The Blog


In a press release today, Columbia has announced outgoing Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will begin teaching as a Visiting Professor at SIPA starting next month.

The full press release can be found below:

Columbia University announced that outgoing Secretary of the Treasury Jacob “Jack” Lew would be joining its School of International and Public Affairs faculty as a visiting professor in February. He will lecture, teach graduate students, and work with faculty members at the school and across the University on the subjects of international economics, fiscal and trade policy, and a range of other public policy issues.

“As a school committed to the highest level of both academic scholarship and producing leaders in public policy and international relations, we are delighted to have someone with Secretary Lew’s unique government leadership experience join us,” said Dean Merit E. Janow, herself a former Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative who later served as one of the seven members of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Appellate Body. “At a time when we are all concerned with issues of global economic growth, trade and finance, our federal budget, tax system and the challenge of creating economic opportunity, Jack Lew brings insights borne of years of experience from the academy and the most senior decision making roles in the US and global economy.”

“Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs is central to the university’s mission of applying scholarly expertise and practical experience to understanding the world and addressing its problems,” said Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger. “Our university community is better able to serve that mission when we welcome leaders like Secretary Lew who possess deep first-hand knowledge about the workings of the U.S. government and international institutions. He will be an invaluable addition to our faculty, and an asset for our students who will benefit greatly from all that he has to teach them.”

“SIPA is at the forefront of tackling critical policy challenges facing the global community. I am delighted to have the opportunity to share my experience with talented young people who aspire to engage in the world of public policy and international affairs. I am impressed with the strength of Columbia’s faculty, students and thought leadership and look forward to making a contribution to the education of a new generation of leaders,” said Jacob J. Lew.

Secretary Lew has led the Treasury Department since 2013. He took office as the U.S. economy was struggling to regain its footing after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He helped lead the U.S. economy to its current foundation of economic growth and declining unemployment.

Prior to serving as Treasury Secretary, Lew was White House Chief of Staff and Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a position he also held from 1998 to 2001. As White House Chief of Staff, Lew advised the President on issues from politics to policy. Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, initially as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Lew served as a managing director and chief operating officer at Citigroup, and executive vice president and chief operating officer of New York University, where he was also a professor of public administration.

As OMB Director from 1998 to 2001, Lew led the Clinton Administration’s budget team and served as a member of the National Security Council. He was Special Assistant to the President from 1993 to 1994.

Lew began his career in Washington in 1973 as a legislative aide. From 1979 to 1987, he was a principal domestic policy advisor to House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr.

A graduate of Harvard College and Georgetown University Law Center, Lew is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Academy of Social Insurance. His appointment will begin on February 1, 2017.

In an email sent to members of the Columbia community earlier today, the University has confirmed the passing of Yi-Chia “Mia” Chen from an apparent suicide. Chen, an exchange student from Waseda University in Japan had been a part of Columbia College. The full email from James Valentini, Dean of Columbia College can be found below:

As we enter a new semester, we think it is important to share resources available on campus to members of the Columbia community:

Student Resources:

Email from Dean James Valentini:

 

Dear Students,

With a heavy heart, I am writing to let you know about the loss of a member of our community. Yi-Chia “Mia” Chen, an exchange student at Columbia College from Waseda University in Japan, has died in an apparent suicide.

We have begun reaching out to Mia’s friends and classmates whom we could identify to provide support and assistance during this difficult time. Whether or not you knew Mia, you may wish to gather with other community members. We have set up a space for reflection and conversation from 7-9 p.m. on Broadway 14th floor East and McBain Main Lounge.

This is an especially difficult time for all of us. As you know, we mourned the loss of another Columbia College student in December. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to your advisers, your Residential Life staff, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of the University Chaplain, your faculty members, and family and friends for support.

The following resources are available to you:

  • The Broadway Residence Hall 14th Floor East Lounge and the McBain Main Lounge will be open as gathering spaces from 7-9 p.m. today. Staff from Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of University Chaplain, and Residential Life will be in attendance. Anytime before 7 p.m., staff from Residential Life will also be available in Broadway 103 for drop-in visits.
  • In addition to their regular hours, Counseling and Psychological Services (212-854-2878) will offer extended walk-in hours:
    • 5-10 p.m. tonight and tomorrow in the CPS office in Broadway Hall
    • All day today and tomorrow until 10 p.m. on the fifth floor of Lerner Hall
  • The Office of the University Chaplain (212-854-1493) in Earl Hall and St. Paul’s Chapel will be open until 10 p.m. for individual or group counseling.
  • Your advisers in the Berick Center for Student Advising (212-854-6378) are available to talk with you about any concerns.
  • You can seek support from Residential Life staff at any time, who may connect you with additional resources.

I know that all of you join me in sending our deepest condolences to Mia’s family and friends.

Sincerely,
James J. Valentini
Dean of Columbia College and
Vice President for Undergraduate Education

cc: Mary C. Boyce, Dean of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science

Resources

 

Do you often find yourself in a large lecture course required for your major and lose focus ten minutes in? Do you wonder if it’s even worth going to class, and decide your time would be better spent studying (or sleeping)?

In a previous column, I proposed that the current method of teaching undergraduates is increasingly at odds with mounting evidence from both education research and neuroscience. This column, I’ll be proposing a few easy and evidence-based fixes to make lecture courses not only more fun and engaging for students, but also easier for professors to teach in a more effective way.

My advice boils down to one simple idea: turn lecture courses into a hub of social activity. If you’re looking for the nitty-gritty of how to implement this technique either as a student or professor, stay tuned for next week’s column — this one is going to focus on the scientific rationale behind my advice.

It might seem counterintuitive that letting students engage in ‘distracting’ activities like talking in class results in greater learning, but education research has been supporting this idea for decades. One recent meta review of over 400 studies showed that engaging active learning techniques focused on social activity in lectures boosted not only the overall average grade, but also most improved the grades of those at the bottom of the class, without decreasing the high scores of those at the top.

Essentially, social learning has a ‘rising tides float all boats’ effect.

The most well-tested way to implement social learning comes from the well-studied ‘flipped classroom’ technique. In this approach, the ‘lecture’ component of the class is assigned as homework to be completed prior to the class, most commonly as a video file and more rarely as an interactive online assignment or textbook readings. In class, students are assigned to work on problem sets or discuss the material in groups, with the professor and TAs as facilitators who ‘check in’ with groups by answering questions and offering guidance. This model actively encourages cooperation and lively discussion among classmates. Sounds more fun than your normal lecture, right?

Now for the neuroscience. Humans are fundamentally social animals, with much larger brain regions dedicated to analyzing and understanding the emotions and motivations of other people. Social activity is so important to us that our ‘default’ brain network, the one that activates when you’re daydreaming or not thinking about much at all, overlaps heavily with your brain’s go-to area of activation for social activity, the mentalizing network. Your brain ‘wants’ to be in this state, because historically, cooperation with peers has been mutually beneficial to survival.

Social activity is in fact so rewarding that interacting with other people triggers a huge release of domaine, the same ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter responsible for chemically induced highs. Amazingly, the release of dopamine can also enhance the brain’s ability to create and store new memories. So to sum up, feeling happy while learning is not only positive for your well being, but can actually help to improve your memory.

It’s no wonder that social activity plays a massive role in our lives and correspondingly holds a massive influence over our brains. But by forcing students to unnaturally focus on fast-paced and unvaried information flow, traditional lectures put an unduly heavy strain on the brain’s working memory network.

As a lecture goes on, the brain’s pull to ‘wander’ gets more intense, and focus is eventually lost. Social learning works so well because it hijacks this drive to socialize and redirects it towards learning. By engaging the default/mentalizing network, group work enhances a student’s ability to focus for long periods of time, and the extra dopamine released from socialization helps that information be better retained.

