Welcome to SIPA—A Message from Dean Merit E. Janow

Merit E. Janow

Dean, School of International and Public Affairs
Professor of Practice, International Economic Law and International Affairs
Columbia University


Fostering Greater Diversity and Inclusion at SIPA - July 20, 2020


Dear Members of the SIPA Community,

I am writing to update you on SIPA’s renewed efforts to foster greater diversity and inclusion within our community. Increasing diversity and inclusion are core commitments of SIPA and Columbia University that I believe make us stronger as an academic institution, more tolerant and understanding of individual differences and perspectives, and more effective at identifying and, ultimately, combatting racism and discrimination in the U.S. and around the world.

As President Bollinger has stated, “Columbia University is not innocent of the structures of racism that have afflicted America. Yet we also have a history of confronting invidious discrimination and anti-Black racism. There is still much more do to.”

I agree fully with President Bollinger. Now is the time to reflect on what needs to be done to challenge the persistence of racism in the US and globally, including specific ways in which SIPA can contribute to that crucial task. As I recently wrote to a group of SIPA student leaders:  “We seek a SIPA that is more diverse in terms of its student body, its faculty, its staff and its curriculum, more intellectually attuned to race, equality, and justice, and more effective at advancing—through research and teaching—public policies that combat racism and promote justice, opportunity and dignity for all people everywhere.” Working with the Diversity Committee, as well as faculty and staff, and other interested students, we will be working on many fronts to help make SIPA an even more meaningfully diverse and inclusive School.

Our initial efforts span the breadth of the School:

  • School-wide Self-Assessment. At the urging of students, we have inaugurated a self-assessment of diversity and inclusion at SIPA. This self-assessment – which will draw on input from throughout the School, as well as outside expert third parties with expertise in DEI matters – will lay the foundation for a diversity report that will be made public before the end of the 2020-21 academic year.  This self-assessment process will examine academic and non-academic dimensions of SIPA; review actions previously taken, those currently underway and gaps to address; and consider steps to be taken and goals for the future.
  • Programming and Conversations. In consultation with the Diversity Committee, we are planning a series of conversations in the fall to consider SIPA actions and progress in key areas such as student recruitment and financial assistance, faculty recruitment priorities, curricular perspectives, anti-racism education and other areas. We expect faculty will initiate other events, based on their areas of expertise. Along with the self-assessment process, these conversations will be important steps toward increasing transparency around SIPA’s past efforts to advance diversity and inclusion, and helping develop a strategic plan and goals for the future. 
  • Courses. We are expanding our course offerings and are adding new courses on race, social justice and public policy to the SIPA curriculum.  Building on an initiative that began last June, we are working with faculty to recruit adjunct instructors from underrepresented minorities and introduce classes in spring 2021 and beyond that focus on race, social justice and public policy.
  • Capstones. We are expanding our outstanding experiential capstone program to include new projects and clients, particularly in New York City, that focus on social justice and anti-racism. SIPA undertakes a number of capstones every year that focus on a broad range of social justice issues, including inequality, poverty, migration, conflict and many other subjects. We intend to add additional capstones related to race and social justice in the coming academic year, with an eye toward projects in Harlem and New York City.
  • Faculty. We are continuing our efforts to prioritize diversity and race and public policy in our faculty hiring. While we have been on a positive trajectory over the past several years and hired remarkable scholars in many fields, our efforts must be redoubled.
  • Financial Aid. Increasing financial aid has been a top priority since I became Dean.  It has been a key element of our capital campaign, which has helped expand our financial aid budget by more than 100% since fiscal year 2014.  We have developed an approach to awarding financial aid that more fully considers financial need as a factor in making our award decisions. This year, we are putting more funding into financial aid than ever before.  Building on this work, we will launch additional fundraising initiatives in the fall, including a campaign focused on support for under-represented minority students.
  • Student Programming and Support. In recent years, our Office of Student Affairs, working closely with our students, has expanded diversity programming on behalf of SIPA students and our entire community. Going forward, SIPA is determining how best to further strengthen our administrative efforts in support of a diverse and inclusive community.  We currently are in a hiring freeze but this will not deter us from thinking further about this objective.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of our efforts, but I hope it conveys the seriousness with which we are approaching the importance of SIPA’s diversity in all dimensions of our program and activities.  I know other University-wide plans are also underway and SIPA will be a partner in those efforts.

