December 23, 2021

Earlier this year, Dean Merit E. Janow announced that she would step down this December 31, concluding her eight-and-a-half years of leadership of SIPA.

Since Janow took office in July 2013, she established ambitious goals and achieved them. SIPA has strengthened its faculty, created exciting new opportunities for students, pursued innovative research, and engaged with the world in a dynamic and impactful way. She also conducted and completed two capital campaigns that raised more than $300 million, providing SIPA with a strong financial foundation and a bright future.

During her tenure, SIPA’s prominence among global public policy schools has increased substantially. The School today is considered among the very best of its kind as a direct result of Janow’s vision, dedication, and effort.

SIPA News recently spoke with Janow about her time in the corner office. The interview, which can be found below, has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

You can also read an overview of her accomplishments at

SIPA News: You have been at Columbia and SIPA since the mid-1990s and dean for eight-plus years. With respect to education, research, and public engagement, you have focused on building on the School’s defining strengths and also expanding into the adjacent subject areas. Thinking about all these things and related topics—from initiatives and centers to faculty to the curriculum—what growth and change aspects stand out in your mind above the rest?

Dean Janow: Well, I was privileged to be the first dean in our nearly 75-year history to lead SIPA as a fully independent school. My immediate predecessor, John Coatsworth, was able to work with President Bollinger to create this independence. It was a long time coming and gave us some freedoms that were important in terms of public perception and leadership flexibility, but also the requirement to build certain foundations that did not exist.

As dean of an independent SIPA, we were able to develop faculty governance, set our own priorities, and control our finances. It has been a wonderful period to be dean of SIPA. We have been able to move forward in exciting ways and pursue actions that were and are important for our future.

In the context of this greater independence, what priorities have you pursued with respect to faculty?

It would be difficult to imagine a school of international and public affairs without a very strong program around international security and foreign policy. These areas have been defining strengths at Columbia and SIPA for many, many years. When we think about Columbia’s expertise in areas like political psychology, nuclear theory, international relations, and other areas, we have been fortunate to have outstanding senior scholars who have and will continue to contribute—they are fantastic colleagues who we hugely value. But it is also true that we needed to build the next generation.

One of the things that we have done is really prepare ourselves for the future in international security and foreign policy with faculty additions. We recruited Tom Christensen, who is a China expert and a security expert with deep policy experience. We recruited Keren Yarhi-Milo, now head of the Saltzman Institute, who is very much in the tradition of Robert Jervis on political psychology. We have recruited Stephen Biddle, a great scholar of international strategic studies. And we recruited Tamar Mitts, who is also bringing a wonderful bridge between public policy and data science. This is in addition to several cybersecurity experts who we have brought in as research scholars.

That is just one significant example of how we have built additional strengths on top of our existing foundation in an area in which we are known to be strong, but where we have been equipping SIPA for the future.

Have you enhanced other areas of study in the same fashion, or perhaps in a different fashion?

Not every school, even in the top echelon, has the emphasis that SIPA does on energy and the environment. It is another really remarkable strength of our school and our university. At SIPA we offer a PhD in Sustainable Development, a master’s in Environmental Science and Policy, and our MIA and MPA programs with an Energy and Environment concentration.

It is also an area where we have been able to support our faculty in exciting ways. One of the roles of a dean is to help faculty develop their own ambitions and creativity in order to maintain hubs of excellence in convening and research. Over these years we have been able to support Jason Bordoff, the founder and director of the Center on Global Energy Policy, to grow the Center. We established the Center for Environmental Economics and Policy with Wolfram Schlenker, who is our current vice dean, and Douglas Almond. We have supported the Center for Development Economics and Policy, headed by Eric Verhoogen and Kiki Pop-Eleches, and we created the Raj Center on Indian Economic Policies led by Arvind Panagariya, among others.

When we talk about these and other areas of strength, we have constantly asked ourselves how can we build up our research capacity? We have done this by bringing in other experts and senior research scholars, developing projects, and convening experts and leaders from around the world, for example.

Editor’s note: Dean Janow also cited additional program areas, which are explored in more detail on this website.

Are there examples of growth and change that, in your mind, have been explicitly for the benefit of students?

Columbia and SIPA have always attracted extraordinary individuals and offered them a superb education.

In my time as dean, we have prioritized financial aid for our students. It has been a personal priority for me and a large portion of our two capital campaigns. The increase in financial aid has been significant—aid for master’s students grew 82 percent, from $8.4 million in FY14 to $15.3 million in FY21. This year’s financial aid budget is over $16.8 million, which is a doubling of financial aid in eight years. That has been good, but it is still not enough. In addition to raising more funds, we also restructured the way we deliver it in order to support our students, and I am glad that we have been able to do that.

Another, more recent development is that a number of our programs are now STEM eligible, which is very helpful—particularly for our international students. Nearly 50 percent of our students are now pursuing STEM-eligible degrees.

We have continued to refresh and enhance individual programs as well. For example, we are a powerhouse in economics, and we recognized that our finance-oriented students wanted to gain a deeper grounding around central banking and financial policy. For that reason, we brought in leading experts on central banking and financial policy, and we are engaged in additional collaborations with institutions and corporations around the world.

