Columbia University”s presidential search committee officially announced yesterday that it will recommend Lee Bollinger to be the next president at the Board of Trustees meeting this Saturday.
Bollinger, who had previously declined to comment, acknowledged that he will be leaving Ann Arbor, although he did not say exactly when.
“I”ve indicated that I will accept,” said Bollinger, who has been president of the University of Michigan since 1997. “I didn”t seek this out. Columbia brought this to me and after giving it very serious and hard consideration, it seemed to make the most sense.”
Bollinger was first approached in June by Columbia”s search committee, said University of Michigan Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R-Ann Arbor).
“We think that Lee Bollinger will be great for Columbia and that Columbia will be great for Lee Bollinger,” said Henry King, chair of the Columbia search committee.
King, who had earlier refused to discuss the search process publicly, confirmed the committee”s selection after The Michigan Daily reported yesterday that Bollinger would be leaving Ann Arbor.
“We concluded that he is an outstanding president of a wonderful university, that he has a great track record of dealing with faculty, staff and students, that he has a great vision of the life sciences,” King said.
King said the committee sought candidates who “demonstrate the ability to do the job, and certainly Lee Bollinger has done that.”
The committee looked for someone with “vision, leadership ability, ability to mix with faculty and students and the neighborhood,” King said. He also said Bollinger”s interest in the arts and sciences should serve him well in New York.
“He will thrive in this city,” King said.
Newman said yesterday that the regents have not yet planned a course of action to replace Bollinger. The regents could meet before their scheduled Oct. 19 meeting to get a search process under way.
“There has been no discussion yet among the board and Lee in regards to what happens next,” she said.
The search committee started working in March shortly after Columbia President George Rupp announced his plans to retire on June 30, 2002. Bollinger would take office July 1.
King declined to say whether there were any other finalists for the position.
“We have tremendous momentum under George Rupp,” King said, noting that applications and fundraising have risen since Rupp became president. “That momentum has be to continued and even advanced.”
King said the search committee feels Bollinger can do just that. “He”s got a lot of stamina and vigor. The president of a major university has to have stamina because it is a job that is all-consuming.”
The search committee was also impressed with Bollinger”s staunch commitment to the benefits of diversity in higher education.
“We do have an effort to have a very diverse student body,” King said.
Columbia admits students through a need-blind admissions policy, accepting students regardless of financial need and then working with individuals to determine financial aid packages. This widens the pool of applicants the institution can accept, King said.
The search committee was impressed by “his acknowledging that life sciences is and is going to be the most important research a university can do in this century. He saw it and he moved it forward,” King said.
Columbia has the resources and the interest to further its own research in the life sciences, King said.
Bollinger”s development of the University of Michigan”s Life Sciences Initiative is considered the biggest project he has undertaken as president and one that could suffer in his absence.
Michael Welsh, chair of the cell and developmental biology department, a division of the Life Sciences Initiative, said Bollinger has been the most proactive president he has seen in 22 years with regard to advocating the life sciences.
“I hope that the institution and the initiative are far enough along now to be minimally impacted,” Welsh said. “His leadership and his advocacy of the Life Science Initiative have been impressive although probably now things won”t be quite as they would have been with him here.”
Welsh said the LSI should remain stable without Bollinger but questioned whether the program will advance until a new president is selected.
“Whoever sits in that chair next will have a big impact on our progress,” Welsh said. “There is always a reluctance by an interim president to make big decisions or changes so it is only when we have a bona fide president that we are able to advance our vision.”
Bollinger said he is confident any progress made in his four years as president will not soon be forgotten.
“All of the things that are in motion will continue to grow and they”ll shift some as is appropriate,” he said. “It takes a decade to do things like this so whenever I left these things would have been left unfinished.”
Life Sciences Institute co-director Jack Dixon was optimistic that the University has the kind of leadership necessary to keep current projects moving forward on an everyday basis, but agreed that without a permanent president development could be stalled.
“Major new initiatives are put on hold,” Dixon said. “I don”t think there will be any new initiatives. Certainly there will be fewer of them and not on the scale” as the Life Sciences Initiative.
While the deans will work to keep Bollinger”s agenda alive after he leaves, LSA Dean Shirley Neuman said in an e-mail she is confident Bollinger designed many of his projects in the college to be carried on without him, including the development of the creative writing program and the biology department.
“The University of Michigan will benefit from his leadership for many decades, whether or not he continues here,” she said. “The greatness of a university such as this does not rest on a single person, even when that person is a very distinguished President. All of us faculty, students, staff, administration are part of the greatness of Michigan.”
Other deans expressed mixed reactions about Bollinger”s decision. Medical School Dean Allen Lichter said while many of Bollinger”s programs are strong enough to support themselves, the course of other University initiatives such as fundraising, may need to be reconsidered.
“The University was in the process of making a major thrust in funding and philanthropy and I think that is always easiest with a strong leadership and continuity at the top,” Lichter said. “I think we must assess that entire program as to whether it should go forward now or whether it be held until a permanent president is in place.”
Another concern voiced by students and faculty is whether officers of Bollinger”s executive board will follow him to New York.
“The executive officers of Fleming have been great to work with this past year and I would hope they won”t be leaving with him,” said Michigan Student Assembly President Matt Nolan. “One of the big things that made Bollinger successful is that he brought in people who are very good in the areas they work in and he allowed them to do things in their areas to make them great.”
Bollinger”s impending departure will leave a significant gap in the administration, made all the more noticeable by the presently vacant provost”s post.
A search committee chaired by Bollinger is seeking a successor for Nancy Cantor, who is now chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Right now the search is proceeding as planned,” said special counsel to the president Gary Krenz, a member of the search committee. “The pool is shaping up well.”
Krenz said he could not comment on how Bollinger”s departure might affect the provost search.