NGO Petition for Carole Vance

March 17, 2014

John H. Coatsworth, Provost
Professor of International and Public Affairs and of History
Columbia University
205 Low Library
Mail Code 4313
New York, NY 10027

Dear Provost Coatsworth,

The undersigned represent an international group of human rights, public health, and sexual rights advocates and practitioners working for social justice. We are writing to express our extreme shock and dismay that Columbia University has terminated the position of Dr. Carole Vance. Signatories to this letter — activists, policy makers, and members of non-governmental organizations — have benefited significantly from Dr. Vance’s scholarship, and have often used her insights and analyses in our own work. We are concerned that Dr. Vance’s termination would harm the sexual health and rights work to which her contributions have been so important. Terminating Dr. Vance reflects badly upon Columbia University, and is especially hard to reconcile with Columbia’s dedication to being a “global university” engaged with the pressing problems of the world. We respectfully request that the decision be withdrawn, and Dr. Vance be allowed to continue her critical work within the auspices of your university.

Although she is an academic based in the United States, Dr. Vance has offered globally relevant analyses and insights: one of her great gifts is to write and teach in such a clear and open way that all of us could adapt her work as suitable and productive in our respective contexts. This global applicability, coupled with her keen insights in a field often marked as dangerous and highly contested, are two key elements motivating our support for Dr. Vance.

Gender and sexual rights activists are facing harsh legal developments around the world, such as the passage of restrictive sexual expression and anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria, as well as a major anti-feminist and anti-gay backlash in Russia and campaigns for ‘traditional values’ in the U.S. and globally. In this context, it is more important than ever to train advocates and activists in sexuality and rights-related scholarship in ways that are both complex and accessible. Dr. Vance’s scholarship, teaching methods, and mentoring are models for addressing these urgent challenges.

Dr. Vance has served as an informal adviser for many of us, opening up engagement with theories and histories of sexuality, gender, health, and reproductive rights in ways that are useful for law reform, program design, policy advocacy and community organizing. She has also served as an expert consultant and advisor to national and international organizations focusing on these issues. From 2009-2012, she was an expert advisor to a World Health Organization project on sexual health and human rights that included groundbreaking cross-regional work, and contributed more broadly to WHO’s work on sexual health.

Dr. Vance has made lasting contributions in these fields through her writing and through her teaching both at Columbia and throughout the world. For ten years, Dr. Vance taught international advocates and scholars in the Summer Institute on Sexuality and Culture at the University of Amsterdam, which she also co-directed for eight years. For more than a decade, she has taught in the Sexuality and Rights Institute held in India (for South Asian participants) and in Turkey (for participants from Africa, Latin America, Europe and Southeast and East Asia), also helping to design the curriculum for both Institutes. Dr. Vance’s collaboration with CREA, the New Delhi-based NGO, which organizes the institute, is an example of the best of academic and NGO partnerships. Through this work, Dr. Vance has reached many key advocates, programmers, and policy makers in over 75 countries; their courageous and creative work, in turn, is having a widespread impact in sexuality, health, and human rights work in their own regions.

Dr. Vance’s remarkable capacity to translate complex analytical scholarship, making it available to and productive for advocates outside of a university setting, goes beyond her work in these seminars. She also has an unremitting willingness to mentor, to advise, to be ‘on call’ for advocates when they face extraordinary challenges. This principled commitment to move the resources of the academy to the places where change often begins is among Dr. Vance’s notable characteristics: it is why she is invited to speak and teach in China, Mexico, India, Brazil, Vietnam, and many other countries, as well as in the U.S. Many academics come to lecture: only a few stick around long enough to understand the nature of the problems, and even fewer commit to long term and broad-based support for advocates. For these and many other reasons, we are dismayed to imagine Columbia undercutting its contribution to this work.

We understand that Dr. Vance’s dismissal may have something to do with the new financial model for the Mailman School of Public Health, which requires faculty members to raise a significant portion of their salaries (as much as 80%) through grants to keep their jobs. We also understand that U.S. government grants (for example, from the U.S. National Institutes of Health) primarily support research, which means that under Columbia’s new model, faculty members could devote only a limited amount of time to teaching and mentoring.

We are gravely concerned that Columbia’s new financial model for its Mailman School of Public Health makes it virtually impossible for faculty to collaborate with groups outside the U.S. on social justice and advocacy projects that they have originated. By design, it would not only shut out leading scholars, innovators, and mentors like Dr. Vance, but it would also sever our connections with Columbia and other U.S.-based universities that choose to follow suit. As advocates, policymakers, and programmers working with marginalized groups and on contested issues relating to sexuality, poverty, health and human rights, we ourselves are often marginalized from resources and from providing input into important debates both within and outside the university. We fear that Columbia’s new financial model threatens to further undercut vital partnerships that cross the divides between university and community, as well as jeopardize innovative and critical thinking in the academic world.

