From Amman to Beijing, Columbia University is now in the process of extending its reach far beyond the gates of Morningside Heights.
Last March, the University launched two Global Centers abroad in Amman, Jordan, and Beijing, China. Two more centers are opening next month in Mumbai, India, and Paris, France. The University is also discussing possible centers in Africa, Central Asia, and Latin America.
The centers are part of a large evolving University project to increase its presence abroad and launch new international research initiatives.
Unlike other universities, these centers are not branch campuses for students, but are low-budget research sites that can provide internship or research opportunities for students. According to directors, it is a completely new global network model with no precedent, involving collaboration with already established regional institutes.
Directors say that the centers, which together form a program unlike any other college international effort, will benefit the people in these countries while simultaneously helping students become more acquainted with the world.
Teaching and learning in Amman
Last year the royal family of Jordan invited the University to open a facility in Amman—the family specifically sought support in education reform.
According to Safwan Masri, the director of the Amman Center—also called the Middle East Research Center—and an adjunct professor at the Columbia Business School, the royal family encouraged Columbia to expand its reform efforts.
“We thought bigger,” Masri said, adding, “We are not there to teach any more than we are to learn.”
Masri said that the center has been working with Teachers College to educate abroad.
“We have trained more than 700 public school teachers in Jordan,” he said, adding that this educational reform is occurring “in one of the most important regions of the world.” According to the Center’s website, this year 1,000 teachers are expected to participate in the educational programs, which were created by researchers from Teachers College and experts and teachers in Jordan.
Graduate schools and local institutes have already taken an active role with this center. The School of Social Work has developed initiatives for long term social work in Jordan, and the School of Continuing Education will be hosting a summer program for high school students.
A nine-week summer Arabic program, which is normally taught at the Morningside campus, will take place in Jordan this summer and will be taught by Columbia faculty.
Masri also said that the center will have an “Institute for Scholars” that will host six fellows per year who can work on their own research at the center. According to the website, “scholars will be chosen by a Columbia University selection committee and will include doctoral and post-doctoral candidates from any nation.”
He anticipates that the center will have a greater connection to Morningside in the future—for example, with guest lectures in classes, especially Global Core classes, given by faculty in Amman through video-conferencing.
Peter Awn, the dean of the School of General Studies and the director of the Middle East Institute, said, “Jordan provides you with one of the few places you can get both Israelis and people working in the Arab world … to assemble for some incredibly interesting exchanges.”
Kenneth Prewitt, the vice-president of the Global Centers and a professor at the School of International and Public Affairs, said that the Amman Center’s success has much to do with the support of the Jordanian government. “The Amman Center, with substantial help from the Jordanian government and the Jordanian royal family, occupies a very effective building,” Prewitt said.
Building in Beijing, with less funds
The smaller Beijing Center was a more challenging endeavor for the University.
Xiaobo Lü, the director of the Beijing Global Center and a professor of political science at Barnard College, said that the center only occupies a rented office and has a small staff.
“The Beijing Center ... doesn’t have the benefit of such powerful assistance, and its programming has been more limited,” Prewitt said. “We’re very pleased that we’ve raised enough funds to establish the center, to staff it, and to begin to do some program development,” he added.
Lü said that the Beijing Center has seen both graduate and undergraduate students from Columbia.
“We have had student interns (who were studying abroad in Beijing) in the office and expect to have more this coming year,” Lu said in an email from Beijing, adding, “We also have provided visiting students with help in local contacts, research, and job opportunities.”
The Center helped set up Barnard’s Visiting International Students Program in China and offered students pre-departure orientations.
The Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) funds Studio X Beijing, which hosts events and exhibitions, including seminars and socials involving visiting Columbia students and faculty.
“GSAPP has used the Studio X to organize workshops on China urban development which drew experts from architecture, urban planning, sociology, political science, and arts. Faculty and students from both international and local universities as well as practitioners have participated in the seminars at the Studio X,” Lü said.
Next month, new centers in Mumbai and Paris will make their debut, extending Columbia’s reach to South Asia and Europe for the first time.
Nirupam Bajpai, an economist and the director of South Asian Programs for the Earth Institute, will be leading efforts to open the center in Mumbai. Furthermore, the already-established Reid Hall in Paris—where Columbia students study abroad—will be transformed into the European Global Center, which will have the interdisciplinary research opportunities that other international centers have.
In Paris, the University is still looking for a director for the new center.
While these centers are slated to open in the spring, there are many other international locations currently being discussed.
Prewitt said that a Latin American center would probably open in Rio, while centers in Central Asia and Africa are also potentials. These, though, he said, are “not as far along in the planning stage.”
Participating from home
Even though the Global Centers are developed independently of the University’s institutes—which are on-campus academic centers—some professors in Morningside say they are eager to participate.
