Columbia University names Egypt-born Nemat Shafik new president, first women to hold top job

Columbia University has named Egyptian-born Nemat Shafik as its president, becoming the first woman to lead the renowned U.S. educational institution.

Shafik, known by her nickname of Minouche, will become the twentieth president of Columbia University on July 1, the institution said in a statement on Wednesday.

Columbia University’s board of trustees called Shafik “the perfect candidate” in a letter to the Columbia community, describing her as a “brilliant and able global leader, a community builder, and a preeminent economist, who understands” higher education “and the world beyond it.”

Other elite universities including Dartmouth, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania had also appointed women as their presidents in recent months.

Shafik, 60, has been president of the London School of Economics (LSE) since 2017, becoming also the first woman to lead the renowned UK educational institution.

She has extensive experience in financial institutions across the globe. She began her career at the World Bank, becoming its youngest-ever vice president at the age of 36.

Shafik hold the position of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) deputy managing director from 2011 to 2014. She was also named as Bank of England’s deputy governor from 2014 to 2017, where she sat on all the monetary, financial and prudential policy committees and was responsible for a balance sheet of over £500 billion.

She has served on and chaired numerous boards. She currently serves as a Trustee of the British Museum, the Supervisory Board of Siemens, the Council of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and the Economy Honours Committee.

In 2015, Shafik was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. In July 2020, she was made a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords.

In the letter, the Columbia University trustees further wrote that what set Shafik apart beyond her accomplishments was “her unshakable confidence in the vital role institutions of higher education can and must play in solving the world’s most complex problems.”

Shafik’s family came to the U.S. from Egypt in the 1960s when she was four years old. She attended schools in Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina before earning her undergraduate degree in economics and politics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She then earned a master’s degree in economics from the LSE and a Ph.D. in economics at Oxford University.

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