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At Barnard, a different global strategy

  • PANELIST | Barnard President Debora Spar (second from right) participates in a panel during the Columbia Goes Global Conference in Low Library last April.

This story is part of a special issue examining Columbia's global centers, three years after the first two centers launched in Amman, Jordan and Beijing, China. Check out the rest of the issue here.

Columbia has gotten a lot of attention for its global centers initiative. But on the other side of Broadway, Barnard has been pursuing its own globalization program, one that is smaller and quieter—but perhaps better defined—than Columbia’s.

While Columbia has been opening offices from Beijing to Santiago over the last three years, Barnard students and faculty have been hosting a series of global symposia focused on women’s leadership. Barnard administrators have also worked to expand the college’s Visiting International Students Program.

Hilary Link, Barnard’s dean for international programs, said that the college has two main goals—increasing Barnard’s global presence, and giving students and faculty the chance to learn about women’s education and leadership around the world.

“We don’t have a permanent presence in many places. We don’t run any of our own study abroad programs. We don’t have global centers,” Link said. “I think we have sustained presence in some places where we try to make repeated visits and where we have strong alumni communities, and student interest, and a lot of students coming from those regions.”

Barnard and Columbia have occasionally collaborated on initiatives at the global centers, and Barnard President Debora Spar said in an email that the “new initiatives coming out of the Global Centers are very exciting and have the potential to help Barnard.”

But some Barnard professors are slower to praise the centers, wondering what their purpose will ending up being. History professor Jose Moya, a member of Barnard’s Faculty Committee on Internationalization, said that he is “not a big fan of global centers,” questioning whether they are a good investment.

“Just to have a long list of centers—that shouldn’t be the criteria,” Moya said.

Two centerpieces
Since she became Barnard’s president in 2008, Spar has made increasing Barnard’s international presence a top priority. In her inaugural address, she said that the college would be “embarking on an ambitious series of international programs, designed to send more of our students and faculty abroad, to bring more international visitors to campus, and to grow the number of international students among us.”

Four years later, Barnard is focusing on two main global initiatives—the symposia and VISP.

The first four symposia were held in Beijing, Dubai, Johannesburg, and Mumbai, and next March, a fifth will be held in São Paulo. But even though Barnard is going to many of the same places as Columbia—there are global centers in Beijing and Mumbai—Barnard administrators aren’t trying to establish a permanent presence in these cities.

“For us, just because of resources and size, it has to be somewhat more dynamic and ever-changing, because we’re not in a place where that seems to make sense to be permanently embedded in any particular place right now,” Link said.

But even if Barnard is not trying to establish a permanent presence right away, Barnard history professor Alexander Cooley, a member of the Faculty Committee on Internationalization, said that over time, the college will hopefully “start generating links among these different kinds of institutions and relationships that you’ve built up.”

“There’s no one single purpose” to the symposia, Cooley added. “But increasing Barnard’s visibility, and getting it on the map as not only a U.S. liberal arts college, but more a global center for potential women’s leadership—I think that’s part of the goal.”

Similarly, VISP—which allows foreign students to study at Barnard for a semester—has proven a good way both to bring global perspectives to Barnard and to put the college on the global map, Spar said.

“These full-time visiting students bring new perspectives to our classrooms and contribute something really vital to our community,” she said in an email. “Plus, when they return to their home countries, they remain part of our extended network and help us continue to expand Barnard’s global reach.”

‘Bricks and mortar’
Columbia’s global centers, on the other hand, represent an entirely different globalization strategy. Cooley described them as “almost the reverse” of Barnard’s global programs.

“They’re permanently there and set up, but they’re very loosely defined, in terms of their purpose,” he said. “My sense is that they’re almost kind of staging posts for various students, faculty, graduate students, with particular interests in these places.”

Cooley described Barnard’s globalization strategy as “more focused” than Columbia’s because all of the symposia have similar goals—showcasing women in leadership roles and growing Barnard’s brand.

Moya believes that the global centers could be very limiting for Columbia. He said that the idea of needing a physical outpost “of bricks and mortar” is “a thing of the past” in a world connected virtually, and that more flexibility is usually better.

“Why not have something in Santiago but that could also move later to La Paz, or Tel Aviv?” he said. “It limits us to certain places that seem to be hot at particular moments. But places become hot and cold.”

Working together
But despite some professors’ concerns, Barnard and Columbia have collaborated on several projects through the global centers. For Barnard history professor Xiaobo Lü—who directed the Beijing center from 2008 through 2010, and who serves on the Faculty Committee on Internationalization—the global centers do a good job of “serving all the schools and colleges” at Columbia, including Barnard.

The directors and staff of several centers have been instrumental in helping Barnard set up its global symposia, and Lü said that the Beijing center played a key role in expanding VISP to China. Several Barnard professors, including Cooley, have given talks at the global centers.

“We have worked very collegially and collaboratively with the global centers for our global symposium series,” Link said.

Additionally, Barnard students can apply for Columbia’s Global Scholars Programs, which give undergraduates the chance to do research at the centers. Only two such programs exist so far—one in Paris, which launched this semester, and another one that combines China and India, which will take place for the first time this summer.

Barnard students can’t apply for the new fifth-year study abroad program, though—at least not yet, according to Vice President for Global Centers Ken Prewitt.

“We decided not to include Barnard, not because we would exclude Barnard, but just working out the legal logistic issues on one campus was enough of a challenge,” Prewitt said, adding that he thinks Barnard will be included in the future.

Even with his concerns about the global centers, Moya said he would encourage interested Barnard students to study at them. And if Columbia is able to find ways to connect the centers with the surrounding regions, that could be a “good compromise between stability” and flexibility, he said.

Ultimately, the centers “may turn out to be actually quite a good investment,” he said—as long as more students start to utilize them.

“My fear is that there will be a staff, a building, several rooms, or whatever—but in terms of intellectual activity, low levels of intellectual activity,” Moya said. “That is my fear.”

sammy.roth@columbiaspectator.com

Check out the rest of the global centers special issue here.

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