Opinion | Op-eds

An open letter to President Bollinger and Provost Coatsworth

  • You've got mail | Bollinger and Coatsworth have been silent about the terminations of Vance and Hopper, which sparked protests at Mailman.

(Updated: April 13, 1:06 p.m. Byline updated to include both authors’ names.)

Dear President Bollinger and Provost Coatsworth,

We are writing as colleagues, current and former students of professors Kim Hopper and Carole Vance, and concerned Columbia alumni to express our extreme displeasure at the termination of these outstanding long-term professors at the Mailman School of Public Health. We are equally concerned about the way these terminations seem to signal a larger trend of devaluing teaching and mentoring at Mailman. 

[Related: Faculty layoffs at Mailman are bellwether for academic corporatization]

We are surprised and disappointed by your failure to respond to our concerns about this matter. On Jan. 23 and 30, University Provost John Coatsworth received letters signed by over 60 highly prominent academic colleagues of professors Hopper and Vance, requesting his intervention in this matter. Since that time, you have also received many letters, phone calls, and emails from professors, alumni, representatives from nongovernmental organizations, and students from around the world who have used Hopper’s and Vance’s research in their work on poverty, homelessness, trafficking, and gender and sexual rights. Many of these communications have also been conveyed to University President Lee Bollinger, Dean of Mailman Linda Fried, and other Columbia administrators. Finally, we call your attention to the hundreds of signatures on petitions that call for the reinstatement of these scholars. These petitions are being delivered in hard copy to your offices and may be viewed online.

We will not repeat here in detail the extraordinary contributions of these scholars, because they have been amply documented in the communications previously delivered to you. Suffice it to say, both are internationally respected, trailblazing medical anthropologists, and models of the publicly engaged intellectual. Vance, for example, has received two major awards (the Simon and Gagnon award and the Kessler award) for career contributions to the field of sexuality studies. And Hopper, past president of the National Coalition on the Homeless, was recently described in an American Anthropologist article as “a model for all of us in his dedication to collaboration, systematic research, and careful writing.” Hopper and Vance have each given more than 25 years of dedicated service to the department of sociomedical sciences, in which they have been central to the design and operation of certificate programs as well as Mailman’s core curriculum, and they taught and advised a huge number of master’s and doctoral students. Disrespecting long-standing members of the Columbia community with such summary dismissals is shocking to us, and it goes against the values that the University professes. Moreover, the notion that eliminating these effective and experienced faculty members will be a money-saving move is frankly ludicrous. Moving their salaries off the department’s balance sheet doesn’t solve the problem of paying for the work that they do—work that can only be performed by experienced faculty members.

[Related: Mailman faculty, students say they're locked out of funding conversation]

We are gravely disappointed by the months of silence on the part of the institution. Your silence and these dismissals call into question Columbia’s commitment to academic innovation and teaching excellence, which opens the question: What is the administration’s vision for the future of the University? Will Columbia continue to fire its most popular and dedicated professors, while expanding degree programs so that an increasing number of master’s students can serve as economic engines for University expansion? 

We would find this vision reprehensible for both our community and our students. We would appreciate the courtesy of a response. We are not going away, as the issue is too serious. It calls into question Columbia’s commitment to academic excellence, which is the cornerstone of our pride in the community we have helped build as faculty, students, and alumni of Columbia.

Sincerely yours,

Rebecca Jordan-Young, Public Health ’00
Tow Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies 
Barnard College

Lesley A. Sharp 
Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Anthropology 
Barnard College

Lila Abu-Lughod
Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science
Columbia University

Marianne Hirsch
William Peterfield Trent Professor of English and Comparative Literature 
Columbia University

Elizabeth Bernstein
Associate Professor of Women’s Studies and Sociology
Barnard College

John D’Emilio, CC ’70, GSAS ’72, GSAS ’82 
Gender and Women’s Studies Program
University of Illinois at Chicago 

James Trostle, GS ’78, GSAS ’80
Professor of Anthropology 
Trinity College

Lynn Morgan, GS ’80 
Mary E. Woolley Professor of Anthropology 
Mount Holyoke College 

Ilan H. Meyer, Public Health ’93
Senior Scholar for Public Policy
UCLA School of Law

Katrina Karkazis, Public Health ’95, Public Health ’02
Senior Research Scholar
Center for Biomedical Ethics
Stanford University

Svati P. Shah, GSAS/Public Health ’06
Assistant Professor, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Maria Dulce F. Natividad, Public Health ’04, Public Health ’12
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow
Women’s and Gender Studies
Wellesley College

Sahar Sadjadi, GSAS/Public Health ’12
Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies
Amherst College

Claire Edington, Public Health ’13
Postdoctoral Fellow, Mahindra Humanities Center
Harvard University

Ph.D. Candidates in Sociomedical Sciences:
Kathleen Bachynski
Amy Dao
Brendan Hart
Gina Jae
Sara Lewis
Caitlin McMahon
Anne Montgomery 
Ronna Popkin
Brooke West
Heather Wurtz

DrPH Candidate in Sociomedical Sciences:
Sara Shoener

MPH Students in Sociomedical Sciences:
Desiree Abu-Odeh
PJ Beaudry 
Colleen Lanier-Christensen
S. Alexandra Ulrey

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

Comments

Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Your username will not be displayed if checked
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Alan Rosen, Community Psychiatry, University of Sydney posted on

Kim Hopper's contribution to community psychiatry as well
as to medical anthropology has been a beacon to me , my colleagues and to
many others around the world. He has also brought much kudos to
Columbia University through his internationally important work, both academically
and in the everyday world. Columbia, why throw all this away?

+1
+1
-1
You voted '-1'.