I am grateful to the many students, faculty, staff and alumni who have reached out to me directly over the past several months to share your concerns, your ideas, and also your encouragement.  I believe this is a unique moment for all of us to work together to identify areas for improvement and make the changes that will benefit the School for many years to come. I thank you for your participation in this effort, and I look forward to keeping you updated on our plans and progress over the coming academic year.

Sincerely yours,

Merit E. Janow
Dean, School of International and Public Affairs
Professor of Practice, International Economic Law and International Affairs


Supporting our International Students at SIPA - July 9, 2020


Dear Members of the SIPA Community,

I write to share with you that Columbia University is filing a legal brief in support of the lawsuit initiated yesterday by Harvard and MIT against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's recent directives regarding international students and online learning.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement is seeking to deny visas to international students if the only courses they take this fall are entirely online.  Harvard, MIT, Columbia, and many other universities are now challenging these misguided directives in court. 

As indicated in the announcement below, Columbia's legal brief will focus on the enormous and incalculable contributions that our international students make to our university community.  Nowhere is this more true than at SIPA, where every year about 60 percent of our students are international.  We all benefit tremendously from our truly global community at SIPA, and speaking on behalf of the School, we unequivocally support our international students and the University's participation in this important litigation.

I circulated a message yesterday in which I shared that we are seeking guidance how best to adapt to these evolving circumstance and to provide a path forward for our international students.  More information will be shared as soon as possible so that our incoming and continuing international students have as much information as possible in order to plan for the upcoming academic year.  We appreciate your patience given this rapidly evolving situation.  In the meantime, students are encouraged to reach out to Columbia's International Students and Scholars Office with any immigration or visa-related questions they have [https://isso.columbia.edu/content/contact].

We stand with and support SIPA's international students, and look forward to welcoming you all in the Fall.

Sincerely yours,

Merit E. Janow
Dean, School of International and Public Affairs
Professor of Practice, International Economic Law and International Affairs



Columbia to Participate in Litigation Against ICE Restrictions on International Students

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Columbia, together with other leading colleges and universities, is currently at work on a friend-of-the-court brief to be filed in the legal challenge to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s newest federal rules, which pose significant limitations on international students.

As President Bollinger said in his message to the community, these regulations, which deny visas to international students whose courses are all online, are severely disruptive to the lives and well-being of our international students and damaging to our University.

Columbia’s brief will focus on the important and essential contributions that international students make to our intellectual and social life as a University community, and on the ways in which these new restrictions undermine the exchange of ideas that is the cornerstone of American higher education.

The deadline for filing the brief has not yet been set.  We will update this message when more information is available. 

President Bollinger’s message also addressed what Columbia will do now, as this litigation is ongoing:

First, as the University and each of our deans continue to make decisions about the structure of course offerings for the coming academic year, we must endeavor to configure hybrid classes providing in-person and remote learning options that alleviate the negative effect of these new regulations on Columbia students; we want our international students to be able to complete their studies here, if at all possible. Second, for the large community of international students who cannot come to Columbia because of the pandemic, we will be adapting our network of Columbia Global Centers and creating Pop-Up Global Centers in new locations to provide in-person academic and peer engagement. And, third, as I stated last week, we must continue to vigorously oppose immigration policies that damage Columbia, higher education, the national interest, and the international students, researchers, and faculty who immeasurably enrich our institution and the intellectual and personal experiences of each of us.

International students can be in touch with the International Students & Scholars Office (ISSO) for more information. Please also make use of the resources on University Life’s website whenever you need them, and counseling services, which continue to be available throughout the summer, on the Morningside and Medical Center campuses. 


Update on Fall Semester at SIPA - July 8, 2020


Dear Members of the SIPA Community,

In his message yesterday to the Columbia community, President Bollinger provided a significant update on the University’s plans for the resumption of on-campus activities this fall. I encourage you to review it as it speaks not only to academic life but also important features of campus life going forward. I write today to reaffirm what we have previously shared with you about our plans for the fall, which have not changed, and to further clarify SIPA’s approach to the fall.

First, while the University has given schools the option to have a three-term academic year, SIPA will offer our full curriculum in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, allowing students to complete their coursework in the usual timeframe. As previously noted, there are no changes to SIPA’s fall academic calendar, which will begin on September 8th. Spring semester, however, will start one week earlier than usual, on January 11th, and end on April 26th.  Commencement will take place that same week.  Once the University determines our designated date and time for commencement, we will share that information with you.

