The Columbia College Alumni Association awarded professors Eric Foner, Ronald Breslow, and Kenneth T. Jackson the Alexander Hamilton medal on Thursday night.
The medal is the college's highest honor and is presented annually at the Hamilton Award Dinner. This year's dinner raised over $575,000 for financial aid and the Core Curriculum.
The award has historically been given to prominent philanthropic alumni or former administrators. Past recipients have included former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Phillip Satow, CC '63, who donated $1.5 million to Columbia.
But this year, three of Columbia's most prominent and beloved faculty were honored at the event: Foner, widely considered to be one of the greatest historians in the nation, Breslow, a renowned chemist who authored the report that convinced the University trustees to make Columbia College co-ed, and Jackson, considered to be the preeminent authority on New York City and known for his all-night bicycle rides through the city. The three men have collectively taught at Columbia for over 140 years.
In short acceptance speeches, each professor described his devotion to Columbia and its students, and spoke warmly, and in some cases emotionally, about the ways in which the University shaped each of their lives.
But just over a week following the presidential election, the shadow of current events hung over some administrators' speeches, and they each affirmed the importance of the University and faculty.
"Many events in the world show that questioning has never been more important. Our students need to engage perspectives and ideas that may not be comfortable for them, of which they have never previously been aware, and with a beginner's mind," Columbia College Dean James Valentini said. "Our faculty are the generators of this intellectual experience."
University President Lee Bollinger also notably condemned President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
It was a sentiment that Bollinger had previously expressed, albeit less explicitly, in an email to the University community following Trump's election.
In his acceptance speech, Foner also echoed how crucial it will be for Columbia students—through scholarship and through the Core Curriculum in particular—to continue to espouse the University's values.
"Columbia has changed enormously since I was a student, but the essential values of a Columbia education remain the same—a willingness to subject all belief to the same tests of reason and experience, of questioning dogmas that demand uniformity of thought, bigotry, hostility, in any form," Foner said. "In other words, respect for the life of the mind, something even more necessary today if we're going to make America a better and more just society."