The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) awarded Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger the degree of doctor of humane letters at its 2005 commencement ceremony. JTS Chancellor Ismar Schorsch conferred the honorary doctorate upon President Bollinger in admiration of his "robust leadership of Columbia" and in acknowledgement of "the close and fruitful ties that have marked the relationship between the Seminary and the University" for many years.
Bollinger, Columbia University's 19th president and a member of the faculty of the Columbia Law School, is one of the nation's foremost authorities on the First Amendment and free speech. Among his many accomplishments, President Bollinger successfully defended affirmative action in higher education in a landmark case in the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Receiving this cherished honor from the Jewish Theological Seminary, the world's leading center for the academic study of Conservative Judaism, holds great significance for Columbia and for me personally," said President Bollinger. "The Seminary has been a valued partner of Columbia for the past 50 years and continues to provide our students with access to the world's leading scholars in Jewish history, thought and culture today."
JTS also conferred honorary degrees to James D. Wolfensohn, president of The World Bank Group; James Hadley Billington, Librarian of Congress; and Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, distinguished Bible and midrash teacher and scholar .
In 2004, Columbia and JTS celebrated the 50th anniversary of their Joint Program. Launched in 1954, this unique academic program between two of the world's leading religious and secular institutions enables undergraduate students at Columbia and JTS to earn two degrees simultaneously: a bachelor of arts or science from Columbia's School of General Studies and a bachelor of arts from JTS's Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies. Chancellor Schorsch has hailed the Joint Program as "a model in the successful application of the concept of cultural pluralism."
The Joint Program forms part of a larger partnership between Columbia and JTS, which is located just a block away from the University's Morningside Heights campus. Columbia and JTS undergraduates and graduates have enjoyed reciprocity, cross-registration opportunities and other shared privileges for many years.
The Joint Program represents one important facet of the University's longstanding tradition of academic study and teaching of Jewish civilization and its broad commitment to advancing scholarship in Jewish studies and modern Israel. Columbia was the first secular university in the Western World to establish a chair in Jewish history, and its Yiddish studies program is the oldest in the United States.
Today, Columbia has a large and diverse faculty dedicated to Jewish studies, and the University's Center for Jewish and Israeli Studies is one of the leading centers of its kind in the nation. This year, Columbia established a new professorship, the Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi Chair, to augment the study of modern Israeli history, politics and society. The University also is launching a new visiting professorship to strengthen ties between Columbia and universities throughout Israel by bringing Israeli scholars from all fields to campus each academic year.