In addition, we are trying to bring different fields together in unique ways. For example, if your interests are oriented toward security and also finance, you can now take courses and work on projects that will address financial stability and cyber risk. This is true for many areas of study at SIPA where students can pursue unique and timely combinations of areas and focus on applied solutions.

What about changes outside the academic curriculum?

Our young professionals want to really make a difference in the world and many also want to be entrepreneurial. So we created the Dean’s Public Policy Challenge, which links data and technology and applied solutions to this entrepreneurial spirit. The Dean’s Challenge also encourages teamwork in the process. Many projects have launched as a result of the Challenge and are active around the world and have an impact along many different avenues. We have also offered students many other opportunities to experiment and think about career pathways.

Are there achievements during your tenure that are especially meaningful to you on a personal level?

I see myself as a builder. I like building programs at SIPA and across fields and the University. It has been satisfying to try new things such as our activities in data science and public policy, entrepreneurship, our expanded focus on key policy areas that have global and regional impacts, and build new degrees such as our soon-to-be launched mid-career Global Leadership MPA program.

I am grateful for these many years to have had early and substantial support from many individuals at Columbia and from foundations such as the Carnegie Corporation, the NASDAQ Educational Foundation, as well as corporations.

And most importantly, I am also very grateful for the support that I have had from individuals—our main support base—and the members of our advisory board. Remarkable individuals have supported student fellowships; research focused on economic areas, sustainability, security studies, ongoing programs around China; and helped us inaugurate our Raj Center on Indian Economic Policies and our Kent Global Leadership Program on Conflict Resolution—to just name a few areas.

So in a word, it has been a joy to have the support from individuals and foundations, to build these vibrant programs, support the strong leadership of our faculty, continue to support our students, to see the myriad ways that our ideas are taken out into the world, and to attract remarkable leaders to our campus from around the world.

How have you seen the SIPA community evolve and change over your time here, as a professor and more recently as dean?

There are lots of ways in which our community has changed over time, and I think we have kept up with the times in important ways. We have always had a global perspective here, but the way our faculty and our courses bring that global and interdisciplinary problem-solving perspective into the classrooms and into the lives of students has grown and pretty much permeates SIPA in every respect.

We have seen more students from China and India in the last decade, more interest in advanced data skills, greater expectations from our students that their careers will span public and private sector and NGO professional directions. Now we are pretty equally split amongst careers in government, NGOs, and the private sector. We are still sending people into government, at all levels, but we are evolving as the world evolves and career aspirations are dynamically evolving as well.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and related issues have gained heightened visibility in recent years. How has SIPA addressed this during your tenure?

Earlier this year I made the announcement that we are going to hire a diversity officer, and we have started that process. We have also formed a new steering committee and we have revamped our existing diversity committee. We have tried to advance the diversity of our faculty through some very deliberate faculty hiring, some of which has been successful and some of which has not. This is clearly an area that needs to continue to be a high priority.

The bigger point is that in these years we have really given the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion set of issues an altogether new sense of primacy at SIPA through a series of concrete actions that are being designed for the short, medium, and longer terms.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is on everyone's mind and it needs to be an ongoing priority for every institution. At SIPA it is a whole-of-school endeavor. We want to create an internal culture that is welcoming and supportive. We want to be a place that celebrates the contributions of a diverse student body and faculty and staff to achieve our intellectual mission and to permeate our shared culture. We need to reflect not just in our environment but also with respect to the types of areas that we think about—at the School, domestically, and internationally. This is an important endeavor that has come out of our community and I am sure it will be ongoing.

You mentioned former dean John Coatsworth and his work to make SIPA independent. Another former dean, John Ruggie, is credited with increasing the number of international students at SIPA. When we look back on your years as dean, what do you think Dean Merit Janow might be remembered for?

The question of one’s legacy is the sort of thing you leave to other people to say about you.

But here we are, an independent school financially, that has moved forward on many fronts, completed two capital campaigns, set important priorities and advanced them, and positioning itself for the future in new and important ways.

We have brought in new areas of training and research such as data analytics, ESG and sustainability, while deepening our focus on international security, economic development, energy and the environment, urban policy, human rights, and key regions of the world such as China, India, and Brazil.

Just as important, we have collaborated with other parts of Columbia and we engaged with the world in powerful ways to make a difference.

We are seen as a place of dynamism and of building solutions in our key areas.

These are powerful pieces and we do not yet know where things are going to end up.

But these elements certainly have propelled us into the absolute top tier of schools of our kind in the world.

You are stepping down as dean but remaining at SIPA. Beyond some time for yourself, what’s next?

The world is really in a period of dynamic change in areas that I have been working on throughout my professional life. Throughout my academic, business, and policy career, there are a host of highly visible issues that will continue to be front-page topics, including the economic relationships between the United States and Asia, especially with China and Japan; the challenges of international trade and investment, data governance, and cybersecurity; the frictions that are occurring between very different economic and regulatory systems on a host of really important economic trade issues (digital economy, climate, and finance). During the year ahead and beyond, I look forward to getting even more deeply involved intellectually and in policy and business around these areas.

Do you have any advice for your successor, whoever that ends up being?

I am happy to be helpful to the University and new dean, if asked. Tell them to give me a call and I'll share ideas.