After a year as acting dean of the School of International and Public Affairs, John Coatsworth has been named to the position permanently, University President Lee Bollinger announced in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon.
“I am honored, and a bit awestruck, at the prospect of serving as SIPA’s dean during what promises to be a transformative era in the School’s history,” Coatsworth wrote in a statement for the SIPA Web site.
Coatsworth, a renowned scholar of the economic history of Latin America, took over as acting dean in the summer of 2007 while a committee searched for a permanent replacement for former dean Lisa Anderson.
He became well-known outside of academic circles early in his tenure when he brought Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to campus last October for a controversial speaking appearance. Coatsworth was both assailed by political pundits for hosting such a politically controversial figure and praised by many at Columbia for his calm handling of the event.
“It’s been a very steep learning curve,” Coatsworth said during a December interview, reflecting on his first semester as acting dean.
“Whoever is the permanent dean will have a school with a bright future to lead it,” he added.
As permanent dean, Coatsworth will oversee the school’s move from the International Affairs Building to new quarters in Manhattanville. He will also spearhead the University’s initiatives in China.
“This will be a critical period in the history of SIPA, especially as the School prepares to move into its own building in Manhattanville,” Bollinger wrote in the e-mail. “In the short period of time in which John has been leading the School, he has been able to galvanize the SIPA community to begin preparing for its future.”
Coatsworth will be charged with polishing the transition framework he laid out for SIPA, and potentially with overseeing the school’s move towards independence from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Coatsworth said Tuesday evening that he is most proud of building “a consensus within the SIPA community for changes that will strengthen the school, starting with a comprehensive curriculum review.”
While Coatsworth has previously expressed doubts that he would be chosen to permanently lead SIPA, saying that he wasn’t “a household name,” Bollinger said he deemed him worthy because of his “outstanding job as acting Dean of SIPA this past year.” Tuesday night, Coatsworth said he originally had “neither the expectation nor the ambition,” to lead SIPA permanently. But over the year, as he saw the University’s commitment towards developing SIPA, “it became pretty irresistable.”
Helios Herrera, a senior lecturer at SIPA, specifically commended Coatsworth on his personality. “He’s very easy to talk to. He’s just a charming leader that’s going to push the school forward,” Herrera said. “I’m very happy with this news because he instinctively is a great guy. If you ever meet him you say the same thing. Everybody this year, most people I know, we really like him ... His trial year was great because people really liked him.”
Coatsworth, who came into the position as a visiting professor at Columbia, was formerly director of Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. He has also served as chair of the history department at the University of Chicago and as a professor of history at Harvard. Coatsworth chaired the Harvard University Committee on Human Rights Studies, and has served as a visiting professor at El Colegio de México, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the University of Buenos Aires, the Universidad Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires, and the Instituto Ortega y Gasset in Madrid.
Columbia administrators invited Coatsworth to be a SIPA professor while he was on sabbatical from Harvard two years ago. By spring, he was already planning to stay at Columbia as director of the Institute of Latin American Studies when the dean position abruptly opened up with Anderson’s stepping down.
“I’m just delighted and excited by the SIPA deanship. I think SIPA has immense potential and an extraordinarily bright future,” Coatsworth said. But, he added after a busy evening, “I haven’t managed to celebrate yet.”