Columbia University

Communications and Calendars

Letters to the Faculty:

October 21, 2004

Dear Colleagues:

I have now sat in Low Library for a little more than a month, and I am beginning to understand the different activities and components of the many departments, schools, institutes, centers, and programs that make up the Arts and Sciences. We justly think of the Arts and Sciences as the centerpiece of Columbia; but as I take stock of the whole I am struck not just by its richness and breadth but by the complexity of all the parts. As we work to support the efforts of each of the parts to achieve the excellence that is our goal, we must also work even harder to integrate and coordinate the work we do as teachers, colleagues, researchers, and scholars. I look forward to working with each of you to achieve these aims.

When President Bollinger announced in late summer that I would be taking on the Vice Presidency, he wrote that we would be exploring the possibility of restructuring the office in order to increase its effectiveness and responsiveness. It is certainly true that this office has been extraordinarily lean, and we all owe a great debt to those who have served here before, especially Ira Katznelson last year and David Cohen for the previous eight years; I am more aware than ever before of the work they put in and the wonderful results of their efforts. I am especially grateful to Provost Alan Brinkley, who has been working with me very closely in my first weeks and has made clear his deep and abiding commitment to the Arts and Sciences.

I would also like to thank my excellent staff; they stay on top of the myriad details of the Arts and Sciences with a level of commitment and energy that is breathtaking. Ruby Cruz is the anchor in my office; and Vicky Prince and Ellen Binder, along with the people on their teams, have worked valiantly to break me in and help us all deal with the immediate challenges of the transition. I would like to use this opportunity in particular to thank Roxie Smith, who has been asked by Alan Brinkley to devote her talents and dedication to the office of the Provost; she has worked very hard — doing two jobs simultaneously — to keep things moving as seamlessly as possible during the last months of transition. I am very pleased to announce that Margaret Edsall will be joining our office some time during the next month as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, and I want especially to thank Dean Henry Pinkham for his generosity in facilitating this transition.

I am grateful to President Bollinger and Provost Brinkley for their commitment to invest additional resources in the administration of Arts and Sciences. I am pleased to announce that Martha Howell, Miriam Champion Professor of History, has agreed to serve this year as Director of Transitional Year Planning. In addition to taking on a number of special projects during this academic year, Martha is working closely with me to develop a plan for restructuring that will preserve the traditional access of the faculty to the Vice President at the same time we hope to provide much greater support for the tasks that confront this office. We also hope to increase the level and nature of faculty participation in the governance of Arts and Sciences, both within the office itself and through the enhancement of the role of the key committees that represent and do the work of the faculty, especially the Academic Review Committee. Ira appointed a new committee last year to work with our office in designing a plan for the capital campaign, and this new Arts and Sciences Fundraising Committee, chaired by Jack Snyder, will also play an important role in the coming year. You will be hearing considerably more about both projects from Martha and me as the semester progresses.

I am also pleased to announce that Ann McDermott, Professor of Chemistry, has agreed to work with me as Special Advisor for the Science Initiative. Ann will also work closely with Martha and with all of our faculty committees, at the same time that she will work with David Hirsch and the science faculty to design immediate plans to launch new initiatives in the sciences. We are excited about the opportunities that will emerge from the construction of the new science building on the northwest comer of the Morningside campus, and have begun meeting with Alan Brinkley, David Hirsch, and the science chairs to develop concrete plans for the academic use of this building as well as for the use of older space that will be opened up by this expansion.

Martha and Ann join me as well in welcoming Jean Howard as the new Vice Provost for Diversity, and we intend to work closely with her as she helps departments and schools find ways to make Columbia a truly more inclusive campus. This means not only increasing the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups in our faculty and student body, but also taking intellectual account of what it means to be part of a global culture and how our curricula, pedagogy and research can take advantage of Columbia's position as the leading University in this global city.

It also gives me great pleasure to announce that Alan Brinkley and I have appointed Akeel Bilgrami, Johnsonian Professor of Philosophy, as the new Director of the Heyman Center for the Humanities. I would like to use this opportunity to thank Theodore DeBary, John Mitchell Mason Professor Emeritus, for his many years of service in this important position. In the coming year, we intend to work closely with Akeel to increase the visibility of the Heyman Center and to use (and find) new resources to improve the general intellectual climate for the Humanities and the Arts in our teaching and our scholarship.

As I take on this new position, I am committed to continuing the tradition of this office in supporting the excellence of our departments, programs, and schools, since these are the core units that have over the years earned our international reputation and do most of the hard work of teaching, research, and scholarship. However, I am equally committed to finding new ways to enhance the cross-departmental — and interdisciplinary — character of our academic organization and intellectual engagement. Even as we work to build and enhance a number of interdisciplinary programs and activities, we will attempt to increase opportunities for coordination and collaboration between and among our various academic units. We have already begun discussions in the Academic Review Committee about how to integrate the review of specific departments and programs with more systematic attention to ways in which these units might work with each other in developing more coherent and innovative teaching programs and research agendas. And we will build on earlier efforts to make our hiring and recruitment process reflect interdepartmental collaboration at every level.

Columbia has for years been one of the leading academic centers for the study of the world — from Europe to East Asia, from Latin America to South Asia, among many other world regions. However, under emerging conditions of globalization, Columbia is facing new challenges, and new opportunities. Globalization means that the study of the world no longer means "us" studying "them," but rather the development of new forms of knowledge, and new institutional structures, that will facilitate both our understanding of and our participation in a world that is far more interdependent than ever before. We must address the impact and the challenge of globalization for our students — both undergraduates and graduates — as well as for our academic modes of organization and production. President Bollinger has asked us to evaluate how we might consider making our undergraduate population more international in the coming years, and we have also begun to discuss how to make the undergraduate experience at Columbia more international as well. Our graduate program is perhaps the most international component of Arts and Sciences, and we will work to build on this strength. With our rich history and resources in regional studies — ranging from SIPA and the Regional Institutes and all across our departments and schools — Columbia is well situated to chart new territories in internationalization, and to mark out what it means to become a genuinely global University.

As you all know, the budget of the Arts and Sciences continues to present many challenges. While our 3-year financial plan is essentially in balance (thanks to support from the central administration), we still face significant vulnerabilities that must be addressed before we can bring our budget into equilibrium. We need to work hard to ensure that we can adequately endow financial aid for undergraduates at the same time we continue to implement and expand our support for graduate education. We are concerned about a growing salary gap with our peer institutions even as we wish to expand the faculty and add additional resources to departments and programs. We need to strengthen our capacity to provide the best education for our students at every level at the same time we promote and support cutting edge scholarship and research. And we need to develop new and better space for our teaching and research while we work with the President and Provost to begin to plan for the future represented by Manhattanville. All this will require new ideas and new funds; and as we prepare for a new capital campaign, we will work together to realize our enormous potential.

I look forward to seeing you at the Arts and Sciences Faculty Meeting on October 28th and to working with you all in the months ahead.

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