Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Future of Columbia's SIPA

This will be a boring blog entry so don't read it. Universities face tradeoffs. They want faculty to have nice offices (and this takes place in new buildings) but they want faculty to be close to each other and the main campus. Proximity helps to maximize intellectual synergies between reseachers (i.e the Paul Romer/Lucas/Jane Jacobs learning stuff). So a University is like a city. The city/university wants to sprawl but it may lose some of its intellectual growth engine when it does this.

First a disclosure. I was on the Columbia Economics/SIPA faculty from 1993 to 2000. When Dora was tenured by MIT, I moved to Tufts and our son was born in fall 2001. I was very happy at Columbia. The teaching was easy, I got a lot of work done and I enjoyed being in a great city.

Today SIPA has horrible real estate in the disgusting International Affairs building. Econ faculty were mugged there and it all was gross. But, we were all together with the political scientists, economics, and SIPA all in one terrible building. There were plenty of interactions. It helped SIPA and Econ that they could jointly hire faculty. I was a split FTE with .5 in each place.

But with this planned migration , this will all end. Columbia doesn't have the resources that Princeton or the Kennedy School has. The "new" SIPA will have a nice new building and a bored faculty. This is not a recipe for intellectual growth. The suburbs are boring.

SIPA's newfound autonomy, impending M'ville move, leave questions about future
by Scott Levi

As Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs moves towards greater financial autonomy within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences this July, few at the school doubt that the transition will bring anything but positive results. Yet the next chapter in SIPA’s intellectual future remains hazy.

Yet the next chapter in SIPA’s intellectual future remains hazy.

According to John Coatsworth, SIPA dean and a professor of history, the school is slated to relocate in 2015 from Morningside’s International Affairs Building, a crowded home for a hodgepodge of academic departments and programs, to a roomier space on the planned Manhattanville campus. But the move—which Coatsworth said will coincide with the end of the first phase of expansion—could change the academic character of SIPA if the 27 professors that hold joint appointments in SIPA and other academic apartments move as well.

For these professors, many of whom teach courses in the departments of political science and economics, accompanying SIPA to Manhattanville would entail more than just spatial distance from their colleagues who stay in Morningside. Removed from the influence of other departments, the deep-seated connections between SIPA and these departments could trickle down to affect the undergraduate and graduate students they serve.

“The links between political science, economics, and SIPA are very, very deep,” said Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Affairs Robert Jervis. “If econ and poli sci do move, that will, over the long run, change the intellectual nature of SIPA.”

Out of 71 full-time faculty, 10 are from political science and seven are based in economics with the remainder hailing from such departments as history, sociology, and Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures. Among this faculty, a variety of arrangements exist for determining salaries, but the majority of professors receive portions of their income from both of their employing departments.

SIPA’s status shift is not directly related to the Manhattanville expansion plans. “They’re completely separate issues,” Coatsworth said. “The issue of space arose independently of SIPA’s autonomy, although the two fit well together.” Under the current arrangement, SIPA contributes about 37 percent of its revenue to the Arts and Sciences. Tuition goes straight to administrators in the Arts and Sciences, who then choose how to allot funds to each of SIPA’s degree programs, a system critics say results in inefficient micromanagement by a remote body.

In the future, SIPA will pay a consistent tax but will gain the ability to manage its own finances, thinning out the thicket of arrows on budgetary organization charts. “Most important for this school is predictability in our budgets from year to year,” said Rob Garris, senior associate dean. “This clarifies the school’s financial situation for alumni and potential donors the dean might speak to,” thereby augmenting SIPA’s fundraising power.

By avoiding complete separation from the Arts and Sciences, the revised setup preserves valuable relationships across the University, such as the foreign language and social sciences courses taken by SIPA students, joint hiring, and the interdisciplinary institutes housed in IAB. The streamlined approach also guarantees that faculty salaries continue to work on the same principles. Nonetheless, faculty are mostly in the dark about future logistical changes.

“Over the course of the next 12 months, we’ll know a lot more than we know now,” Coatsworth said, assuring that professors will be provided with information about changes in office and institute space.

Physical removal is a double-edged sword—while it could put the interpersonal interactions that give SIPA access to Morningside’s plentiful intellectual assets at risk, the increase in space could also enhance intellectual productivity.

“Space is such an impediment to collaboration,” John Huber, chair of the political science department and a former member of SIPA’s executive committee, said. He added that, while professors could easily alternate between locations on both campuses, certain programs that intertwine SIPA and social science resources could suffer from decreased convenience. “If you live far away, you are less likely to go to conferences,” he said.

On the other hand, with floors in IAB vacant, undergraduate and graduate academic programs could host more events that might now be cancelled due to space constraints. Institutes and centers, which include regional hubs like the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies along with research establishments “will have many more options for space in which to schedule events that they would like to have,” Coatsworth said.

Given intellectual separation, Huber said, “SIPA will develop its own faculty and do less collaboration with the social sciences.” This format would resemble that of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, which relies on dedicated faculty rather than taking the integrated approach implemented by both Columbia and the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton.