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Heller Professor to lead Beijing Columbia

By Dori Cohen

Section: News

September 14, 2012

Joan Kaufman, acclaimed Heller School professor, has been named the new director of Columbia University’s Beijing Center, filling the position for the first time in over two years.
She chose to leave Brandeis for Columbia after almost a decade at the Heller School of Social Policy and Management. “I did not have an easy time at the Heller School,” Kaufman explained. “I did not enjoy it there, and so was forced to look for a new job.”
“This new position is an exciting opportunity for me,” Kaufman noted. “It’s a better fit for me, and a better use of my talent than the work I did at the Heller School.”
Her new appointment, she feels, is a better fit. “I do have a personal connection to China,” she explained, “I worked in China previously for 10 years, first working for the UN in the early ’80s (as the first international UNFPA program officer for China from 1980-84) and then dealing with health programming. I have two degrees in Chinese and much of my research dealt with the area.”
Her work at Heller was less geared toward China: “I taught for the last nine years a course on AIDS and public policy,” said Kaufman. “I also taught a course for the past three years about international global health, which is coursework for the Heller School’s masters degree in International Health Policy and Management.”

Kaufman’s experience will serve her well in China. With her work on both AIDS and China, the locale is a perfect fit. There are currently around 740,000 people living with HIV in China. Although China’s HIV epidemic remains one of low prevalence overall, there are pockets of high infection spread out along the country, and danger of the epidemic spreading further into the general population persists. This became particularly evident in 2009 when China reported that for the first time AIDS had become the country’s leading cause of death among infectious diseases.
The Beijing Center is designed to “assist Columbia University in the development and execution of its various research and teaching programs in China and the East Asia region, as well as serve as a regional base, enabling the Columbia University academic community to interact on a local level with students, faculty and alumni,” according to its website. The other centers are located in Istanbul, Turkey, Nairobi, Kenya, Santiago, Chile, Amman, Jordan, Mumbai, India, and the main school in New York City.

“The Beijing Center is one of eight global centers commissioned by Columbia University,” Kaufman said. “The initiative of these centers is global learning—to get people from all over the world to engage in education.”
Due to the long absence of a director for the Columbia Beijing campus, her duties so far are undefined. “I only started a week ago, so I’m just getting up to speed. For now, I’m an intellectual leader for the center, that’s what I’m going to work on myself.”

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