On Thursday morning, Columbia President Lee Bollinger announced he will step down at the end of the 2022–23 academic year.
After 20 years, Lee C. Bollinger is stepping down as President of Columbia University. In an email sent to the Columbia community this morning, Bollinger announced that he will be leaving his position at the University in June 2023, making the upcoming academic year his last at Columbia. The full text of Bollinger’s statement can be found below.
Bollinger has served in his role as University President since 2002. He had previously served as the President of the University of Michigan from 1996–2002, after serving as Dean of its Law School from 1987–1994, and as Provost of Dartmouth College from 1994–1996. In addition to serving as University President, Bollinger is also an alumnus, having graduated from Columbia Law School in 1971.
Bollinger’s legacy as President of Columbia began with his establishment of the World Leader’s Forum in 2003. Since its inaugural year, the University has invited over 300 heads of state, intellectuals, and world leaders to lead year-round discussions centered around pressing global issues, giving Columbia students, researchers, and faculty the unique opportunity to engage in conversations with some of the world’s most powerful people. From His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to Former President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Bollinger’s speaker series brought in a range of perspectives, approaches to solving problems, and cultures to Columbia’s campus.
Under Bollinger’s leadership, Columbia has become one of New York City’s largest private landowners. For nearly his entire presidency, Bollinger has been immersed in the creation of the Manhattanville campus, a 17-acre development located north of Columbia’s main campus in West Harlem, which he first announced in 2003. The Manhattanville campus undoubtedly plays a major role in Bollinger’s legacy as University President, though it has been mired in years of controversy. The construction of the Manhattanville campus was met with resistance from the local Harlem and University communities, particularly when the project was estimated to displace as many 400 residents and 1,600 jobs. Later, it was announced that the University would utilize eminent domain to seize property from local businesses in order to construct the campus.
According to a statement from Columbia’s Board of Trustees, the University has since worked to collaborate with these surrounding communities to offer support in the fields of education and housing, and to “build alliances that are creating vital bonds with our neighbors and defining a new era of collaboration and progress.” The Manhattanville campus has progressed in its development and currently houses the Columbia Business School, the Lenfest Center for the Arts, the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, and the new Columbia Climate School. In their official statement on his departure, Columbia’s Board of Trustees called the Manhattanville campus a reflection of Bollinger’s “unwavering commitment to academic excellence.”
Beyond his work to open the Manhattanville campus, Bollinger will be remembered for his revitalization of Columbia’s budget and the University’s significant diversification under his tenure. Since 2002, he has raised more than $13 billion for Columbia scholarships, research, capital projects, and endowments. Further, as noted in the statement from Columbia’s Board of Trustees, the University now provides financial aid to almost 60% of its students and boasts his cultivation of a student body with “some of the largest cohorts from underrepresented groups.”
In recent years, Bollinger’s tenure has also been marked by the University’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July 2021, a Bwog investigation revealed that Bollinger had spent the previous summer pressuring Columbia’s faculty to teach in-person during the Fall 2020 semester, despite the ongoing pandemic, with a particular emphasis on non-tenure-track faculty. This was in direct contrast with the public refusal to encourage faculty to teach in-person by Columbia College Dean James Valentini, who announced he will be stepping down from the College this coming June.
Academically, Bollinger’s expertise on the First Amendment has been continually reflected in his tenure at the University. Under his leadership, Columbia launched the Knight First Amendment Institute, as well as Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, with the goal of studying freedom of speech, expression, press, and information on a global scale. Additionally, his undergraduate course, “First Amendment Values,” has been a staple of the University’s curriculum for many years. In their statement, Columbia’s Board of Trustees shared that after his departure, Bollinger plans to continue “teaching in various capacities around the University.”
While Bollinger did not outline specific goals for the remainder of his tenure as President, he did write, “with so much to do in the remaining months, there is, of course, no time to rest.”
