January 23, 2002


Education Committee Report on the proposed MPA program in Earth Systems Science, Policy and Management (SIPA and Earth Institute) at Biosphere 2


At its first meeting during this academic year, in September 2001, the Education Committee received a proposal for the program headlined above, to be taught in its entirety at Biosphere 2, and largely by faculty who will reside in Arizona. Before any action could be taken, the proposed one-year, three-term program was announced in a colorful recruitment brochure and in the Columbia Record of October 5, 2001. The published starting date for the program is the summer term of 2002. Student recruitment is well under way.


Program goals

The program is intended for students who wish to prepare for careers as policy professionals, and who are informed at a level that will permit them to address issues that are raised in the study of earth systems, e.g., global climate changes, and air, water, and waste management.


Program structure

The program consists of a core curriculum that prepares students to “analyze and understand the formulation and management of public policy,” and an Environmental Science and Earth Systems concentration in which students “learn the fundamental science of earth systems and conservation biology, including their human dimensions.”


Concerns raised

The proposed program is the newest version of the MPA program, which has been in existence for many years and therefore needs no Senate approval.


Ř      There are questions of principle—the disconnection from the home campus, and the special status of the instructional staff. Since this may become a model for other such programs, the committee wishes to proceed with great care.

Ř      Furthermore, there are no strong curricular reasons to have the entire program at Biosphere, since approximately two-thirds of the courses are offered on the Morningside campus. Thus, one, or even two terms, conceivably could be taught in New York City.


In a lengthy review, a meeting with Steven Cohen and Dean Lisa Anderson, conversations with SIPA faculty, several committee meetings, e-mail discussions between committee members, and between the chair and Dean Anderson, and a recent visit to Biosphere 2 by one of the committee members, some concerns were raised and answered.


Dean Anderson emphasizes that these are students at the graduate level, who know what they are looking for and wish to have a choice between an urban and a rural setting.

In addition, the committee has learned from another source that there is a plan to have a library supporting Biosphere 2 with a projected collection size of 16,000 volumes, 25–30 print journals and access to electronic journals. Morningside faculty can visit Arizona to offer mini-courses, and new media will bring the two campuses closer as well.

Dean Anderson indicates that she shares this concern and that SIPA has entertained the idea of a regular rotation of the Biosphere faculty to Morningside. No decision has been made as yet, but there appears to be universal agreement that some kind of extended appearance of the Biosphere faculty on this campus would be beneficial for all parties.




Since this is the first time that Columbia is seeking to establish a potentially precedent-setting program at Biosphere 2, the committee is concerned that this program be viewed not as a precedent, but as an experiment, which should be terminated if it does not work.

The committee supports the implementation of the program for a trial period of no more than 2 years. Dean Anderson has been most cooperative with the committee and has indicated her willingness to consider this program as an experiment. She is prepared to report to the committee on an annual basis. After this period another review by the committee, as well as a review by the Arts and Sciences Academic Review Committee, during the third year of the program, should determine whether the program is meeting its goals, and whether it is enhanced by its presence at Biosphere. If the findings of such a review are negative, it is the committee’s recommendation that it be terminated after its fourth year.