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Farewell, Dean Nair

In the spring of 2007, I was toiling away to bring a certain Seattle hip-hop group to campus when a fellow AAAPC-er suggested I visit a certain staff member who could help me out. The suggestion was accompanied by much raving over his ability to connect with students in a way that most of the university administration simply can't.

This staff member was Ajay Nair, Associate Dean of Student Affairs (CC/SEAS), nestled away in his office (at the time) in the Intercultural Resource Center. The positive affirmations were true: I found in Dean Nair a rare specimen at Columbia--someone who could see students' points of view, who would help build the bridges between students and the guardians of Columbia's bureaucratic nightmare, and who knew the perils of advocating for a progressive
anything on campus. He also has a background in Asian American Studies--an undeniable plus. At that first meeting, we ended up talking for the better part of an hour about Asian Americans in hip-hop, mutual acquaintances (he knows a lot of people), and various goings-on at Columbia.

This past year, when a bunch of students launched the November hunger strike, we sat across from Dean Nair in tense negotiations, lamenting that we had to put him in that compromised position of representing the Other Side, but grateful nevertheless that he was still trying to help us out in whatever limited ways he could. While other admin brushed off our demands and scuttled away from demonstrations in underground tunnels, he took our concerns seriously and demonstrated genuine empathy for the seven hunger strikers. This past semester, he taught his first (and now, only) class in the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, titled "South Asians in the U.S." Nothing short of engrossing, the course seamlessly wove together academia, art, and activism, and I doubt DJ Rekha will set foot in Hamilton Hall again for quite some time.

This morning, I received an email from Chris Colombo:

Dear Student,

I am writing to inform you that Dr. Ajay Nair, Associate Dean of Student Affairs/Office of Multicultural Affairs will be returning to the University of Pennsylvania to assume the role of Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs later in July.

[...]

While Dr. Nair will be greatly missed, I know that he is excited to return to his home and serve in this valuable position for the University of Pennsylvania. In his new role, Dr. Nair will provide leadership for all aspects of student affairs and activities while also serving as a Faculty Fellow in the College Houses and Academic Services at the University of Pennsylvania.


Please join me in wishing Dr Nair and his family all the best as they pursue this exciting opportunity for his career.
While I can only imagine, I'm sure a lot of people cringed on reading these words. Dean Nair meant a lot to a lot of people, and he'll surely be missed at Columbia. I, for one, am now kicking myself for missing out on the opportunity to play basketball with him in Riverside Park (damn those Thursday afternoon naps that spin out of control). Many others will miss seeing his incredibly adorable kids, Rani and Krishna. And all will miss his warmth, passion, and dedication.

Best of luck to you, Dean Nair. (And congrats to Melinda Aquino, who will be taking over his position in the fall!)

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