The University Board of Trustees intends to form a search committee to appoint a successor to President Bollinger in the coming months.
Statement from President Bollinger sent to Columbia community members on Thursday, April 14, at 10:57 am:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:
The time has come for me to say that the next academic year will be my last as president. I have informed the Trustees that I will step down on June 30, 2023.
I cannot begin to express what it has meant to me to serve in this role for this magnificent University for over two decades. Certainly, it has been a defining experience of my life. It has also been an especially high pleasure to do so at the beginning of the new century and in a period of rising intellectual excellence across the institution. No university in the world is more committed to the life of the mind or possessed of the will to bring knowledge and ideas to the service of humanity. Columbia is remarkably agile, creative, fresh, and experimental. I am certain that the conditions are present for an even more brilliant future in the decades ahead. And I will leave confident that our potential and aspirations will be realized.
For myself, I entered academic life nearly 50 years ago believing that being a professor is a noble calling, and, so, I am thrilled to return to that mission full-time. I am profoundly grateful to everyone for their partnership and friendship, but I am especially thankful to my wife, Jean, whose contributions within and through Columbia have been many, whose life as an artist has been made at times somewhat more difficult by mine, and whose very existence makes me a better person.
With so much to do in the remaining months, there is, of course, no time to rest. As always, I am eager to be part of Columbia’s amazing contributions to the world.
Lee C. Bollinger
Columbia Board of Trustees statement released on April 14:
April 14, 2022
Dear members of the Columbia community,
Earlier today, President Lee C. Bollinger announced that he will step down at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year, his 21st year as president of Columbia University. Lee’s presidency has proven to be one of the most consequential in all of Columbia’s 268-year history. His leadership has had a profound impact on the University and will leave behind a rich foundation upon which a new era for Columbia can flourish.
Building knowledge, creating space for the exploration of new ideas, and examining what is needed for the betterment of future societies are just some of the themes of Lee’s tenure. But at heart he is an educator, and every new building project, academic initiative, and fundraising campaign that he undertook was in service of creating a world-class environment for learning and teaching. Columbia’s three campuses have been transformed as a result.
There is no more fitting metaphor for Lee’s leadership than the successful construction of Columbia’s Manhattanville campus—a 17-acre urban expansion that creates space for all of these themes to be realized. Just five blocks north of our Morningside Heights campus, and less than two miles from our Columbia University Irving Medical Center and Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Manhattanville reflects Lee’s unwavering commitment to academic excellence. Two of our esteemed Nobel Laureates, Richard Axel and Eric Kandel, were the inaugural leaders of the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, housed in the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, where scientists have embarked on a groundbreaking endeavor in expanding the frontiers of the brain. Just next door are the Lenfest Center for the Arts, intentionally positioned to create meaningful connections between art and science, and Columbia Business School, which introduced hundreds of students to Manhattanville in its recently opened Kravis and Geffen Halls. The newest arrival is the Columbia Climate School, the world’s first school of its kind, which will take its own place on these magnificent new grounds over the coming decade.
Lee was passionate that the buildings in Manhattanville be as stunning as any in the world and that they reflect our commitment to our neighbors. The conceptual plan for the campus and the initial buildings, including The Forum, was designed by Pritzker Prize winner Renzo Piano and the firm SOM, whose partnership with Lee led to the open and transparent philosophy that defines Manhattanville as one of the largest and most visually arresting urban campus developments in a century. Throughout the process, Columbia has worked with our surrounding communities to support priorities like housing and education and to build alliances that are creating vital bonds with our neighbors and defining a new era of collaboration and progress.
