Lee C. Bollinger, president of Columbia University and a renowned legal scholar recognized for his expertise in free speech and the First Amendment, examines three controversial subjects facing American higher education in the final address of Lawrence University’s 2004-05 convocation series.
Bollinger presents “Three Issues for Colleges and Universities: Affirmative Action, Academic Freedom and Globalization” Thursday, May 26 at 11:10 a.m. in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel. The address is free and open to the public.
Bollinger began his tenure as Columbia’s 19th president June 1, 2002. A 1971 graduate of Columbia Law School, where he was an articles editor of the Law Review, he previously served as president of the University of Michigan (1996-2001) and provost of Dartmouth College (1994-1996).
As president of Michigan, Bollinger was named the defendant in two affirmative action lawsuits — Gratz vs. Bollinger and Grutter vs. Bollinger — that reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The lawsuits were filed by white applicants who charged they were unfairly denied admission to Michigan’s undergraduate program and to the university’s law school, respectively, while less-qualified blacks and Latinos were accepted.
In December, 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that colleges and universities can use race as a factor as a criteria for admissions, citing a broad social benefit gained from having diversity in the classroom. But the court also said that race cannot be an overriding factor in schools admissions programs, indicating such plans can lead to unconstitutional policies.
In two separate decisions, the Supreme Court struck down the University of Michigan’s “point system” that was used for undergraduate admissions, but approved a separate policy used by its law school that accords race a less prominent role in the admissions decision-making process.
More recently, Bollinger, 59, has found himself in the midst of a controversy over academic freedom involving faculty members of Columbia’s department of Middle East and Asian languages and cultures. Students taking classes in the department have voiced concerns of “feeling cowed” by professors for expressing their pro-Israel sentiments in the classroom.
The student allegations of faculty intimidation were detailed in a 40-minute documentary entitled “Columbia Unbecoming.” Produced by a post-9/11, Boston-based organization called the David Project, “Columbia Unbecoming” caused a furor at the New York city campus and left Bollinger tip-toeing a line between protecting students and defending scholarly discourse.
A former law clerk for U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, Bollinger began his academic career in 1973, joining the faculty of the University of Michigan Law School. He was promoted to dean of the law school in 1987, a position he held for seven years before leaving in 1994 to become provost and professor of government at Dartmouth College. Two years later Bollinger returned to Ann Arbor as the University of Michigan’s 12th president.
A noted advocate of affirmative action in higher education, Bollinger has written widely on free speech and First Amendment issues, including the books “Eternally Vigilant: Free Speech in the Modern Era” (University of Chicago Press, 2001), “Images of a Free Press”(University of Chicago Press, 1991) and “The Tolerant Society: Freedom of Speech and Extremist Speech in America” (Oxford University Press, 1986).
His leadership in defending affirmative action in higher education has been recognized with numerous awards, among them 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, Inc.
This past March, the University of California at Berkeley honored Bollinger for his commitment to freedom of speech and diversity, presenting him its Clark Kerr Award, which recognizes an individual who has made an extraordinary and distinguished contribution to the advancement of higher education.
A native of Santa Rosa, Calif., Bollinger earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Oregon in 1968. He was named a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992.