Announcing the Institute for Ideas and Imagination

November 17, 2017

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I am writing to announce a new and important initiative that will reside at Reid Hall, home of our Paris Global Center, and will be called the Institute for Ideas and Imagination.  The Institute, which I will describe in a moment, is the outcome of several years of reflection and discussion, with special contributions from the Paris Center’s Faculty Steering Committee, Paul LeClerc, the Director of the Center; and Professor Mark Mazower, the Ira D. Wallach Professor of World Order Studies in the Department of History.  This is a University-wide initiative, and I am very pleased to say that Professor Mazower has agreed to be the founding Director of the Institute.  

In the academic world, our ideas about what knowledge is important and how best to pursue that knowledge are constantly shifting.  A self-critical and reflective posture is, generally speaking, a defining feature of the scholarly temperament, and that is no less true when it comes to thinking about the entire intellectual structure of the University.  Yet there are times when it seems especially important to be able to step back even more from our usual ways of operating and to think afresh.  For a variety of reasons, this seems like such a time, and this is the essence of what the Institute for Ideas and Imagination is intended to provide.  No institution prospers by succumbing to the inertia of the inherited present.  To our endless benefit and pride, Columbia has always been a place not only of new discoveries but also of entire fields of inquiry reshaped and created.  The purposes of the Institute, therefore, match Columbia’s unique intellectual character and history.   

The Institute will shortly recruit its first cohort of 14 fellows, half of them to be Columbia faculty members and the remainder scholars, writers, and creative artists from outside of the United States.  The fellows will begin a one-year residency at Reid Hall in the fall of 2018.  The fellowships are open to all Columbia faculty; further details regarding the application process are available here.
In assembling this community of fellows, we will seek to identify early-career scholars and individuals from beyond traditional academic pursuits inclined to challenge prevailing intellectual habits.  The goal of combining Columbia faculty with intellectuals, artists, and writers who operate outside of American academia—in both a geographic and a disciplinary sense—is to foster conversations that introduce new perspectives to the University and, ultimately, across higher education.  The Institute’s defining commitments will be to intellectual innovation and inter-cultural dialogue, for these are the values essential to producing new thinking about academia’s central task, which is to contribute to the deep and long-lasting reflection that frames how our contemporary world understands the challenges we face.   
The Institute will also host workshops and conferences at Reid Hall and will develop parallel events with our network of Columbia Global Centers and with other partners across Europe and around the world.  A number of programmatic activities will ensure that the learning derived from the Institute is integrated into the life of the University and into its pedagogy.  For example, selected non-Columbia fellows will have the opportunity to spend a second year here on our campuses in New York, and during that time will contribute to undergraduate education in a variety of ways including teaching in the Global Core.

Professor Mazower will be joined in leading the Institute by Professor Susan Boynton, who will serve as the first residential faculty director.  I want to express my thanks on behalf of the University to them and the many others who have contributed so significantly to developing this project over the course of several years, including The Andrew M. Mellon Foundation and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for their generous support.
Lee C. Bollinger