Mission Statement

The University Seminars bring scholars and other experts together five to ten times a year to consider a subject or an issue of practical or theoretical importance. Every seminar should include members from more than one academic department, and from outside as well as inside Columbia. Seminars admit their members, non-Columbia associates, and guests by individual invitation. Participation is voluntary and unpaid.

The University Seminars were established to transcend and enrich the departmental discipline on which all our great universities thrive. They also provide a flexible way to concentrate the intellectual energies of Columbia and its neighbors on subjects that may not find a suitable place in a department. In the words of Professor Frank Tannenbaum, who established the Seminar movement: “University departments are not departments but compartments and, classically, progress is made at the interstices of the traditional disciplines.”

As independent entities, the Seminars can take intellectual risks the University might not otherwise assume. They provide something every great institution needs, a small area where activities are “fast, cheap, and out of control.” Columbia is one of the few universities – or businesses – with the courage to institutionalize such independence.

The Seminars link Columbia with the intellectual resources of the surrounding communities. This outreach offers to both worlds the fruits of interaction and mutual criticism, as well as the other advantages of close contacts: a place to “network,” establish ties and exchange scholarly or professional news.

For the benefit of a broader audience, the Seminars establish their own public sphere by helping to publish papers delivered at Seminar sessions. Each seminar also has a web page. To encourage candor in discussion, seminars may exercise discretion over the contents and distribution of their minutes.

The Seminars exist for the pursuit of new knowledge and understanding and for the education of professors and other experts. Where appropriate, seminars also admit graduate students. In general, the seminars impose no single format. Some may be tight, restricted discussion groups, and others broad-based lecture series.


Seminars are closed to the general public; however, seminars welcome new members, both from Columbia and from the larger community. To be invited to attend a seminar, please write to the seminar chair expressing your interest and qualifications in the seminar’s area of study.