The term global university has been popularized as the centerpiece of University President Lee Bollinger's agenda to extend Columbia's reputation as an international institution and brand. Although vague and fuzzy in concept, the notion has spun out several concrete initiatives. As such, the "global university" concept has developed in a piecemeal fashion, with little central coordination or planning other than the direction in which Bollinger would like to take the institution.
"Global" projects undertaken under Bollinger
Major university-wide projects
- The initiation of the World Leaders Forum, bringing global heads of state to campus during the UN General Assembly and other parts of the year
- The establishment of Columbia Global Centers in Amman, Beijing, Istanbul, Paris (Reid Hall), and Mumbai in order to coordinate research and (to a lesser degree) teaching in their respective regions
- The creation of the Committee on Global Thought, a sort of high council of scholars with a vague but definitively global purpose
- The creation of the position of Vice Provost of International Relations
Graduate and professional school-oriented
- GSAPP's parallel establishment of Studio-X spaces for student designers in Amman, Beijing, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, and New York, with a forthcoming site in Moscow
- Bilateral agreements with LSE and Sciences Po to create exchange and joint degree programs
- Revamping Columbia's study abroad programs under a newly-created Office of Global Programs
- Center for Career Education's creation of the Columbia Experience Overseas to give students work experience abroad
- The creation of the Earth Institute, which is, in effect, a powerful think thank focusing on both environmental and economic issues, and headed by the conspicuous Jeffrey Sachs
- Revamping the Institute of African Studies and giving African Studies a permanent home in the MEALAC department
- Founding the Global Health Research Center of Central Asia
- The "Arts Global" branch of the Arts Initiative
Several preexisting Columbia international assets or programs have not been folded into the above programs. These include:
- Casa Murano in Venice, which is being fitted out as a study center (donated to Columbia)
- The Oxford/Cambridge exchange program (preexisting)
- Columbia's Medieval France study program (preexisting)
- The Columbia archaeological dig at Amheida, Egypt (preexisting)
Issues and problems
Columbia is hardly alone in its global ambitions. Other universities have moved in with specific programs (like Princeton in Africa), partnerships (like Yale's deepening bond with China) or even satellite campuses (being built by NYU in the UAE to supplement already sumptuous study abroad facilities worldwide). The Columbia approach, however, appears to be more comprehensive. The Global Centers maximize focus in a minimum number of locations without being too costly, and the creation of so many new programs at the university level itself is a clearly distinct phenomenon.
Other potential drawbacks
- If anything, Columbia's "global university" initiative may suffer from more shine than substance. It's still unclear what the pedagogical payoff of many of the initiatives are, particularly seeming PR stunts like the Committee on Global Thought.
- Other initiatives seem to represent little more than a reshuffling or rationalization of preexisting programs or commitments, which may even be negatively impacted - some programs at Columbia's Paris campus, Reid Hall, have had to close down in the wake of its conversion into a "Global Center," for example, and the University Archives were forced to merge with the Rare Book and Manuscript Library to make space for the Committee's meetings.
- Getting deeply involved in the rest of the world is not without its risks, as Bollinger found out during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad controversy, which led to questions about who was allowed to speak at the World Leaders Forum, and perhaps with withdrawal of more than a few donations.
- And, of course, it's questionable whether it's a good idea to divert resources into expensive international programs that could be more efficiently deployed in New York - on, say, the space needs that should be addressed by Bollinger's other major initiative, the Manhattanville campus.