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Biography

Lee C. Bollinger became Columbia University’s nineteenth president in 2002 and is the longest serving Ivy League president.  Under his leadership, Columbia stands again at the very top rank of great research universities, distinguished by comprehensive academic excellence, historic institutional development, an innovative and sustainable approach to global engagement, and unprecedented levels of alumni involvement and financial stability.

Lee C. Bollinger
President Bollinger teaching a Law School class devoted to questions raised in his book, Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century

President Bollinger is Columbia’s first Seth Low Professor of the University, a member of the Columbia Law School faculty, and one of the country’s foremost First Amendment scholars.  Each fall semester, he teaches “Freedom of Speech and Press” to Columbia undergraduate and graduate students.  His most recent book, Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century, has placed Bollinger at the center of public discussion about the importance of global free speech to continued social progress.

As president of the University of Michigan, Bollinger led the school’s historic litigation in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, Supreme Court decisions that upheld and clarified the importance of diversity as a compelling justification for affirmative action in higher education.  He speaks and writes frequently about the value of racial, cultural, and socio-economic diversity to American society through opinion columns, media interviews, and public appearances around the country. Columbia itself remains one of the most diverse universities among its peer institutions and has seen the number of applicants to Columbia College and the selectivity of admissions at the school reach record levels.

As Columbia’s president, Bollinger led the largest capital campaign in Ivy League history, exceeding initial projections and raising more than $6 billion in seven years. He initiated Columbia’s most ambitious expansion in over a century, spearheading the development of the University’s Manhattanville campus in a former industrial zone in West Harlem, the first campus plan in the nation to receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest certification for sustainable development.  An historic community benefits agreement emerging from the city and state review process for the new campus provides Columbia’s local neighborhoods with decades of investment in the community’s health, education and economic growth.

The first of the Manhattanville campus buildings, the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, will be the headquarters of the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, a cornerstone venture among Columbia’s expanding interdisciplinary initiatives in neuroscience, nanotechnology and precision medicine.

Bollinger’s commitment to excellence in architecture is evident across Columbia’s campuses, from Renzo Piano’s master plan for Manhattanville, to Rafael Moneo’s design for the Northwest Corner Building on the historic Morningside campus, to the new Columbia Sports Center at Baker Field designed by Steven Holl.

Among Bollinger’s signal achievements at Columbia are the development of a network of eight Columbia Global Centers on four continents and the creation of new venues on the University’s home campus supporting global conversations and scholarship, including the World Leaders Forum and the Committee on Global Thought. 

From November 1996 to 2002, Bollinger was the President of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he also had served as a law professor and dean of the Law School.

He is a fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.  He is widely published on legal and constitutional issues involving free speech and press, and his books include: Eternally Vigilant: Free Speech in the Modern Era; Images of a Free Press; The Tolerant Society: Freedom of Speech and Extremist Speech in America; and Contract Law in Modern Society: Cases and Materials.  In January 2010, Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide Open; A Press for a New Century was published by Oxford University Press.

Bollinger has received the National Humanitarian Award from the National Conference for Community and Justice and the National Equal Justice Award from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund for his leadership on affirmative action.  He also received the Clark Kerr Award, the highest award conferred by the faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, for his service to higher education, especially on matters of freedom of speech and diversity.  He is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees from universities in this country and abroad.

Bollinger is a director of Graham Holdings Company (formerly The Washington Post Company), serves as a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board, and is a Trustee of The Kresge Foundation.

After graduating from the University of Oregon and Columbia Law School, where he was an Articles Editor of the Law Review, Bollinger served as law clerk for Judge Wilfred Feinberg on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Chief Justice Warren Burger on the United States Supreme Court.  He joined the University of Michigan Law School faculty in 1973.

Bollinger was born in Santa Rosa, California, and raised there and in Baker, Oregon.  He is married to artist Jean Magnano Bollinger, and they have two children and five grandchildren.