A New Social Contract: Sharing our Strategic Priorities

January 17, 2024

Dear Columbia University Community,

Welcome back to a new term filled with promise and possibility. This academic year started with many of the tensions in our world playing out on our campus. This is not surprising since as a university we are of the world and engaged in it. As we gather again, it's important to recognize the collective strength and compassion that got us through the challenges of the previous semester. I hope we can strike a good balance between providing a place of learning and discovery as well as of debate and engagement.

During my inauguration I said that universities need a new compact with society. I write today to describe in greater detail what this idea means, by sharing a set of strategic priorities that I believe will position Columbia as an exemplar of a great university for the 21st century. These priorities emerged from my conversations with many of you in my early months at Columbia and reflect the commitment to academic achievement, operational excellence, and fostering a vibrant community that I know we all share.

In the realm of academic excellence, our objective is ambitious—to elevate all of our schools to be research and educational leaders in their respective fields. We aspire to make major intellectual contributions in areas of paramount importance such as climate, artificial intelligence, and mental health where Columbia has huge comparative strengths. Lifelong learning will be a cornerstone, ensuring that access to a Columbia education is available to people throughout their lives. Global and local engagement will remain at the forefront, forging connections and collaborations that transcend borders and deliver real impact.

I have also heard from many of you that operational excellence is vital for the effective realization of our academic mission. Our objectives encompass developing comprehensive plans for operational investments and improvements, strategically raising funds for academic endeavors, reviewing our cost models to ensure efficiency and fairness, optimizing space utilization to meet the evolving needs of our community, and championing sustainability in every aspect of our operations.

We also want to foster an even stronger culture of community—for our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and partners around the world. Students who come to Columbia should have an excellent experience where they are supported, given a wide range of opportunities, and can be fully themselves. Access to diverse perspectives will be a fundamental aspect of our identity and we will build resilience to intellectual discomfort and challenge. Prioritizing the wellbeing of our community members will be central to our ethos so that everyone can thrive.

Over the coming months I hope to share more with you as these efforts take form in collaboration with colleagues across the University. They will create a foundation for an even stronger Columbia rooted in outstanding academic work, underpinned by operational excellence, and based on a cohesive inclusive community making important contributions to the world.

With warm regards and best wishes for a successful academic term,

Minouche Shafik
President, Columbia University in the City of New York