By Ryan Beck and Max Marder
Sitting on a cushioned chair and looking out over Amsterdam Avenue, Dean Merit Janow is settling into her new office on the 14th floor nicely.
Janow replaced Robert Lieberman who had been serving as interim dean since February 2012.
At her coffee table, complete with a bowl of Lindt chocolates to offer to guests, Dean Janow met with The Morningside Post to discuss her vision for SIPA.
After three months on the job, Janow identified three goals for her term as SIPA’s dean: increasing financial aid, improving facilities and enhancing the school’s brand awareness.
In hiring Janow, the search committee chose to promote from within, rather than recruiting from outside.Janow has now been a member of the Columbia faculty for over 18 years. This experience has instilled Janow with an essential knowledge of SIPA’s faculty and the Columbia bureaucracy. Her appointment indicates continuity is more likely than change, as evidenced by her choice to continue implementing SIPA’s 2010-2015 Strategic Plan.
“It is a good plan, broadly cast … the priorities are right,” said Janow, who spoke in a calm but assertive tone. The Strategic Plan aims to provide a “world-class education” for SIPA students, empowering them to “serve the global public interest.”
“First of all, I am Dean of the Faculty,” said Janow, identifying her primary responsibility in helping to actualize SIPA’s mission. The dean expressed that she does not “manage” faculty members. Instead, she “works with and supports” them.
Developing a long-term vision for SIPA requires this, since faculty remain at SIPA much longer than students.
Before becoming dean of SIPA, Merit Janow worked for the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United States Department of Justice, focusing on international trade and East Asian economic policy.
Now, the former head of the International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) concentration at SIPA is ready for new challenges.
In pursuit of these goals, Janow can draw on a diverse career that embodies much of what defines the school itself. Upon receiving her JD from Columbia Law School, Janow embarked on an extensive career working in both the public and private sector. After working as a corporate lawyer specializing in cross-border mergers and acquisitions, she served in the executive branch of the U.S. government.
Her regional experience working on issues in Asia and Europe add to the global perspective she will need to lead a school of “global public policy.”
While her tenure began only three months ago, Janow has highlighted three specific issue areas she shares with the 2010-2015 Strategic Plan: financial aid, facilities and brand awareness.
Firstly, Janow believes financial aid is vital for the school’s success, allowing SIPA to attract outstanding students from around the world. She wants to augment the amount of aid available to SIPA students, setting an ambitious goal of growing SIPA’s financial aid portfolio, valued at $8 million currently, to $15 million by 2015.While 79 percent of respondents to a SIPASA-conducted SIPA Funding Survey indicated an overwhelmingly negative perception of the current assistantship allocation process, Janow expressed that she is more focused on raising funds than the process in which they are distributed.
In a memo to Dean Janow, the SIPASA Board said that a “justified and transparent funding process is crucial in maintaining SIPA’s high standards.”
On Oct. 11, Dean Janow met with select members of SIPASA in a closed meeting to discuss financial aid, among other issues. Following the meeting, SIPASA representatives reported that they felt that the Dean was responsive to their arguments.
In particular, SIPASA representatives were encouraged that a Fellowship Task Force has been meeting twice a month to address “the transparency of the assistantship allocation process.” Sarah Goldman, one of SIPASA’s communications officers, stated that a more formal report of SIPASA’s meeting with the Dean is forthcoming.
In addition to improving financial aid, Janow said she “would love to refresh the building and create more space,” since the International Affairs Building is overcrowded and becoming dilapidated .
However, Janow admitted that infrastructure improvement, or “physical plant,” is a gradual process. SIPA does have plans to move to a newer facility on the Manhattanville Campus, but the move will not take place for many years.
Finally, Janow seeks to address SIPA’s brand, which she identified as “a very heterogeneous student body with lots of different passions,” united by “an interest in the world and in global policy.”
Indeed, it is a vision that all SIPA students are familiar with. Janow’s challenge will be to project this image more broadly. The 2010-2015 Strategic Plan prioritized the increase of “awareness and community through communication, marketing and engagement.”
Yet, according to students and SIPASA, SIPA has not done enough in the last three years to improve its brand. SIPASA wrote in its memo to the dean that it sees the school’s branding deficiency as a detriment to SIPA’s goals for “funding, attraction of talent, employment opportunities and alumni relations.”
SIPASA made several recommendations to the dean, including the hiring of an external public relations firm to improve the school’s brand “so that future graduates may sport their SIPA affiliation with pride.”
To be sure, Dean Janow and the student body share many of the same concerns. It is an encouraging sign that the new dean is aware of students’ concerns and the challenges facing SIPA. Hopefully she is ready to address them through 2015 and beyond.
Ryan Beck is a second-year Master of Public Administration student.
Max Marder is a second-year Master of International Affairs student and Editor-in-Chief of The Morningside Post.