In Between Inaugurations

It’s been 21 years since President Lee C. Bollinger was installed as Columbia University’s President in October 2002. In anticipation of the inauguration of Columbia’s 20th University President, Minouche Shafik, on Wednesday, October 4, 2023, we look back to when the Columbia community waited an even longer time in between these community celebrations. 

The longest gap in between presidential inaugurations in Columbia history is still the 46 years in between President Nicholas Murray Butler’s inauguration in 1902 and the 1948 ceremony of his successor Dwight D. Eisenhower. Little did Columbians suspect that after the grand celebration for Eisenhower, Columbia’s thirteenth University president, they would have to wait 32 years before the next one.  

President Grayson L. Kirk receives the charter and keys at Commencement, 1953. Scan 5629. Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives.
President Grayson L. Kirk, 1953

On December 19, 1950, Columbia University President Dwight D. Eisenhower was named supreme commander of NATO. The Trustees placed Eisenhower on an indefinite leave and Provost Grayson L. Kirk took over as Vice President and Provost, essentially running the University in Eisenhower’s absence. Eisenhower’s leave ended when he officially resigned from Columbia on January 19, 1953 to move to the White House as the 34th U.S. President. As Eisenhower’s last official granting of a Columbia degree, he conferred on Kirk an honorary law doctorate at the Trustees farewell luncheon. Kirk became Columbia’s 14th President on the same day as Eisenhower took the oath of office, but there was no separate public ceremony for President Kirk. Columbia was getting ready to launch a year-long Bicentennial celebration in 1954, so instead, Kirk was installed during the Commencement ceremony in June 1953.


President Andrew W. Cordier receives the charter and keys, December 1969. Scan 5598. Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection, University Archives.
President Andrew W. Cordier, 1969

On August 23, 1968, four months after Hamilton Hall and four other campus buildings were occupied by students, President Grayson L. Kirk announced his retirement. Andrew W. Cordier, the Dean of the School of International Affairs (now SIPA), replaced Kirk as Acting President for the 1968-1969 academic year. Trustee, faculty and student search committees set out to find a permanent University President but, unfortunately, the committees were unable to agree on a candidate. Acting President Cordier was formally appointed President so that the presidential search could continue during the following academic year. President Cordier’s investiture ceremony was a small, private event held in Low Library Rotunda during winter break, on December 19, 1969. His successor, William J. McGill, was announced shortly thereafter on February 4, 1970. 


President William J. McGill, with his charter and keys on hand, walks behind the Mace Bearer, June 1971. Scan 5340. Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection, University Archives.
President William J. McGill, 1971

Facing trying financial times, President William J. McGill asked the Trustees to cancel his formal inauguration ceremony, planned for December 1970, and to combine the event with the regular Commencement activities in June 1971. He also asked that the funds allocated for the ceremony be transferred to student financial aid. 

And so, from Eisenhower’s in 1948, Columbians did not see another installation until President Michael I. Sovern’s ceremony in October 1980. Columbians will be ready to celebrate again on Wednesday, October 4, 2023, when they come together to welcome the 20th Columbia University President Minouche Shafik.