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Indian-American philosopher gets top faculty rank at Columbia University

March 10, 2007 10:36 IST

An Indian-American post-colonial theorist, who describes herself as a 'para-disciplinary, ethical philosopher,' has been appointed to the highest faculty rank at Columbia University, the school announced on Friday.

"Alan Brinkley and I are very pleased to announce the appointment of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak -- Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities and director of the Center for Comparative Literature and Society -- as University Professor, the institution's highest faculty rank," Columbia University president Lee C Bollinger said in a brief statement.

"This appointment, approved by the trustees at their March meeting, and effective on July 1, recognises exceptional scholarly merit and distinguished service to Columbia," he said.

Chakravorty was born in Kolkata in 1942 to middle class parents.

According to Emory University, where she has taught, she belonged to the 'first generation of Indian intellectuals after independence', a more interesting perspective she claims, than that of the Midnight's Children, who were "born free by chronological accident."

Chakravorty, 65, did her undergraduate in English at the University of Calcutta, graduating with first class honours.

She borrowed money to come to the US in the early 1960's to do graduate work at Cornell, which she chose because she "knew the names of Harvard, Yale and Cornell, and thought half of them were too good for me."

In her own words she "fell into comparative literature" because it was the only department that offered her money.

Chakravorty received her MA in English from Cornell and taught at the University of Iowa while working on her Ph.D.

According to the University of California Irvine, she has also taught at Brown, Texas-Austin, UC-Santa Cruz, University Paul Valery, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Stanford, University of British Columbia, Goethe University in Frankfurt, Riyadh University, Emory, and the University of Science and Technology (Hong Kong).

Before arriving at Columbia, she was Andrew W Mellon Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh.

"It is fitting that Professor Spivak will now serve the university as a whole rather than a specific faculty or department. Not only does her world-renowned scholarship -- grounded in deconstructivist literary theory -- range widely from critiques of post-colonial discourse to feminism, Marxism, and globalisation, her lifelong search for fresh insights and understanding has transcended the traditional boundaries of discipline while retaining the fire for new knowledge that is the hallmark of a great intellect." Bollinger said.

"Ever mindful of language's importance to breaking down divisive cultural barriers, she has even enrolled in undergraduate Arabic, Cantonese, and Mandarin courses while teaching her regular courses here," he said.

Bollinger said that Professor Spivak's commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship, at the most creative levels, and a life of civic engagement, including in her native India, embodies Columbia's mission of teaching, scholarship, and service to the broader world community.

"Through her new role as university professor, I hope and expect more students will be able to experience her imaginative mind and spirit," he said.

"It is especially appropriate, therefore, that Professor Spivak will deliver the university lecture," Bollinger said.

Spivak will deliver the university lecture Thinking about the Humanities' on March 21, in Low Memorial Library Rotunda of Columbia.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York