March 6, 2001

Columbia U. President to Resign After Nine Years

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In a move that surprised nearly all — despite early hints that it was on the horizon — Columbia University President George Rupp announced to the school’s Board of Trustees on Saturday that he will step down in the summer of 2002 after leading the school for nine years.

“I have decided that next year will be my last year as Columbia’s president,” Rupp said in his statement to the Trustees. “I am announcing my intention to resign now in order to allow time for an orderly succession.”

Following his formal announcement, Rupp, 58, informed the Columbia community of his decision in an e-mail he sent to students, faculty, staff and alumni, according the Columbia Spectator.

“Rupp’s announcement came as a disappointment but not a complete surprise,” said Virgil Renzulli, associate vice president for public affairs at Columbia.

Rupp had indicated throughout his tenure that he believed university presidents should serve no more than about ten years. Thus, the President was expected to resign sometime within the next couple of years, but few could have guessed the announcement would come as early as it did, Renzulli said.

Rupp emphasized on Saturday that the decision was made for the institution’s benefit, not his own.

After leading Columbia through one of the largest capital campaigns in the school’s history and netting nearly $3 billion in the process, Rupp said that he wanted to move on at a time when the University was riding high. Rupp added that the next major campaign is one that will be “ratified by, if not launched by, my successor.”

Rupp will serve as President for another 16 months, and he said that he plans to be “fully and energetically engaged in the life of the institution until the day I leave office.”

“I take it as a weighty responsibility to transfer leadership to my successor without losing the momentum we are now experiencing,” Rupp said.

The resignation plunges Columbia into the market for presidents at a busy time. Three Ivy League universities have recently been on the hunt.

Harvard is close to announcing a new president; Princeton is searching for one; and Brown named Ruth J. Simmons, the current president of Smith College, last November. Simmons will take office on July 1.

Alan Stone, vice president for public affairs at Columbia, did not think all of the ongoing searches would influence Columbia’s recruiting strategy or significantly change “the collective identity of the Ivy League.”

“Schools are much bigger operations now,” and the days of long tenures are typically over, Stone said, adding that the current trend is for Ivy League presidents to serve around seven to ten years.

“Rupp’s resignation makes Rawlings one of the more long-standing presidents in the Ivy League,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations. Rawlings began his tenure at Cornell nearly six years ago.

The search for Rupp’s successor will be headed by Columbia Trustee Henry King, who also directed the search committee that chose Rupp eight years back.

The national search will “initially be cast wide and then narrowed as the University starts to make decisions,” Stone said. “It is only fair to students that we make the early search stages as broad as possible.”

Roughly a half-dozen candidates from Columbia might be considered to succeed Rupp, including the provost, the executive vice provost and several deans, according to a Columbia news release.

The search committee will most likely have faculty and student members, said Columbia’s Student Council President Ariel Neuman, who met with Rupp yesterday.

“We’ll definitely be pushing for student representation,” Neuman said.

Rupp succeeded Michael I. Sovern as Columbia’s President in 1993. An ordained Presbyterian minister and a religions scholar, he had formerly served as the Dean of the Harvard Divinity School and the President of Rice University.

In addition to his fund-raising endeavors, Rupp became known throughout his tenure for re-centering Columbia’s focus on undergraduate education, according to Neuman.

“We have lots of momentum right now,” Neuman said. “There is a general feeling among students that Columbia is back where it was, a long way back from the student revolts and riots [with the local Morningside Heights community] of the late 1960s,” Neuman said.

“It hasn’t always been easy-going,” Neuman added, admitting that the presidency often took on a purely administrative tone, precluding much day-to-day contact between Rupp and the university community.

Upon announcing his resignation, Rupp admitted that he has no definite plans for the future. Feeling still young and vigorous enough for one more career, Rupp expressed an interest in teaching, possibly a contemporary civilization course at Columbia.

However things turn out, Rupp “will be greatly missed,” Renzulli said.

“Rupp felt that his job was to see Columbia realistically for what it was and to make it more of what it was. Under his tenure, [Columbia] saw improvement in virtually every area,” he said.

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts