Annual Report


Academic Year 2015-2016 tested the resilience of the University seminars in many ways.  We are pleased to report that the Seminars came through these events unscathed, and in a few cases remarkably enhanced.

The most severe stress tests were a series of three floods in Faculty House. Two of them affected the archive room; in each case Seminars Archivist Summer Hart and Faculty House staff came to the rescue, coming back to work off-hours to salvage our precious papers. The third and most damaging flood happened the weekend before our Annual Dinner. Faculty House lost all water for many days while repairs were made, and that obliged us to find a new venue for our Annual meeting. Seminars Director Bob Pollack and Columbia-Barnard Hillel Director Brian Cohen quickly arranged for our dinner to be held in Hillel’s Kraft Center. Staff of Faculty House and the Kraft Center made it all work on a day’s notice, and it was a fabulous night.

A week after the Annual Dinner, the Seminars Office and Columbia University Press colleagues gathered together with friends and family of Robert Belknap to celebrate the publication of his Schoff Lectures, Plots. Bob Pollack invited people to speak and as they did, we again felt at once the loss and the presence of Bob Belknap.

Chauncey Olinger’s ongoing research into the life of Frank Tannenbaum has resulted in a donation of a painting of Tannenbaum given by his nephew, Sherman Tanenbaum, with the gracious agreement of his wife, Charlene.

This was the academic year in which Summer Hart, working with Rare Books and Manuscripts Library colleagues as well as with former RBML Director Michael Ryan, and with both Robert Belknap and Bob Pollack, completed the herculean job of launching our archive. The first five decades of Seminars minutes are now available in scanned, searchable format, and are accessible through the RBML in Butler. We are pleased to provide this resource to scholars now and in the future.

The University Seminars played our part in the revival of free Wednesday Concerts in Faculty House. Under the leadership of Professors Susan Boynton and Magdalena Stern-Baczewska, Mid-Day Music @ Columbia offered wonderful live music to an audience comprised of Columbia University members and our community neighbors. The Concerts emerged from an earlier program established by Aaron Warner to honor his friend, Nobel Laureate and Professor of Physics Isidore Isaac Rabi. Both men were great lovers of music. David Martin of Faculty House continues to be generous in his support of the Mid-Day concerts. We all look forward to the 2016-2017 performances!

Robert Remez enlightened a rapt audience with his Schoff Lectures on The Good Listener: Behavioral Neuroscience Considers the Perception of Speech.

Our lineup for the next two lectures is:

Fall 2016         Professor Robert O’Meally, Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English, Columbia University

Fall 2017         Professor Edward Mendelson, Lionel Trilling Professor of the Humanities, Columbia University

Last year we created a new precedent, as the Seminar on Affect Studies held meetings in Columbia’s Global Center in Paris, as well as on campus.  We expect to see other Seminars convening their sessions in distant but relevant venues.

Seminars have no fixed lifetime. Some have lasted since the beginning of our program in the 1940s; others begin and go into abeyance after only a few years. This year, as in the past, we have seen some Seminars begin, and some end. After thirty-four years, the seminar on Genetic Epidemiology has ended. The seminar on Sexuality, Gender, Health, and Human Rights is also discontinued, due to time constraints on the chairs.  In both cases, our hope is that the leaders of these seminars will in due course come back with proposals to re-initiate their seminars.

In addition to the seminars, our office is responsible for the Leonard Hastings Schoff Memorial Lectures, the Annual Dinner and Tannenbaum Lecture, and the subvention of scholarly books and articles emerging from seminars. In all these matters we are assisted by our Advisory Board, chaired by Robert Remez, and made up of academicians who are knowledgeable about the University Seminars.

In 2015-2016, 90 seminars were active including three of the first five, which began meeting in 1945. Two new seminars held meetings: Disability, Culture, and Society and Society and Neuroscience. A seminar on Sustainable Finance is scheduled to begin meeting this fall.

The many conferences we sponsored or co-sponsored, and the books published this year with modest funding from the Seminars, are both listed  in the 2015-2016 Directory.

The Seminars continue to provide a unique venue for discussion among colleagues, who share an interest in a topic that is also of general importance. Scholars from Columbia and from neighboring universities and colleges continue to work together as well, making the Seminars one of Columbia’s most important centers of academic outreach.

Our central office and the seminars as well have again benefitted from the attention, kindness, and creative competence of our colleagues in Faculty House and University Events Management. We are particularly grateful to David Martin, Leslie Robinson, Emerald Currie, Leonard Zinnanti of Faculty House and Scott Wright and Joe Ricciutti of Events Management.