Two stepped down this summer. Another two will be gone at the end of the year. It’s a lot of turnover for Ivy League presidents, but it will also give Columbia the distinct, if mundane, honor of having the longest-serving Ivy League university president come July 1.
University President Lee Bollinger will take over the record at the end of the academic year, when the presidents of Yale and Princeton plan to step down. Bollinger has been Columbia’s president since 2002.
Yale President Richard Levin, currently the longest-serving Ivy League president, having started in 1993, announced in August he would step down at the end of the year, and Princeton President Shirley Tilghman, who has served since 2001, made her announcement Saturday.
And Bollinger isn’t going anywhere, at least not for now. In 2010, he agreed to serve as president through the 2015-16 academic year. Should he complete the 14-year term, he would be the longest-serving Columbia president since Grayson Kirk, who served for 15 years until he resigned in 1968 after the infamous protests of that spring. Bollinger still has a long way to go to catch up with Nicholas Murray Butler, who was Columbia’s head honcho from 1902 to 1945.
Levin told the Yale Daily News that he felt comfortable leaving the university at which he spent 40 years—from graduate student to professor to president—when it was at a crossroads. Yale closed a $3.5 billion capital campaign in 2011—exceeding that target by more than $300 million—and the school’s first joint college, in Singapore, is set to open next fall.
“The best thing I can do is to raise as much for my successor as I can, to leave some sort of dowry behind,” Levin said.
Tilghman surprised the Princeton community this weekend in announcing her choice to step down at the end of the year. In February, she told the Daily Princetonian she had no immediate plans to retire. She told the Princetonian on Saturday that she made her decision after realizing she “would have to have a five-year runway” to carry out any new projects.
When Harvard was searching for a new president in 2001, Bollinger, then-president of the University of Michigan, was considered the favorite. But the search committee surprised and went with then-Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who would resign in 2006 after a faculty vote of no-confidence. It was the shortest tenure for a Harvard chief since 1862.
Levin’s and Tilghman’s announcements to step down come after a change in two presidents elsewhere in the lague: Jim Yong Kim was nominated to the presidency of the World Bank in the spring, stepping down as Dartmouth president at the end of the academic year. Ruth Simmons also stepped down as Brown president in July after 11 years on the job.
Correction: An earlier version of this article overstated the target of Yale’s capital campaign. It was $3.5 billion, not $5 billion. Spectator regrets the error.