The Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture department will gradually absorb and serve as "the incubator" for the Institute of African Affairs when it relaunches under a new director this summer, a top University official said.
Nicholas Dirks, vice president for arts and sciences, said the decision to move Columbia's African studies department into MEALAC fits with a larger rethinking of the role of regional institutes at Columbia and should help integrate the institutes' work with other departments, programs, and individual faculty. The move was prompted by space constraints in the International Affairs Building, he added; both departments are housed on the 11th floor. The incoming director of the institute, Mamadou Diouf, will be appointed through MEALAC.
The institute has "to be working with departments like political science and economics and sociology and anthropology and history and SIPA [the School of International and Public Affairs] to see about building the social science component," Dirks said, adding "there's potential connections in architecture and business and law and public health and journalism, even in social work, where we hope to see a catalytic effect develop over the next few years."
Christabel Dadzie, SIPA '07 and president of the SIPA Pan-African Network, said she didn't fully understand what the move would mean, but preferred to have it report directly to the dean of SIPA.
"I think the African Institute should be on its own. It shouldn't be under anything," she said. I don't know if this is going to be a change that is across the board, but if it's just for the African Institute I have a concern about loss of prestige."
But Dadzie said the change could be good if it augmented the development of an independent, University-wide Institute of African Affairs that supports smaller programs in various schools and departments.
"In the little pockets it will probably function better," she said. "But that's a long-term ideal."
Tom Faure contributed to this article.