Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Columbia University from The Columbia Encyclopedia

mainly in New York City; founded 1754 as King's College by grant of King George II; first college in New York City, fifth oldest in the United States; one of the eight Ivy League institutions.

Schools and Affiliates

Columbia College, the original core of the university, is now a coeducational undergraduate school. The school of medicine (est. 1767), which awarded the first M.D. degree in America in 1770, was absorbed into the independent College of Physicians and Surgeons (chartered 1807), which in turn was absorbed into the university in 1891. Also included in the university are the schools of law (1858); architecture, planning, and preservation (1896); and engineering and applied science, founded (1864) as the school of mines; the graduate school of arts and science, founded as the graduate faculties of political science (1880), philosophy (1890), and pure science (1892); and the schools of nursing (1892), general studies (1904), journalism (1912), business (1916), dental medicine (1916), public health (1922), social work (1940), international and public affairs (1946), and the arts (1948). Columbia has in the past operated schools of pharmacy (1904–76) and library science (1926–92) and offered professional courses in optometry (1910–56). Affiliates of the university are Teachers College (founded 1889, affiliated with the university 1898) and Barnard College (founded 1889, affiliated with the university 1900).

Much of Columbia's work in the fields of political science and international relations is carried on through a large group of research institutes (e.g., the East Asian, the European, and the Russian, now Harriman, institutes). At Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y., are the university's Nevis physics laboratories. At Palisades, N.Y., the university operates the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which has extensive facilities for research in geophysics, geochemistry, and oceanography. The university enrolls some 22,000 students.

Columbia has formal educational ties to the Juilliard School of Music and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, to Oxford and Cambridge universities in England, to the Univ. of Paris, to Kyoto and Tokyo universities in Japan, and other educational institutions. It operates the Arden House conference center at Harriman, N.Y., and Reid Hall, an academic facility in Paris. The university library system, among the nation's largest, has many important manuscript and rare book collections. Columbia Univ. Press was founded in 1893.

History

Its first president was Samuel Johnson (1696–1772), a clergyman, who held classes in the schoolhouse of Trinity Church. The administration of his successor, Myles Cooper, was interrupted by the American Revolution; the college was closed but was reopened as Columbia College (1784) in a building in lower Manhattan. Title was first vested in the regents of the Univ. of the State of New York but in 1787 it was transferred to the trustees of the college, who elected William Samuel Johnson president. In 1857, under Charles King (1789–1867), the college moved to a site at Madison Ave. and 49th St.; in 1897, under Seth Low, it moved to Morningside Heights. The gradual addition of professional and graduate schools resulted in the assumption of the name Columbia Univ. in 1896; in 1912 the name became Columbia Univ. in the City of New York. Columbia College remained the undergraduate school and in 1919 originated the modern Contemporary Civilizations Core Curriculum requirements, for which it is still well known. The medical campus in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan opened in 1928, and the Manhattanville campus, a few blocks NW of the Morningside campus, was dedicated in 2016.

Notable presidents of Columbia include F. A. P. Barnard, Nicholas Murray Butler, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Grayson Kirk was president from 1953 to 1968 and was succeeded by Andrew Cordier. In 1970, William J. McGill was appointed president; his successor, Michael I. Sovern, was president from 1980 to 1993. George E. Rupp succeeded Sovern in 1993, and Lee C. Bollinger followed Rupp in 2002.

Bibliography
  • For histories of the various schools, see the volumes published in the Bicentennial series of Columbia Univ. See University on the Heights, ed. by W. First (1969).
  • Humphrey, D. C., From Kings College to Columbia (1976).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017