The Middle East Institute has already been collaborating with the Amman Center. Awn, the director, said they are currently in conversation about the “ways we could work together, both in promoting undergraduate and graduate work in the field, and how we can engage more broadly the people in the Middle East.”
Awn added that over the next year, the Institute will probably launch a lecture series of Columbia faculty in collaboration with the Amman Center. “I think it [the Center] really will become an incredibly important complement to us,” he said.
“Although the work of developing centers in Latin America was not initiated by the Institute, we are eager to collaborate,” Pablo Piccato, the director of the Institute of Latin American Studies, said in an email. He added, “The expertise of our affiliated faculty and their connections in Latin America will undoubtedly be useful as the process goes along.”
“The goal of the global centers is not only to expand regional studies ... but to bring the kind of broad, global research that characterizes the University as a whole, to spaces and collaborations in different areas of the world,” he said. “In that sense, the project is of interest for everyone at Columbia.”
Defining the role of undergraduates
While many of the graduate schools are already taking advantage of the centers, what remains less clear is what role the undergraduates schools will play.
Columbia’s Center for Career Education said that this is a key opportunity to expand, starting with Beijing.
Lü said that CCE has helped establish summer internship programs for undergraduates.
“As Columbia’s only official presence in Beijing, we expect to work with CCE more on the internship programs going forward,” he said.
“Center for Career Education wants to have an intern program in every single center, so eventually we’ll have intern programs all around the world,” Prewitt said.
Michele Moody-Adams, the dean of Columbia College, said that the College is “looking into all the possibilities,” including curricular, study abroad, and research opportunities at the centers. Kathryn Yatrakis, the dean of academic affairs, said that the Arabic language program was the first start for the College’s involvement in the program.
There are “all kinds of opportunities for curricular development that specifically focus on the Global Core,” Moody-Adams said, but emphasized, “We are not quite clear on what they are yet.”
“We hope it will give us options that you will not find at other institutions that don’t have those connections,” she added.
Barnard is also going to work closely with Columbia on the larger endeavor. Barnard President Debora Spar plans to give three lectures in Jordan at the Amman center after a Dubai symposium.
“We are hoping that over time undergraduates do get more vigorously engaged with the Center by proposing some kinds of projects … in collaboration with faculty. But it really is as much up to the undergraduates to percolate ideas as it is for the faculty to percolate ideas. The possibilities are endless,” Awn said.
Student response has been mixed.
SuJin Lee, CC ’13, said she could see these centers as a way to tackle larger global problems.
“I think ... we need to remember that we’re all citizens of the same world,” she said.
Laurel Schandelmier, SEAS ’13, said that it sounded like there could be some interesting opportunities for engineers specifically.
“It would be awesome to have the chance to go to another country to do field research as an undergraduate, especially because I’m a SEAS student and it is difficult right now to study abroad,” she said.
Others, though, said that Columbia needs to first focus on its home turf.
“I’ve realized that even though we go to Columbia and we’re in New York City, I feel like we’re still in a bubble,” Raeye Daniel, CC ’13, said. Though she said she thinks the Global Centers are a good idea, she added, “I think that before expanding and spreading around the world ... you should solidify your school’s base. There are already issues with expanding here in New York. Take care of what’s going on at home before you start opening centers elsewhere.”
The global picture
Nicholas Dirks, the vice president of arts and sciences, said in December that he believes the centers will “create more synergy with the regional institutes [already established abroad] without being restricted by them.”
“We don’t really expect the full benefit of the centers’ initiatives to unfold until there’s a whole network of them and you start doing programming that involves more than one or two of them at a time,” Prewitt said of his larger goals to have cross-center interactions.
Prewitt emphasized the uniqueness of what Columbia is planning. He said that no other university has a program covering seven or eight regions around the world, although some peers are branching out. The University of Chicago has a center in Paris, Harvard University has one in Latin America, and the University of Michigan is considering a center in China.
Dirks agreed that “Columbia has no precedent for this” although some universities, such as New York University and Cornell University, have already set up collaborations in Dubai.
“We really do believe that global education is plural, because the real payoff is in the network,” Prewitt added.
For Awn, the model of branch campuses is relatively unsuccessful and archaic.
“I’m not convinced branch campuses do much of anything,” Awn said, adding that the global center model is much more effective, utilizing regional collaboration abroad and maintaining the focus on the central campus.
University Provost Claude Steele said, “As time goes on, we will really want to take advantage of those opportunities [the Global Centers] academically. … That will be our high priority as an institution.”
Prewitt said that in the future, the centers could become a defining character of the University.
“I think there will come a time when undergraduates will apply to Columbia just because we have this network of centers,” he said.