Engaging in more socialization can have many positive side effects as well. Long-standing issues in the Columbia community revolve around the oppressive stress-culture and feeling of loneliness experienced by many students.

While switching to a social-learning based classroom environment won’t magically fix these issues, many sociological experiments on undergraduate populations link stronger social bonds to myriad positive outcomes, including but not limited to increased student happiness, improved levels of student well-being, lower rates of anxiety and depression, and more successful career outcomes post-graduation.

It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that encouraged socialization in the classroom can lead to more casual conversation and foster friendships outside of the classroom’s confines, creating a stronger and healthier community in the process.

With so much to gain and nothing to lose, I advocate for Columbia professors opening a dialogue around the efficacy of the lecture course and opening their classrooms to experimental techniques. Decades of support from educational research combined with exciting new evidence from the emerging field of neuroeducation combine to form a compelling case for social learning.

A small amount of effort in redesigning course curricula and pre-recording lecture segments can pay off in happier, more engaged students who are not only excited to learn, but can also retain information better and for longer. For both professors and students, incorporating social learning in the classroom is a win-win.
*While based in pre-existing research, the hypothesis about social learning put forth is my own original work and is further explained in a long-form scientific article (The Case for Social Learning). Contact the author for further information.

In an email sent to students earlier today, Provost John Coatsworth notified students and teaching assistants behind the University’s rationale in challenging the vote to decide whether Teaching Assistants should unionize that was overwhelmingly supported by eligible voters based on its results.

The full email can be found below:

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

Last month, after an election to determine whether Columbia’s research and teaching assistants will be represented by the United Auto Workers, the University formally asked the National Labor Relations Board to examine whether certain actions by union representatives and Board agents responsible for supervising the election improperly affected the election outcome. I am writing to explain why we did so.

All of us have chosen to be part of this community because we value different viewpoints and believe that individual rights matter. Actions that could intimidate voters or create the impression of surveillance, such as installing a camera operated by union supporters just steps from the polling place in Earl Hall, are inconsistent with these basic values and violate NLRB election rules. In addition, the NLRB Regional Office’s reversal regarding the presentation of identification at the polls (first requiring, then encouraging, then ultimately not even allowing poll watchers to request IDs), not only created confusion but had the likely effect of allowing ineligible voters to vote, while forcing eligible voters to cast challenged ballots. Students arrived at Earl Hall only to be told that their names already had been checked off as having voted there.

If there were a means to protect voters’ rights and compliance with NLRB rules without filing objections with the NLRB, or, for that matter, if students troubled by these violations and others during the election were able to raise their concerns directly with the NLRB, we could have considered a different course. However, those alternatives do not exist: Under the National Labor Relations Act, our filing of objections is the sole available recourse for ensuring compliance with rules governing the election and to speak on behalf of student voters who have no independent voice in the process. The NLRB has responded to our filing by recognizing that the objections we raised, “if true, could have affected the outcome of the election and would, therefore, warrant setting aside the election.” The Board has scheduled a hearing in this matter later in the month.

I want to be clear that the University has taken this action mindful of concerns that extend beyond the outcome of last month’s election and the manner in which it was conducted. Our academic community may be operating within a new and very different framework for engaging with research and teaching assistants and for preparing them to have careers as scholars, the latter being one of our core functions as a university. That new framework would be governed by federal law and by the National Labor Relations Board.

In this setting, the prevailing rules must be scrupulously observed by all parties if we are to reach fair outcomes and effectively support all of our teaching and research assistants. As I said on many occasions before and after last month’s election, we will continue to strive so that Columbia remains a place where every student can achieve the highest levels of intellectual accomplishment and personal fulfillment. The actions taken by the University since the election should be understood as consistent with, and essential to that commitment.

Sincerely,

John H. Coatsworth

Provost

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