The Graduate Program

Messages from the DGS

  • Message for Fall 2020

Message for Fall 2020
I write to introduce myself*, as the new DGS, and to give you an overview of where we are (currently) in advance of Fall 2020. Columbia has announced that we will have a ‘tri-semester’ model for next year <>. Columbia imagines partial student presence on campus–no more than 60% of undergraduates; some unknown proportion of graduate students <>. With that background, I want to let you know how how we are going to proceed in the History department.


The curriculum for the coming AY is up at our website <>. You can click on Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Summer 2021 to get the pdf listing all courses. Here is a list of all graduate seminars and colloquiums <>. We have graduate courses in all three semesters and all fields are working closely to ensure that all graduate cohorts (G1-3), that normally take courses, have adequate course offerings throughout the tri-semester academic year. We are introducing a new Methods seminar, History in Action, in Fall 2020 led by Prof Matt Jones. This seminar will be a modular and practical, with short 2-3 weeks sessions on Digital History, Data Visualization, Process of Writing, History of Columbia’s History Department and more. We recommend that incoming (and continuing) cohorts consider this skills-building seminar. You can see the working syllabus <>. We think this course will be a good addition to your programs given the unusual circumstances.
You can begin on Monday, August 3, to register for classes, and you will have two full weeks, through Friday, August 14 to do so.


TAing in Fall 2020:
For the Fall, A&S has given all instructors, including graduate student teaching assistants, the ability to choose their preferred teaching modalities. In addition, instructors who choose to teach remotely may do so from anywhere within the US (the status of international remote instruction remains up in the air…). Note that it is not clear whether or not this flexibility will continue into the Spring. Cailin Hong and Aleksandra Amanda Jakubczak-Gabay (the CTL Liaison and the Lead Teaching Fellow) have put together an excellent “Covid-19 Appendix: Resources & Issues” to the Teaching memo that is distributed every semester. I am grateful to both for their leadership and work on this. You can access the memo here <>. There is an added complication of payments being possible for remote work, if instructor/TA is located outside of US. We have not heard back from GSAS as of yet. We understand the urgency; we will let you know as soon as we have heard anything.

TF Covid-Relief:
Due to the pandemic, all archival, research, and writing plans have been disrupted. At the departmental level, we have tried our best to support the graduate community, including creating a special fund during last Spring semester. For Fall 2020, we have petitioned GSAS to provide TF-release for all who have TF’d for 5 semesters or more. As well as for students who were on research leave (df, or external funding) in the Spring and had their work interrupted. (Note that this would not create extra semesters of funding. It would simply turn a term in which a student would normally be teaching into a term in which the student is not teaching, similar to teaching relief under the top-up option for outside fellowships.) Please note that this just remains a proposal.


As previously stated, the Department’s recommendation remains that if you wish to defer, you should do so for the full Academic Year. The deadline for deferral is Aug 15th, 2020 <>. As GSAS has assured you, your place & terms of admissions are guaranteed for the next AY. However, we understand that you may wish to or have extenuating circumstances which require you to begin the program in Fall 2020 remotely. Please work closely with your advisor, or reach out to me, to make your decisions. If you choose to defer until Spring 2021, you can choose again, at that point, to defer until Fall 2021.

Since all of our courses will be accessible remotely if necessary, incoming students can register and take courses remotely without entering the country. The decision about whether or not to come to Columbia is not, therefore, linked to the ability to register for classes. That decision is, however, affected by a number of other factors:

1) Visas
The ICE rulings <>can be read as continuing to force a de-facto or de-jure moratorium on new visas, either by not having consular services available or not issuing new F1s. We have just sent you a standard letter you can include with your application which states that Columbia does NOT have “online only” instruction for Fall 2020. Further, there remains a travel ban in effect from EU to US <–travel-from-europe.html>.

2) Housing
The move-in date for Fall 2020 has been extended to 10/15. The Housing office has assured us that there is an October deadline as well for Housing applications for Spring semester. Students who defer for the Fall may apply spring housing starting October 15. There is no penalty or fee associated with applying for spring semester.

3) Stipends
GSAS is unclear whether they can pay stipend to the students outside US who do not have an activated visa, US addresses and/or bank accounts–ie. have not acquired a visa, crossed the border and established a residency/bank account in NYC. This means that while you can register and take classes, you may only receive your stipend after you physically join us in NYC. Not to worry, your stipend will remain untouched and secure until you are here.

Orientation Day:
We will be hosting our virtual-Orientation over 3-4 days. I will circulate a schedule in a short while.


Fall 2020 Agenda:
I am aiming to continue the important work began by the chair, Prof Adam Kosto, the Committee on Inclusion and Diversity (CID) and the out-going DGS Prof Natasha Lightfoot (Thank you!) of improving communication across all levels of the department and foregrounding questions of equity and transparency. I will work with GHA leadership (and I welcome input and ideas from any graduate worker) to institute and hold venues for dialogue, learning, and community-building.

This has been a challenging couple of months, and the challenges will surely continue into the Fall and beyond. We are committed, however, to providing you with a program that will allow you to meet your intellectual goals. We will all need to be patient and learn to embrace uncertainty, but I am confident that we can make this a productive year for the PhD program. I look forward to working with you toward that end. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions, concerns, or ideas about how we can make things work better.