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An Improbable Life


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations Foreword by Walter F. Mondale Foreword by Lee C. Bollinger 1. A Shared Story 2. Riot 3. Rebuilding 4. Aftermath 5. Condoms and Wrinkle Cream 6. Becoming a Dean 7. Litigating: Tuskegee and the Supreme Court 8. Provost 9. Building an Administration 10. Beginnings 11. Columbia College 12. Columbia Law School 13. Minnesota 14. Coming Home 15. Publishing and Moonlighting 16. Climbing Out of a Hole 17. Ceremonies 18. Doing the Right Thing: Coeducation, Charter Revision, and Columbia Football 19. The Pulitzer Prizes 20. Reagan Versus Mondale 21. Disappointing My Peers: Divestiture and Earmarks 22. City Corruption and Columbia Unrest 23. A Sabbatical Leave and a Return to Celebrations 24. Remembering Malcolm X and Working with the Community 25. International Guests, Anniversaries, Dedications, and a New Campaign 26. Closing a School 27. Salman Rushdie at Risk 28. Hail and Farewell 29. The Last Year 30. A Backward Glance 31. There Is Life After a Presidency 32. Shubert-a Great Gig 33. Almost a Justice 34. Sotheby's 35. America's Challenge 36. What Next? Acknowledgments Notes Index

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A personal account of a university's struggles and successes and candid responses to issues that trouble higher education.

About the Author

Michael I. Sovern is president emeritus of Columbia University and the Chancellor Kent Professor of Law at Columbia Law School.


Columbians-and all readers-will love and be moved by Mike's inspiring and personal story and his remarkable contributions to a great university during turbulent-and not so turbulent-times. The range of adventures extends to many notables-from Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Salman Rushdie to Joe DiMaggio, Harry Belafonte, and the Rolling Stones. The most notable, of course, is Michael Sovern: student, professor, dean, provost, president, and celebrated intellectual. -- David Stern, commissioner, National Basketball Association, and chair emeritus, Columbia University Board of Trustees There really is nothing 'improbable' at all about the life of Michael Sovern, one of the finest leaders of higher education this country has produced. His brilliance and principled character are apparent on every page of this wonderful memoir. -- Vartan Gregorian, president, Carnegie Corporation of New York Although the peak of his career was as president of Columbia University, Michael Sovern was first and foremost a teacher. His memoir certainly demonstrates this fact. All readers, whether Columbians or not, will find something to learn from his remarkable life story. From his childhood in the South Bronx to becoming the youngest full professor in Columbia's history to almost becoming a Supreme Court nominee, Mike's life story is riveting, illuminating, and educational. -- Bill Campbell, chair, Columbia University Board of Trustees, and chair of the board, Intuit, Inc.

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