Mellon Foundation Awards Nearly $3 Million to Columbia University

May 03, 2018

Columbia University has received nearly three million dollars in grants from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through its program in Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities.

The awards entail a renewal of $1.7 million for the Justice-in-Education Initiative, developed under the direction of Geraldine Downey, professor of Psychology and director of the Center for Justice, and Eileen Gillooly, executive director of the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities, to provide educational opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.

“We are very appreciative of the Mellon Foundation’s continued support,” said University President Lee C. Bollinger. “The Justice-in-Education Initiative aligns with one of the major priorities of The Columbia Commitment campaign—Just Societies—as it seeks to renew and embolden efforts to address inequality and expand access to education.”

“Human punishment and displacement dehumanize society, degrade democratic institutions, and threaten intergenerational mobility everywhere. Mass incarceration and the precarity of refugee scholars in war torn regions represent 'grand challenges' that are worthy of a great university’s investment of intellectual and human capital,” remarked Mariët Westermann, executive vice president for programs and research at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Over the past three years, the Justice-in-Education Initiative has become a model for other universities seeking to increase educational opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students.  To date, the Initiative has provided more than two dozen college courses in nearby correctional facilities (Sing Sing, Taconic, Bedford Hills, and Metropolitan Detention Center) and has made it possible for more than 30 students returning home from prison to continue their education at Columbia. The work of faculty and students in the Initiative has also helped to incorporate issues of justice into the University’s curriculum.

“The grant renewal will extend these programs to impact more individuals and communities, increasing educational support for incarcerated students and those re-entering society from prison,” said Downey. “The Mellon Foundation is ensuring the Initiative’s longevity at Columbia.”

Another grant of $1,123,000 was awarded to Columbia Global Centers | Amman for a 12-month fellowship program to enhance the learning and professional experiences of 25 emerging displaced humanities scholars, over a period of four years. This four-year pilot program will address the urgent need to nurture scholars in exile by providing them with opportunities to develop their research and to reintegrate into the academic community in the MENA region, and in the long term will highlight the singular importance of such scholars to the global academic community.

“Investing in scholars’ intellectual potential is a necessary transition to more sustainable models for refugee support at a time when the frequency, depth, and protracted nature of displacement means that traditional responses are no longer sufficient” said Professor Safwan Masri, Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development at Columba University. “This pioneering initiative, enabled by the Mellon Foundation grant, lies at the core of the Columbia Global Centers’ mission.”

Emerging displaced scholars are defined as PhD students and post-doctoral fellows who were forcibly uprooted from their home countries and respective academic institutions for reasons related to the emergence of security concerns and armed conflict.

The program is targeting any displaced scholars residing in Jordan. This may include Iraqi, Syrian, Turkish, Yemeni, Libyan, or any other refugee scholar who fled armed conflict and is already residing in Jordan. The fellowship is designed to support early-career scholars and advanced PhD students in exile in Jordan so that they can obtain relevant skills and embark on viable career paths in academia or other sectors serving the public good. Should this pilot program prove successful, it is hoped that it would be extended and expanded to offer similar fellowships at the Columbia Global Centers in Nairobi and Tunis.

“We are very pleased to support Columbia’s extensive investment and commitments and to serve as a thought partner in these critical life-saving programs,” added Mellon Foundation Senior Program Officer Eugene M. Tobin.