Columbia University’s Response to the Afghanistan Crisis

Columbia University is committed to mobilizing resources and coordinating with partner organizations to help displaced scholars and students who have been impacted by recent crisis in their country. The Columbia Global Centers, working with the Committee on Forced Migration, has identified pathways to support these individuals, and is helping to coordinate Columbia’s response to the crisis.

As resources and support expands, we will update this page to reflect those changes.  We know there is much that Columbia can do in the longer term—from engaging in resettled refugee communities, to supporting vulnerable minorities (such as women and LGBTQ+ individuals), to connecting with at-risk students and scholars who are are unable to leave their country. However, our focus now is on identifying, vetting, and placing scholars at the University, to the extent that we can. 

Afghan Scholars

 

What can a school or institute do to help?

For the purposes of this initiative, Afghan scholars are broadly defined as those from traditional academic disciplines–as well as practitioners, such as journalists, artists, and librarians–and include those who are at risk in Afghanistan and those who have fled to neighboring countries.

Schools may host and provide an affiliation for at-risk or displaced scholars via short-term visiting appointments, fellowships, assistantships, and residencies. Academic units, including clinics and institutes, may be able to reallocate or accelerate the number of visiting positions to accommodate Afghan visitors.

Schools and institutes are encouraged to be flexible with their criteria for “scholar” and “practitioner,” and the eligibility criteria for opportunities, in order to assist as many at-risk Afghans as possible. It should be noted that the American Council on Education sent a letter to Congress signed by three dozen educational organizations urging Congress to support students and scholars.

 

Who is identifying, vetting, and matching scholars with universities?

Columbia is working with a number of organizations to identify Afghan scholars, vet them, and match them with opportunities at academic institutions. Professor Safwan Masri, Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development, is Columbia’s point of contact for these organizations:

Scholars at Risk, Scholar Rescue Fund, and New University in Exile Consortium

 

  • Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of institutions and individuals whose mission it is to protect scholars and promote academic freedom. Professor Lisa Anderson, former Dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, is SAR’s current board chair.
  • The Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF)  selects outstanding professors, researchers, and public intellectuals for fellowship support, and arranges visiting academic positions with partnering institutions.
  • The New University in Exile Consortium (NUIEC) is a group of universities and colleges committed to nurturing academics who have been persecuted and uprooted by creating a sense of intellectual community among exiled scholars. NUIEC will be a critical partner in helping to integrate and support scholars once placed. Columbia and Barnard are founding members of the Consortium.

 

What is the process for scholars who come through other nonprofit organizations?

Scholars at Risk and Scholar Rescue Fund will regularly share lists of vetted scholar applicants with Columbia, via the Global Centers. The Global Centers will then contact schools and institutes that could potentially provide a match for a scholar. Lists, with information about applicants, will be made available and accessible across the University (in a manner sensitive to protected information). 

Visiting scholars are expected to receive financial support in the amount of $50,000-$90,000, depending on the individual’s situation. Prospective academic homes for displaced scholars should make every effort possible to secure necessary funding. Faculty and chairs or directors of departments and institutes who wish to host scholars should contact their deans to determine if funding could be made available. If a host academic unit cannot secure sufficient funding on its own or through its school, it may reach out to the Global Centers for potential funding sources, which are likely to be quite limited.

The Office of the Provost will need to approve displaced scholars’ placements, just as it does all visiting appointments and other academic designations. Scholars approved for placement at the University will be connected with the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) for visa and immigration support, and with Columbia Health to ensure they satisfy the University’s health and safety guidelines around COVID and other requirements.

 

If an individual faculty or dean knows a scholar in need, what is the process?

If an academic unit or member of the Columbia community identifies a scholar directly, they are asked to please inform the Global Centers ([email protected]) to ensure proper communication, coordination, and support. If a school, department, or institute identifies an at-risk colleague through their own channels, Scholars at Risk encourages them to submit an application for the program, with a note that they already have an institution willing to host them. Nominators may complete the form for individuals unable to do so safely, or email information to [email protected].

Host institutions are expected to provide displaced scholars with an academic home and sustenance funding in the form of salary or stipend. Academic units that host scholars should make every effort to help them integrate into their community. The University will help with this effort. An academic unit that hosts a displaced scholar should determine what expectations, if any, it may have of them, such as teaching or performing certain academic duties.

 

Are there opportunities to support scholars outside of the United States?

Columbia Global Centers | Amman offers, with support from the Andrew A. Mellon Foundation, a fellowship program that supports emerging displaced scholars working in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. The program creates opportunities for scholars to reintegrate into academia and resume their academic pursuits. The Amman Center has extended the deadline for receiving applications, and is coordinating with UNHCR to promote this opportunity. The process of reviewing Afghan applications will be expedited to ensure that selected scholars are hosted at the Center as early as January 2022.

The Institute for Ideas & Imagination, located at Reid Hall in Paris, is also available to host displaced scholars.

Efforts are being expended by other Global Centers, such as the one in Istanbul, to try to identify pathways for support in their respective regions.

 

What is the timeline for this support?

With the situation in Afghanistan still quite fluid, it is difficult to predict how many qualifying individuals may be able to exit, when, or to where. It may, therefore, take some time before individuals are able to travel and take up their offers of assistance. It is also quite difficult to determine at this stage how many scholars will be approved for placement and funding at Columbia. For those applying through Students at Risk (SAR), they should expect a confirmation of receipt within one business week after submitting their online application. The SAR application and review process may take several weeks to months; SAR is not an emergency assistance organization, and they are not able to offer immediate relocation for those in an emergency situation.

 

Resources to support scholars’ transition to campus

Afghan Students

 

How can schools support prospective students?

The process to bring displaced Afghan students to Columbia is complicated, due to admissions timelines and processes. Schools are encouraged to review whether they can admit new Afghan students or extend application deadlines. Schools are also urged to keep Afghan applicants in mind for admission to Fall 2022 cohorts.

Financial support for newly admitted students may be provided through the Columbia University Scholarship for Displaced Students, which is managed by the Global Centers. Eligibility for the scholarship has been expanded to include displaced Afghan students on Humanitarian Parole or with Special Immigrant Visas. Inquiries regarding the program should be directed to [email protected].

 

How can Columbia support Afghan students’ families?

The Global Centers are working with the Office of University Life and other relevant University offices on supporting current Afghan students’ families. (There are currently five Afghan students at Columbia - three at General Studies, one at GSAS, and one at SIPA; two are funded through the Columbia University Scholarship for Displaced Students program.)

Depending on specific situations, examples of support could include assistance for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) or for humanitarian parole.

 

How can Columbia support US veterans of the Afghanistan War?

Columbia University’s Center for Veteran Transition and Integration, the Columbia University Student Veteran Alliance, and supporting partners have compiled a list of resources contained in the following document: Coalition for Student Veteran Community Support and Assisting the Efforts around Afghanistan.

 

How can Columbia support its Afghan alumni?

Columbia's International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) and the Columbia Alumni Association (CAA) have identified a small number of Afghan alumni and alumni who are in Afghanistan. ISSO and CAA may reach out to these groups once appropriate resources and support are identified.

 

Other resources for students

Steps to Offer an Academic Appointment

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Step 1: Determine Rank and Title
  • The Department will determine rank and appointment title, and offer terms and funding, in coordination with the Provost's office. 
    • Examples of titles: Visiting Associate Research Scholar/Scientist, Visiting Research Scholar/Scientist, Visiting Senior Research Scholar/Scientist. 
    • Visiting Research Scholar appointments are paid, temporary positions that can be full-time but cannot exceed two years.
    • The School/Department identifies a faculty sponsor.
    • The Department confirms the title and terms with one of the below:
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Step 2: Documentation

The School/Department brings together the necessary documentation for the appointment they have approved, such as: 

  • CVs 
  • Visas (see step 4)
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Step 3:  Secure Visas

For guidance on visas, contact one of the below:

  • Jane Acton, Associate Director for Faculty and Scholar Services, ISSO, Morningside, [email protected] 
  • Kathleen Mcveigh, Director, ISSO, Columbia University Irving Medical Center, [email protected] 
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Step 4: Vetting Scholars

The Office of Global Centers will work with the Office of General Counsel/Office of Research Compliance as part of vetting scholars through Visual Compliance. 

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Step 5: Offer Letter

The School or Department prepares the offer letter. It should include title, start date, duration, salary, and projected responsibilities. If guidance is needed on crafting the letter, contact one of the below:

The Office of Global Centers shares the offer letter with Scholars at Risk (SAR), which will then share it with the scholar for review and confirmation.

Once the scholar accepts, SAR will be in touch to discuss the next steps and logistics. 

Where information will reside and be updated

All information related to Columbia’s Afghanistan response will be presented on this page. It will be updated as needed and will also include a searchable list of Afghan scholars for potential visiting positions. This information will be hosted in a way that protects personal data.

Members of the Columbia community can submit information via this survey to inform the University’s response. Submissions will be continuously added to the landing page.

Other opportunities to support those affected by the crisis

Schools, departments, and institutes are encouraged to help address the crisis in additional ways that align with their expertise and resources, such as:

  • Faculty expertise can be leveraged to address urgent functional needs, such as around immigration support or mental health needs.
  • Students and student groups can offer support according to their interests and capabilities.
  • Schools and departments may organize programming related to the crisis that features their faculty experts, which can also be shared with our global audiences.
  • Administrative offices may be able to provide support for displaced Afghans in New York, such as through housing or employment.
  • Schools, departments, and institutes supporting those affected by the crisis should share their efforts with [email protected] for coordination and communication.
     

The University will be creating programming, in collaboration with partner organizations and schools, for meaningful engagement with those affected by the crisis—students and scholars, within and without Afghanistan, as well as refugees. This is a long-term goal, while our focus at this time is on the urgent need to host scholars and students.

Other resources

Refugee Council USA: a collection of resources for Afghans seeking assistance, and for individuals, organizations, and elected officials interested in supporting vulnerable Afghans.

Visa and transit resources:

Digital security resources:

 

    College and University resources:

     Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona