The University will officially say goodbye to its 12th president this afternoon with a reception commemorating Lee Bollinger.

Bollinger”s picture and a plaque in honor of his five-year tenure as chief executive will be added to the row of past university presidents lining a hallway on the first floor of the Michigan Union. Students, faculty and staff are invited to attend the event, which begins at 3 p.m. in the Anderson Room of the Union.

At the end of the semester, Bollinger will step down as president, six months before he takes over the top job at Columbia University, where he earned his law degree and his daughter currently attends law school.

Bollinger accepted the Columbia post in October, amid reported tension with members of the University Board of Regents, who began trying to negotiate a new five-year contract with Bollinger after he was a finalist for the Harvard University presidency.

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Bollinger said the University could have done more to convince him to stay but refused to elaborate on what it would have taken to keep him in Ann Arbor.

“I said I wanted to stay and intended to stay and meant it. But I”m just not prepared to say” what happened, said Bollinger, speaking to two Daily reporters in the hours before an appeals court hearing in Cincinnati on the lawsuits challenging the University”s affirmative action admissions policies.

“I would just add that the reason for leaving did not include financial interests, not that those are insignificant, but those were not in my mind when I made the decision,” he said.

A proponent of free speech and the first amendment, Bollinger has spent most of his adult life at the University. He arrived here in 1987 as dean of the Law School and spent eight years turning it into one of the top programs in the country.

In 1994 Bollinger moved to Hanover, N.H., to accept a post as provost of Dartmouth College. But his strong ties with the University of Michigan led him back to Ann Arbor, where he took over the presidency in 1997.

While not commenting on specific reasons for leaving the University, Bollinger focused on the progress he has made as president, adding that he believes the University is in “outstanding shape.”

“Even if I had stayed for 10 years, very few of these projects would be completed in that time. These things extend over decades, and I”m very pleased and proud of what we have launched and the ideas that we have presented to the University community and to the alums. But it”s just part of the nature of things that the term of a president will not coincide with the projects undertaken,” he said. “These are now blueprints for things that can be done.”

In the case of the Ford School of Public Policy and the addition of a new residence hall renovations as well as renovations to the existing residence halls, Bollinger said he has worked to ensure that funds for these projects have been properly procured. “On the whole and across the board the institution is in great shape both in terms of exciting projects to pursue and reasonable provisions for those projects,” he said.

“We”ve also reserved funds for a period where the economy is not as strong as it has been, so that should be helpful to cushion the University from an economic downturn,” Bollinger added.

One of the aspects of the University that Bollinger will miss most is his interaction with the students, he said.

“The student body at Michigan is through and through just lovable. There is something about the nature of the students at Michigan that I find unique and special. It”s reflected in the reciprocal loyalty the students have with the place,” Bollinger said.

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