Second, as previously announced, all Fall 2020 courses will be offered online for the entire semester. In addition, a considerable number of these classes will be taught on campus. As I shared in my message to students on June 24th, if New York State and University public health policies allow, instructors will be able to teach from their regularly assigned SIPA classroom, and a limited number of students will be permitted to attend in person, subject to social distancing requirements. Faculty teaching in a classroom will simultaneously teach their online and on-campus students, utilizing newly installed audiovisual equipment.  University officials have informed us that in-person capacity will be 28 percent of the standard seating capacity and that work is underway to prepare classrooms to meet State and University public health guidelines.

On July 20 we will provide students via the SIPA Bulletin and Vergil a full list of Fall 2020 courses. To the extent possible by that date, we will identify which courses will be offered only online and which will be taught from a classroom (in addition to online).  If we know at that time that a course will be taught from a classroom, we will provide information about the expected in-person seating capacity. We will provide updates on July 27, August 3 and August 10 about the online/on-campus status of courses. We will provide full information no later than August 14 about which courses will be taught from a classroom and which will be online only. As stressed by President Bollinger, “every decision we make related to resuming in-person instruction and residential life will be contingent on New York State moving into Phase 4 of its reopening plan,” and any in-person instruction will depend on conditions on the ground in New York City.

Third, this week’s advance notice from the Department of Homeland Security of new regulations regarding online courses has doubtless raised many questions among SIPA’s international students.  I am in complete agreement with President Bollinger’s statement that these regulations are deeply misguided and "the destructive and indefensible purpose driving these policies" requires us to remain focused on the steps we can take to support our international students who are part of our Columbia family.  Although we are pressing for detailed guidance from University experts, it is our understanding that SIPA’s hybrid model (a mixture of online and in-person classes) will allow international students to enter the US on a student visa as long as they do not take an entirely online course load while in the US. In the meantime, students with any immigration or visa-related questions should consult the International Students and Scholars Office (here).

Fourth, we are working closely with faculty to redesign their fall courses for online instruction or a hybrid format. Among other adjustments, we are helping faculty make provisions for students who take courses from disparate time zones around the world. For example, nearly all class sessions will be recorded and made available to enrolled students via CourseWorks. SIPA-IT is also upgrading audio-visual capacity in all classrooms, in order to facilitate simultaneous teaching of online and in-person students.

Fifth, we will continue to offer the full range of student services to all SIPA students, whether in person or online. Further information about enhanced student support and services will be shared over the summer by the Office of Student Affairs, Office of Career Services, and other SIPA offices.

Sixth, from the onset of the pandemic, SIPA has taken steps to increase financial support for students. The School is providing the largest amount of financial aid in its history. In addition, we restructured our emergency fund this past spring to provide for students facing significant financial stress due to the COVID pandemic. We will continue that fund through the summer and into the fall. I also am pleased to announce that we are increasing resources available in the emergency fund for continuing students (modified guidelines and application process will be announced shortly).

Finally, President Bollinger’s message outlined the strict guidelines that will apply to all who live, work, study and teach at Columbia. Please review those carefully. As you will see, persons on campus must wear a face covering at all times, unless they are in a private room with the door closed. In addition, there are physical distancing, testing, symptom self-check, reduction in density, enhanced cleaning and other requirements.  More information about detailed public health protocols on campus can be found here.

The virus has had a profound effect on our community and the world. As we move forward, please know that we are deeply committed to supporting the needs of all of our students, faculty and staff. SIPA is the world’s most global school of international and public affairs, and we are proud of the remarkable students that join us from the United States and around the world. We are committed, as stressed by President Bollinger, in finding ways to enable the international students who are in the US to continue to complete their studies and those who are overseas to continue to engage with our faculty and students and be part of our vibrant virtual community.

We recognize many of you have more questions about the fall semester, and we will strive to answer them as soon as possible.  We are committed, no matter the uncertainty and disruption around us, to provide a safe learning environment consistent with our educational mission and to provide the rich array of intellectual experiences that are the defining features of the SIPA education.

The year ahead will be filled with complexity and interest: it will be a year that brings a US presidential election, important opportunities to consider economic, environmental, political, racial, social and other challenges facing the world and the United States. And despite the uncertainties and the precautions we all must undertake, we will have opportunities to study, teach, learn and engage with the world and each other. Our mission and our work have never been more important.

I look forward to our fall together.

Sincerely yours,

Merit E. Janow
Dean, School of International and Public Affairs
Professor of Practice, International Economic Law and International Affairs