Presidential Installations 101

President Minuoche Shafik will be installed as Columbia’s 20th President at the ceremony scheduled on Wednesday, October 4, 2023. As Columbia gets ready to come together for President Shafik’s inauguration, we look back at the history and traditions of this ritual.

President Charles King, 1849

Did you know that the first president to be installed in a separate ceremony was Charles King in 1849? Earlier incoming presidents used to be introduced at Commencement. King’s ceremony was held in the College Chapel in the original college building on Park Place.


F.A.P. Barnard’s inauguration program, October 3, 1864. Scan 1105. Historical Biographical Files, University Archives.
President Frederick A.P. Barnard, 1864

Did you know that in 1863 Frederick A.P. Barnard applied to become Columbia’s Professor of Physics? The position became vacant when Richard Sears McCulloh “born and reared a Southerner” left Columbia to fight in the Civil War. Barnard did not get the position (it went to Odgen Nicholas Rood) but he was fortunately available the following year to apply for the position of College President. In 1864, President Frederick A.P. Barnard’s installation ceremony was held in the College Chapel on Columbia’s second campus on 49th Street and Madison Avenue. 


President Seth Low, 1890

Did you know that President Seth Low’s inauguration ceremony was held at the Metropolitan Opera House on 39th Street and Broadway? A member of the Class of 1870, an officer of the Columbia College Alumni Association and a sitting member of the Board of Trustees, Seth Low was a very popular choice for President in 1890. For his inauguration, the College Chapel was deemed too small. Just a few years before, Columbia had celebrated the 1787 Charter Centennial at the Opera House. And, as on that occasion, the house was “crowded to its utmost capacity.”


President Nicholas Murray Butler, 1902
University Hall gymnasium set up for Nicholas Murray Butler’s installation, April 1902. Scan 5182. Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives.

Did you know that Nicholas Murray Butler’s installation ceremony was the first held on the new Morningside campus? The inauguration ceremony was scheduled in April to allow sitting U.S. President (and former Columbia Law student) Theodore Roosevelt to be in attendance. President Roosevelt arrived on campus in a horse-drawn carriage along with the historic Squadron A cavalry unit, which stood in formation in front of the Library. The ceremony was held inside University Hall, where Uris Hall stands now.


President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1948

Did you know that when General Dwight David Eisenhower became President of Columbia, this was the first inauguration ceremony held in front of Low Library? Columbia had outgrown all of its indoor spaces and Commencement (weather permitting) had been held outdoors since 1926. There was great demand for both local and nationwide press coverage of the Eisenhower installation but permission to take photographs was restricted to the culminating point of the ceremony: only for the presentation of the charter and keys.


President Michael I. Sovern, 1980
Michael I. Sovern delivers his inaugural address, October 1980. Scan 5354. Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection, University Archives.

Did you know how many Columbia Presidents have also been alumni? Michael I. Sovern, a Columbia College (1953) and Law School (1957) alumnus, had served as Dean of the Law School and Provost before being appointed University President. Other alumni presidents have included: Benjamin Mooore, KC 1768 (1801-1811); Nathaniel Fish Moore CC 1802 (1842-1849), Seth Low CC 1870 (1890-1901), Nicholas Murray Butler CC 1882, PhD 1884 (1902-1945), and Lee C. Bollinger Law 1971 (2002-2023).

Sovern and his successors, George Rupp (1993) and Lee Bollinger (2002), all received the charter and keys on campus, in front of Low Library, and on sunny October days. Here’s hoping for another beautiful fall day for President Minouche Shafik on Wednesday, October 4, 2023.