On Wednesday, October 9, 2013 Professor Jerome Cohen sat down with Professor Robert Barnett, Director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University, to discuss Columbia's programs and his involvement with Tibet since visiting Lhasa for the first time in 1987.
Over the last twenty six years, Professor Barnett has devoted his work to informing the public about developments in Tibet. Of his first visit there along with other foreign tourists in 1987, he said. “I suddenly realized it was up to us to collect information and pass it on.” In the late 1980s, Professor Barnett founded the Tibet Information Network, a news agency in London specifically focused on Tibet. In 1998, at the request of Professors James Seymour and Andrew Nathan, he traveled to Columbia University as a visiting scholar. At the time, although many universities still tended to treat Tibetan Studies as “marginal” and “exotic,” over the following years, at the urging of Professor Barnett and his colleagues, Columbia created a Master’s program and a Ph.D program in Modern Tibetan Studies, and is a leading force in the study of the region, including its cultural, religious, social and “geopolitical” dimensions. Professor Barnett oversees these programs.