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Columbia University’s Institute of African Studies Reopens Under New Leadership

Columbia University has reopened its Institute of African Studies and has hired a new director as a result of widespread protests among students and alumni.

The 48-year-old research center, which is housed in Columbia’s School of International Public Affairs, was temporarily closed last year because of a lack of funding. At the time, university officials said that they were having a difficult time finding someone qualified to run the day-to-day operations of the institute, which is principally charged with organizing Columbia’s programs and courses that focus on Africa.

Recently, the university announced that it has hired Dr. Mamadou Diouf to fill the position of director that has been open since 2004. The announcement was greeted by cheers from students and alumni who say that the appointment was long overdue.

“I’m extremely excited about his being appointed,” says Christabel Dadzie, who is president of the SIPA Pan-African Network. “He wants to make Africa part of the discussion. We have someone who knows what he’s talking about.”

Diouf, who served as a professor of history and African-American and African studies at the University of Michigan, says that he is hopeful that Columbia will broaden its reach beyond campus to work with growing African community in nearby Harlem.

“I think it is impossible to have a program like ours here and not be involved with Harlem,” says Diouf, adding that he hopes to spearhead the work of improving and strengthening relations between Africans and African-Americans.

He says that he is planning lectures, conferences and roundtable discussions that will bring African scholars to campus from around the world.

“With the importance of globalization, I think the institute is in a wonderful place to focus on the issues that relate to Africa.”

Over the last year, student activists met with Lee C. Bollinger, the university’s president, to express their concerns about the closing of the institute.

“We are delighted to have someone of Mamadou Diouf’s extraordinary talents and admired scholarship to join us and take on the leadership of our Institute for African Studies,” says Bollinger. “His hiring is an important step toward fulfilling our goal of making Columbia the foremost center for teaching and research, in both theory and practice, on Africa — its history and culture, its politics and economics, its challenges in public health and extraordinary human potential.”

According to Dr. Lisa Anderson, the former dean of SIPA, who also served as an interim director of the African Institute, the institute will receive a Title VI grant, the first of its kind in over a decade, and the Institute has also received funding from the Kellogg Foundation.

“I am delighted to be able to turn over the operations of the institute to a colleague, Mamdou Diouf, whom I esteem as a scholar and appreciate as a friend,” says Anderson. “At long last, those of us who care about Africa at Columbia look forward to an era when the institute and its program will take its rightful place in the University’s distinguished collection of centers of learning. It has been a privilege to be associated with the community the institute will once again serve.”

–Jamal Watson

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