We hope that this letter conveys at least some measure of the dismay that Dr. Vance’s termination has generated among advocates, NGOs and policy organizations around the world. We thank you for your attention, and ask that you take appropriate measures to reverse the decision to terminate Dr. Vance’s position and to reinstate her as quickly as possible.

We would very much appreciate acknowledgement of receipt of this letter, and again, thank you for your consideration.



56 thoughts on “NGO Petition for Carole Vance

  1. Pingback: Injustice at Columbia: Power and public health | a paper bird

  2. I feel honoured to have had some knowledge shared with us by one who is so dedicated to issues of Equality and the understanding of gender justice.

    Programmes Officer
    Sexual Rights Centre

  3. Carole Vance is an excellent teacher, thinker, and social change maker. Universities need to value teaching and real world applications of theory as well as research.

  4. Dr. Carole Vance is a pioneering scholar and activist in the field of gender, sexuality, health and human rights. No doubt, she will continue to do great work and this move will be to the great detriment of Columbia University.

  5. I hope Columbia would reconsider, as Dr Vance’s contribution to learning and understanding on sexuality, health and rights particularly among gender and rights activists in the South has been so important. Sara Hossain, Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh

  6. We still have a long way to go in the strugle for sexuality and gender rights. I have gained a lot from Carole and hope Colombia would reconsider. Shweta, Mumbai , India.

  7. rvind Narrain, Advocate at Alternative Law Forum
    If the impact of scholarship is to be measured as transcending the limits of academia and making its way into the wider world, then Carol Vance’s work merits special mention in the field of gender and sexuality. Carol remains a model of how reserach , teaching and mentoring are all roles which can fuse to make a contribution to a field of learning and activism. The great contribution of Carol Vance is to influence an entire generation of LGBT as well as gender and sexuality activists by introducing Indian activists to theories of gender and sexualty. Carol taught the CREA Institute of Sexuality and Rights and through that yearly commitment influenced generations of LBGT activists in India. We were introduced to the work of Gayle Rubin and others through Carol’s inspiring lectures and found ourselves a language to describe what was going on. As far as sexuality activism in India is concerned, Carol Vance’s contribution is unparallleled.
    We hope that the University will reinstate , who is clearly one of the university’s treasures ( from a global point of view). to her rightful position..
    arvind narrain

  8. I am grateful to Carole Vance for having enlightened me with a new perspective on sexuality and human rights many years ago. I have been proud of being an a Columbia alumnus BECAUSE of academics like Carole Vance. This decision is shameful and unreasonable. It is just unbelievable that a university like Columbia cannot protect and value its talents and major intellectual assets.
    Stefano Fabeni
    Managing Director, Global Initiative for Sexuality and Human Rights
    Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights

  9. Academia should treasure such a pioneering professor and social changer.
    Dana Zhang
    Executive Director of Chinese Lala Alliance (CLA)
    Board Member of International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA)

  10. At the core, academic research should come full-circle and lend knowledge to benefit public policy decision making. Research like Dr Vance’s is critical to shaping policy agendas and Columbia should be proud to be represented by experts participating in the discussion.

  11. Christen Dobson
    Program Director
    International Human Rights Funders Group and
    graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs

  12. Jessica Horn, Consultant on women’s rights, social movements and health; African feminist writer and activist.

    I encountered Carole Vance first through her academic writing and then in person as a participant and then as a trainer at CREA’s Sexuality, Gender and Rights Institute. I believe strongly that universities should continue to support what they are mandated to support- the production of knowledge aimed at understanding and helping shape our world towards the better, quality teaching that opens new vistas of thinking, and knowledge resources that can be accessed and are shared outside of the university gates- because universities prepare for and help us reflect on our world. Fundraisers raise funds. Professors research/write, teach and inspire. Carole Vance did all three and has offered her deep academic knowledge and years of groundbreaking academic thinking not just to Columbia students but to international activists.

  13. Dr. Vance is a shining light guiding the way for all those currently studying or working in the fields of gender, human rights and sexuality. She is a hero and mentor to so many of us. Her lifelong work should be revered and treasures by Columbia, which has had her dedication and loyalty all these years.

    Please reverse your decision. Dr. Vance is not yet done.

    Mari Eva Mendes
    Co-founder, Core Committee Member of WhaQ! LBT Women in Bangalore
    Trustee of Maya For Women, Bangalore India

  14. International Human Rights Lawyer on Sexual and Reproductive Health Law Policy and Research. (Human Rights Adviser, WHO 2002-2012)

  15. Carole was the best professor I encountered in my years of Columbia grad school, in two schools. Simply the best.

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