Since 1754, Columbia University has had a male president — but that’s about to change. The University announced Wednesday that Nemat (Minouche) Shafik, a leading economist and author, will become its 20th president and first woman leader.
Since 2007, Shafik, 60, has served at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), first as director before being promoted to president and vice chancellor in 2017.
In an announcement from Columbia’s Board of Trustees, Shafik was praised for her character and dedication to sparking change.
“What set Minouche apart as a candidate was her unshakable confidence in the vital role institutions of higher education can and must play in solving the world’s most complex problems,” the board said. “Like all of us in the Columbia community, she believes that in order to bring about meaningful change, we have a collective obligation to combine our distinctive intellectual capacities with groups and organizations beyond the academy.”
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Shafik and her family immigrated to the U.S. after losing everything in the “political upheaval of the 1960s,” Shafik says in an introductory video for the Columbia community.
“We moved to Savannah, Georgia when I was just 4 years old. I attended lots of schools as we moved around the American south. I also at that time discovered local libraries,” she shares. “I love to read and that was my path for discovering the world. My father always said to me, ‘they can take everything away from you except for your education.'”
Shafik’s father, an environmental scientist and professor, and mother, a teacher and head of a school, instilled the value of education in her very early on. This played a role in her love for learning, as she went on to receive a BA at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, her master of science at LSE, and her Ph.D. at the University of Oxford.
By age 36, Shafik had become the youngest-ever vice president of the World Bank in the 1990s. She also taught at Georgetown University and the Wharton Business School.
Shafik succeeds Lee C. Bollinger, who served as Columbia’s president for 21 years and announced his plans for departure at the end of the 2022-2023 school year.
“I feel like, if I had looked all over the world for the best person to next lead Columbia, I would have chosen Minouche Shafik,” Bollinger said in a statement. “Her expertise, her experiences — both personal and professional — and her general outlook on academic and public life make her an inspired appointment.”
Shafik says she’s excited about the opportunity to explore other points of views and different approaches to problems as she embarks on her new journey as president.
“That’s what I love about Columbia. Whether it’s tackling challenges like climate change or a global public health crisis, or exploring the foundations of philosophy, science, and the arts through the core curriculum, Columbia thrives as a center for ideas and the advancement of knowledge because it is a rich, diverse community where everyone has something to contribute.”
As president, Shafik will have the responsibility of upholding the university’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion; Columbia boasts having the first African American advocacy group on a multi-racial campus in the U.S., the first gay-rights advocacy group on any college campus, and the fourth largest international student population of any U.S. university.
Columbia joins universities like Harvard, Dartmouth, and George Washington University, which have all elected their first woman president to start later this year