A Message From the Board of Trustees
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 four 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 [email protected].
Roar Lion Roar,
Co-Chairs, on behalf of the Trustees of Columbia University