- Annual Enrollment:
- 752 (2013 incoming class)
- Work experience:
- 3 years
- % International:
- Employment sectors:
- Public, private, and nonprofit sectors
- Degrees offered:
- Master of International Affairs, Master of Public Administration, PhD in Sustainable Development
- Info here
Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) is the most global public policy school. With a rigorous curriculum that instills core analytical skills and six practical, career-oriented concentration areas, SIPA prepares the next generation of world leaders to address critical issues.
SIPA’s transnational perspective allows students to explore global policy areas and apply global best practices to local issues. Fifty percent of our students come from outside the United States, creating a vibrant, international environment. The SIPA alumni community — more than 19,000 active leaders in the private, public, and NGO sectors — spreads across 155 countries.
The intellectual breadth and depth of SIPA is driven by its world-class faculty. Our concentration areas include economic and political development, energy and environment, human rights and humanitarian policy, international finance and economic policy, international security policy, and urban and social policy. The School also serves as home to seven transnational, issue-based centers and institutes including the Center on Global Economic Governance, the Center on Global Energy Policy, the Center for Conflict Resolution, and the Center for Development Economics and Policy.
SIPA is further strengthened by the resources of one of the world’s great universities. Students at SIPA may engage with cross-campus student organizations, attend a stunning array of events and lectures across campus, and take courses or joint degrees at any of Columbia’s 16 uniformly excellent schools.
Importantly, SIPA draws upon the convening power and dynamism of New York City: a global hub of business, diplomacy, science, and culture. New York is an exciting place to live and study, and it attracts people and ideas from around the world. That excitement infuses SIPA’s campus and classrooms, affirming the connection between the research and curriculum at SIPA and what global leaders are addressing today.
To receive information directly from the Admissions Department, click here.
How does Columbia SIPA conduct policy education in a world of constant change?
I direct our program in International Security Policy (ISP), which focuses not just on today’s headlines but on problems that have a lot of continuity in their basic nature.
Some people in this field thought for a while that conflict among powers was a thing of the past. It turns out it’s not—in the last few years we’ve seen the development of a little new Cold War with Russia and Ukraine, and we see emerging conflict with China.
In addition to understanding what’s new and what will be different in the future, students need to know how to deal with problems that come back for deep underlying reasons. They need to know history, which enriches their understanding of current events, and be sensitive to how political, military, economic, and other issues interact with each other.
We teach students how to develop solutions for particular problems based on an understanding of general patterns of cause and effect over time. You can tailor the response to a challenge in different ways, but there are a number of constant truths that should inform the choices.
Significant changes in the world can also create opportunities. Within our program, for example, we’re developing a cyber-conflict initiative because information technology has become an essential aspect of national security and modern society. So even as we focus on the causes of war and political violence, which are old problems, we pay attention to new manifestations, like cyber-conflict, as they develop.
How does SIPA prepare students for the world beyond graduate school?
SIPA graduates are going on to operate in the real world, not the ivory tower. We give them skills—technical skills, analytical skills, managerial skills—that will prepare them for both their first job after graduation and for a 30-year career in which they’re likely to have different kinds of jobs.
Individually and collectively, our faculty draw on a combination of academic study and their own professional experience to prepare students to understand and deal with practical problems.
Our students also benefit greatly from Capstone workshops for clients like the State Department and the RAND Corporation, access to visiting experts, and programs at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies.
What does a typical graduate do?
Graduates of the International Security Policy Program go to the defense policy arena, to the intelligence community, to governments in the U.S. and abroad, to peacekeeping, to think tanks, to humanitarian work. In the United States, SIPA alumni include the secretary of the Air Force and current and former assistant secretaries of defense and assistant secretaries of state in charge of political, military, and foreign policy matters. Our graduates also hold comparable positions for other nations as well as at the UN and other international organizations.
The number of graduates pursuing fascinating work in very different areas—that’s what’s special about the ISP program and all of SIPA’s programs. There’s no cookie-cutter model; the curriculum is flexible enough so students can chart their own courses while they learn the basics that are important for everyone.
Paul Lagunes, an assistant professor of international and public affairs, is a native of Mexico City who earned his BA at Duke and MA and Ph.D. in political science at Yale, where he also spent the 2012–13 academic year as a postdoctoral associate.
What does it mean to study corruption?
First, a little context. My specialty is Latin American politics with a focus on urban corruption, especially as it affects an urban government’s civil servants. My work takes two tracks—uncovering how corruption works on the ground, and figuring out what to do about it, which includes testing mechanisms that may help fight corruption.
You’ve collaborated with two local urban governments in Mexico. What have you found, generally speaking?
Some of the corruption is surprising, if not depressing. Corruption can affect every single part of public administration, from the public cemetery where bodies were disinterred so that the burial space could be reused or sold to turning police cars into unlicensed taxicabs. I was impressed by how many parts of government were affected.
One lesson is that corruption is in equilibrium when you have powerful interest groups, flawed laws, vitiated bureaucrats, a captured judiciary, and a climate of impunity. The climate of impunity is particularly important, because corruption is seldom punished. At most, a corrupt official will be fired, but even that tends to be the exception.
What did you find when you focused on monitoring?
In Querétaro [one of the research sites], the question was what role monitoring can have in fighting corruption. I used a field experiment or randomized control trial to test two versions of the world. In one version, officials know they are being monitored by an independent observer, who’s there to investigate corruption activity. In another version, they don’t know the monitor is in place. This model gives us a glimpse into what the world looks like when we have anticorruption agencies at work, versus not.
There’s an added twist to my work. I show how effective monitoring is with and without the possibility of punishment. The findings suggest that transparency, public scrutiny, even shaming is not enough—the watchful eye must be paired with a cracking whip. If you look at Mexico, India, Brazil, and Peru, all of which are democracies weighed down by corruption, relying on transparency has not been enough. What’s missing is frying the big fish.
Do your findings make you at all optimistic or pessimistic?
It can get depressing, some of the things you find. If a police officer is supposed to regulate traffic and fight crime, I’m concerned when that doesn’t happen because he’s pocketed a bribe. When an official is supposed to regulate construction so buildings are safe, but doesn’t because of corruption, that’s a major problem. These are abuses of public trust that I care about.
I’m conditionally optimistic as long as civil society—the press, academia, and the public—maintains sensitivity to corruption and protests it and demands that things move on the right path. But right now I feel that fight is vulnerable.