University Senate                                                                                              Proposed: December 12, 2003




Resolution to establish


A pH.d. program in sustainable development



WHEREAS,     interdisciplinary research on social and economic development that takes full account of physical and environmental as well as political and cultural conditions is essential to understanding the problems that beset the developing world, and


WHEREAS,     these issues require a breadth of knowledge and command of technical language in both the social and natural sciences, and


WHEREAS,     the resources of the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs and of the Earth Institute are sufficient to support an adequate program of research for this purpose;


THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED,      that a program leading to the Ph.D. in sustainable development be established within the Department of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, with the proviso that the committee will review the program in five years.


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED,           that the Senate forward this resolution to the trustees for appropriate action.




Education Committee

Ph.D. in Sustainable Development, School of International and Public Affairs


We propose that the faculty of the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University offer a new interdisciplinary Ph.D. program. This program builds on existing master’s programs at SIPA as well as other curricular resources at Columbia more broadly. The purpose of this program is to educate researchers, university teachers, and world leaders in the social and natural science disciplines that underpin sustainable development. We define sustainable development broadly as economic and social development that reflects the physical and environmental, as well as political and cultural conditions in which human society operates.


The Ph.D. will be rigorously grounded in the social sciences, and will include a science sequence (ecology, earth sciences, engineering or public health) in its the core requirements. We suggest an enrollment of 8 students in year one growing to a total of 40 students enrolled in the 5-year program at steady state. In addition to drawing on existing resources available at Columbia, the program as proposed here will require some redeployment of faculty effort, and some additional appointments. The program’s courses will be open to other students in appropriate degree programs.


This approach to Ph.D. training continues Columbia’s recent initiatives in multi-disciplinary doctoral education, begun by the Ph.D. program in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and it reflects SIPA’s longstanding commitment to interdisciplinary graduate social science education for policymakers and analysts. The research produced by the program’s doctoral dissertations will focus on social science issues in sustainable and development. These issues are informed by an understanding of scientific issues such as climate, hydrology, disease ecology, biodiversity, soil science, infrastructure engineering and toxicology. Social science dissertations built on multidisciplinary knowledge and methods will help provide answers to the central questions of sustainable development. We expect that the market for students with this type of education will be exceptionally strong.


The purpose of this new Ph.D. is to create a generation of scholars and professionals capable of working with and drawing on the core disciplines in addressing pressing problems of public policy, including the dilemma of global poverty.


We are convinced that there is substantial and growing demand for Ph.D.’s with broad social-science education, strong research skills, and knowledge of the natural sciences. We anticipate that our peer universities will start up similar programs before long, and expect Columbia to reap many benefits from taking the lead in this type of program. Graduates will find academic jobs in the standard social-science disciplines, in policy schools, in undergraduate and graduate environmental science programs. Many will choose nonacademic positions, however, taking leadership roles in government, international organizations, and business.


The proposed curriculum consists of seven core courses, including three quantitative or “methods” courses. The program also requires a minimum of four courses in a natural science sequence, and at least two social science electives. Two research tools will be required before commencing full-time work on the thesis: of these, at least one must be a foreign language appropriate to the area of study. Students wishing to conduct research abroad must obtain approvals from the appropriate faculty and program advisors.


In addition to this course work, students will participate in integrative Seminars throughout the five years of the program, and will complete pre-dissertation research projects as well as a Ph.D. dissertation. The PhD. dissertation will be on a social science topic in sustainable development. The social science research will be informed by an understanding of physical and natural science constraints and opportunities influencing economic development.