology and allied fields to engage some of the most difficult and pressing issues of our time.  The Institute will also engage political and economic figures and policy practitioners, as well as religious and cultural leaders, in its programs.  The Institute will support campus-wide seminars, colloquia and lectures, visiting scholars, faculty seminars, summer fellowships for graduate students preparing dissertation proposals, undergraduate internships, and a publication series with Columbia University Press.  (

Some other quick news: Peter Bearman has announced that he will be stepping down this spring from his role as founding director of ISERP.  Peter has done a fabulous job in making ISERP a strong and powerful center of social scientific research and support, and we all owe him a great deal.  We are very fortunate that Bob Shapiro, Professor of Political Science, will assume the role of Acting Director of ISERP as of July 1st.  We will set up a search committee for a new director soon.  We also would like to thank Michael Stanislawski for his wonderful service in building the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies during an important time of transition.  Michael stepped down from being Director last month, and his former Associate Director, Jeremy Dauber, Associate Professor of Germanic Languages, has agreed to be Acting Director until we have identified a permanent director. 

And, please join me in welcoming the new School of the Arts Dean, Carol Becker, to campus.  The School of the Arts is at an exciting juncture and Carol’s leadership and energy have already been galvanizing the School and much else; we are delighted to have her with us.  We will be announcing the result of the Dean search for the School of International and Public Affairs later this spring; in the meanwhile we are grateful to John Coatsworth for the exciting work he has been doing as Acting Dean, thinking through issues having to do with a possible move for SIPA to Manhattanville, and growing autonomy in its institutional relationship to the Arts and Sciences.

I would also like to thank Linda Nelson for the hard work that she has been doing to raise funds for the Arts and Sciences.  Linda will be leaving Columbia May 1 to join Weill Cornell Medical School as Chief Development Officer.  We wish Linda the best in her future position, but do so knowing that she leaves behind large shoes to fill.

Finally, I want to make sure that you all saw the roster for the 2007-2008 honorees of the Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award.  (See also the announcement in the Record.) The award honors exceptional teaching in the Arts and Sciences, recognizing outstanding faculty who demonstrate exceptional merit across a range of professional activities, including scholarship, university citizenship, and professional involvement.  The honorees for this year are (in alphabetical order):  Lila Abu-Lughod (Anthropology), Zainab Bahrani (Art History), Nicholas Dames (English), Peter DeMenocal (DEES), Sharon Marcus (English), Amber Miller (Physics), Shahid Naeem (E3B), Colin Nuckolls (Chemistry), Pablo Piccato (History), Sudhir Venkatesh (Sociology), and Katja Vogt (Philosophy). 

There is of course much more news, but I will stop here for now.  I wish you well in the weeks ahead, and will write with further news and updates in May.

Warm regards,

Nicholas B. Dirks
Franz Boas Professor of
Anthropology and History
Vice President for Arts and Sciences



Contact: Robert Hornsby, 212-854-9752,

Columbia Expands Financial Aid for Wide Range of

Lower- and Middle-income Undergraduates

Replaces all need-based loans with grants and eliminates tuition, room, board

and fees for undergraduates from families with incomes below $60,000

NEW YORK, March 11, 2008 – Columbia University announced today that students from families with incomes below $60,000 attending Columbia College and The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) will no longer be expected to borrow or contribute any of their income or assets to tuition, room, board and other fees beginning in the next academic year.

At the same time, Columbia will eliminate loans for all new and continuing students in the College and SEAS who are eligible for financial aid, regardless of family income, and replace them with University grants. This enhancement could add as much as $20,000 in Columbia-funded grants to each four-year aid package.

Families with incomes between $60,000 and $100,000 will see a significant reduction in the amount parents are expected to contribute toward tuition and other costs. For example, a family with $75,000 in income and typical assets will see their contribution decrease by approximately one-half. Through the replacement of need-based loans with grants, a student from a family with an income of $150,000 who is eligible for financial aid may receive as much as $5,000 per year in aid instead of a loan of that amount.

“Columbia has a record of attracting among the most socioeconomically diverse undergraduate student populations among our peer institutions through our commitment to need-blind admissions,” said University President Lee C. Bollinger. “We are both proud of that diversity and determined to maintain it by expanding aid to the extent our resources allow so that our students will continue to benefit from the full range of experiences that are part of a Columbia education and, we hope, part of the lives they choose to lead in the future because of those experiences.”

Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science will adopt a number of other policy changes to enhance the educational experience for all students receiving financial aid. All aid recipients will be invited to apply for exemptions from summer and academic-year work expectations when they engage in community service or accept unpaid research or internship commitments. For aid recipients studying abroad, work-study expectations will be replaced with grants.

“Our new financial aid policies reflect a more realistic view of the challenges that lower- and middle-income families face in paying for college,” said Nicholas B. Dirks, Vice President for Arts and Sciences. “While decreasing costs significantly for every College and SEAS family that qualifies for undergraduate student aid, we have reworked our formula to ensure that the most dramatic reductions help those most in need, including students attending our School of General Studies.”

The University also announced that its School of General Studies, the undergraduate school at Columbia for nontraditional students, will expand its financial aid program significantly next year. Peter Awn, Dean of the School of General Studies, announced a 17 percent increase in its total aid budget, which will be focused on continuing students with demonstrated academic success who have the highest documented economic need and substantial loan debt. Amounting to slightly more than $1 million annually in additional scholarship assistance, the increase will affect the approximately 50 percent of General Studies undergraduate degree students who currently receive institutional financial aid.

Already, Columbia has the largest proportion of Pell grant recipients among Ivy League colleges at approximately 15 percent. Pell grants are generally available to students from families earning less than $40,000 per year. The new enhancements build on a September 2006 announcement that grants would replace loans for all families earning less than $50,000 per year in the current 2007–08 academic year.

“Columbia’s national standing has long been based upon its twin commitments to inclusiveness and excellence,” said Austin Quigley, Dean of Columbia College. “Financial aid is so important because the University’s excellence derives in significant part from its inclusiveness, from the range of voices that inform academic inquiry and social exchange. In this sense, all students benefit from our financial aid programs, whether or not they receive financial support.”

Columbia will continue to expand its well-established efforts to reach outstanding students from lower-income families, to be sure that the accessibility of college opportunities are fully understood by students and parents, especially those who are first-generation college-bound. The University pioneered such efforts four decades ago with its Double Discovery program, which became one of the models for Upward Bound in providing after-school and summer enrichment programs on Columbia’s campus for public high school students from Harlem and other New York City neighborhoods.

For many years, this commitment to inclusiveness and excellence has been demonstrated by Columbia’s allocation of significant resources to early college awareness outreach programs across the nation, building contacts in communities that have been underrepresented historically. In conjunction with the University’s new financial aid initiatives, Columbia will continue to expand partnerships with almost 500 nonprofit organizations that help students and families from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, including increased outreach and sponsorship of on-campus and regional college access workshops for counselors and students.

To provide further support and guidance to students once they are enrolled at Columbia, the University’s Campaign for Undergraduate Education aims to endow further investment in career education and student advising.

“Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science have longstanding commitments to both the quality and the very broad diversity of our undergraduate students,” said Gerald Navratil, Interim Dean of SEAS. “These financial aid changes announced today extend that commitment by making Columbia significantly more affordable to an even wider range of families.”

Funding for these financial aid enhancements is provided primarily by the generous alumni and friends of the University, through annual fund gifts and permanent endowments. The remainder of the needed funding will come from a combination of operating revenue, new fundraising and an increase in the endowment spending rate. Columbia is currently seeking to raise more than $440 million in undergraduate financial aid endowment. More than $260 million of this total has already been committed. Last year, Columbia’s most generous donor, John W. Kluge (CC’37), pledged $400 million for financial aid, half of which is directed to undergraduates in Columbia College.

To learn more about the new financial aid enhancements at Columbia College and SEAS, visit For details about the new enhancements offered by the School of General Studies, visit

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A leading academic and research university, Columbia continually seeks to advance the frontiers of knowledge and to foster a campus community deeply engaged in understanding and addressing the complex global issues of our time. Columbia's extensive public service initiatives, cultural collaborations, and community partnerships help define the University’s underlying values and mission to educate students to be both leading scholars and informed, engaged citizens. Founded in 1754 as King’s College, Columbia University in the City of New York is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. For more information, visit