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New SIPA dean focusing on globalizing curriculum

  • SHOES TO FILL | Interim SIPA Dean Robert Lieberman is replacing John Coatsworth, who was named University Provost.

The School of International and Public Affairs is slated to move to Manhattanville in the early 2020s, but the school’s new interim dean wants to stay focused on academics rather than planning and fundraising for the move.

Political science and public affairs professor Robert Lieberman was named interim SIPA dean on Feb. 17, replacing John Coatsworth, who became University provost. Lieberman, who was previously SIPA’s vice dean, said that he would like to keep SIPA “on the trajectory that it’s on.”

“I feel like the school has made incredible strides in the last few years under John Coatsworth ... I’ve seen a lot of things change here, but those changes have never been as fast and as productive as they have been in the last couple years,” Lieberman said.

In particular, Lieberman stressed that he wants to continue giving SIPA’s academic program a more global perspective, a process begun under Coatsworth.

“SIPA is really on the leading edge of a new kind of public policy school,” he said.

This international perspective, he said, is already reflected in SIPA’s student body and its faculty’s research.

“Students who are trained to meet the world that way and who can combine the skills of a policy analyst with a global orientation ... those kinds of students are going to be the ones who are going to go out in the professional world in the 21st century and solve the world problems and make the world a better place,” Lieberman said.

The University is planning a new building for SIPA in Manhattanville—to be designed by architect Renzo Piano—but Lieberman said that academic planning is the school’s more pressing need right now and that SIPA has not started to focus on raising money for the new building. Lieberman is also working to improve SIPA’s student body and recruitment of top faculty.

“We’re focusing now on what we can do to build up the school so that when we eventually move into new space, that we have a school that is worthy of the beautiful Renzo Piano building that has been allocated to us,” he said.

Lieberman is an expert on American political development, race and politics, and social welfare policy, and he has taught at SIPA since 1994. He was chairman of the international and public affairs department from 2007 to 2012, and he also served two stints as vice dean, between 2009 and 2010 and between 2011 and 2012.

“In a sense, he knows far more about the school than any other faculty member I know,” said Patrick Bohan, SIPA associate dean of General and Financial Administration.

SIPA professor Steven Cohen, who was on the search committee that brought Lieberman to SIPA as an assistant professor 18 years ago, described him as “very talented.”

“There will be quite a bit of continuity, since he was part of dean’s office” already, Cohen said.

SIPA Associate Dean for Student Affairs Caroline Kay, who described Lieberman as instrumental in recent curriculum changes, said that the dean transition will be seamless, because Lieberman has “always been a part of the SIPA community.”

“I don’t think there’s going to be a drastic change,” she said. “We’re on the right path, and we’re going to stay on it.”

Lieberman added that the school is also focused on its $150 million capital campaign, having just passed the halfway mark. The top priority for those funds is student fellowships, followed by building developments and developing faculty capacity.

He also said that although the move to Manhattanville is still years away, the new building will solve the primary concern among SIPA’s faculty and students—a space crunch in its current home, the International Affairs Building.

“We’re doing everything we can—in the limits of what this building can support and what we can afford—to reconfigure some of the space in this building to make it work better for us,” Lieberman said.

University President Lee Bollinger said in a statement last week that he and the provost will soon form a faculty advisory group in order to search for a permanent dean.

margaret.mattes@columbiaspectator.com

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Anonymous posted on

You know what would be great for the SIPA curriculum? If they could get out of undergraduate classes and take only graduate-level courses. 

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