Lee’s appetite for action and his ability to turn “why” into “why not” drove the vision for Manhattanville, and it also has transformed the Morningside and CUIMC campuses. Columbia’s students and faculty are studying and conducting research in new spaces and, increasingly, in service of bridging scholarly knowledge and real-world action, fulfilling the “Fourth Purpose” of a university, as Lee calls it. While Manhattanville was being developed, Columbia built new buildings across its campuses, including the Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center, the Northwest Corner Building, and the Campbell Sports Center. The University also expanded and revitalized 2.8 million square feet of classroom, lab, and other intellectual space in Morningside and at CUIMC and invested record amounts in cancer research, data science, precision medicine, our School of Social Work, the Nursing School, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Meanwhile, Columbia opened the Knight First Amendment Institute, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, and nine Global Centers on four continents, while launching Columbia World Projects, a vibrant platform that represents the full expression of Lee’s Fourth Purpose vision.
When Lee was inaugurated in 2002, the Columbia he inherited was resource constrained, land constrained, and facing an uncertain future. Today, after raising more than $13 billion during his tenure for scholarships, research, capital projects, and endowment, the University’s financial standing and academic standing are stronger than ever. Nearly 60% of undergraduates receive financial assistance, reflecting our deep commitment to serving all regardless of economic circumstances. His commitment to diversity is also reflected in our student body, in our faculty, and in our administration, where we have some of the largest cohorts from underrepresented groups and where women hold the majority of our academic and administrative leadership positions.
Lee will leave his mark in untold ways. A renowned First Amendment expert, he has maintained his lifelong pursuit of scholarship and writing throughout his presidency, publishing four books, with two forthcoming. His advice is regularly sought by academic and world leaders. But Lee’s true home is the classroom. He has taught a popular undergraduate course every year throughout his tenure, and while he will reside when he steps down at Columbia Law School, he looks forward to teaching in various capacities around the University.
His curiosity and leadership have extended well beyond campus. Lee and his wife Jean Magnano Bollinger have traveled to Africa multiple times to visit Columbia’s ICAP Program, originally founded as an HIV relief effort that has touched millions of people. At the height of coronavirus pandemic, Lee suited up in full PPE and visited the doctors, nurses and frontline workers at our Medical Center, both to show support and to attempt to understand COVID-19 in the earliest stages of the pandemic. Lee not only does the hard things but the right things, even when no one is looking.
While we admire Lee’s leadership and commitment, he would be the first to say that no one succeeds alone. Thanks to his inspired recruiting, Columbia is home to an astonishing range of academic talent that will enrich the University for years to come. Whether it is collaboration among academic disciplines to explore new intellectual frontiers or being of New York and not just in it, partnership has defined his time as president. None has been more impactful on Lee and Columbia than the partnership he has with his wife. Jean, an artist, worked hand-in-hand with Lee from the earliest days of the Manhattanville campus to today. Her belief that architecture is art challenged everyone to make space not only functional but also beautiful. More broadly, Jean has not only been an advocate for elevating the role of art in society but also a relentless champion for equality, equity, and inclusion in every aspect of the University. We will not forget all that she has given, and for that Columbia also owes a debt of gratitude to Jean.
In 1968, when Lee began at Columbia Law School as a 1L, he could not have imagined he was embarking on a journey that would lead him to the U.S. Supreme Court, Dean of Michigan Law School, Provost of Dartmouth College, President of the University of Michigan, and ultimately back to Columbia as its 19th president. When he interviewed for the Columbia presidency on September 11, 2001, the horrible events of that day could have easily scared him away. For Lee, it made him want to return to Columbia even more. He saw a strength in New York and was eager to play a role in the rebirth of Columbia University in the City of New York. For his decision to return to Columbia and for all that he has given of himself and to the University, we are so deeply grateful.
We look forward to working with Lee over the remainder of his tenure and celebrating his many accomplishments throughout the next year. Over the next few months, the Trustees will assemble a search committee as well as advisory committees representing critical constituencies across the University. We will write more about that in the near future. For now, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roar Lion Roar,
Lisa Carnoy and Jonathan Lavine
Co-Chairs, on behalf of the Trustees of Columbia University
President Bollinger via Columbia Communications