Michael I. Sovern

Chancellor Kent Professor of Law; President Emeritus of Columbia University

Office: 435 West 116th Street
Jerome Greene Hall, Room 644
New York N.Y. 10027
Tel: 212.854.7848
Email: msovern@law.columbia.edu

Assistant Info

Name: Mary Mygatt
Phone: 212.854.7870
Areas of Expertise
  • Legal methods
  • Torts
  • Administrative law
  • Evidence
  • Labor law
  • Conflict of laws
  • Creditors' remedies


  • B.A., Columbia, 1953; LL.B., 1955; LL.D., 1980
  • LL.D., University of Southern California, 1989
  • D.Phil., Tel Aviv University, 1982

Detailed Biography

Commendatore in the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy, 1991. Recipient, Citizens Union Civic Leadership Award, 1993. Columbia Law School Medal for Excellence, 1997. Town Hall Friend of the Arts Award, 2001. Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star from Japan, 2004. Centennial Medal, American Academy in Rome, 2006. Lawrence A. Wien Prize for Social Responsibility, 2010.

After two years on the faculty at the University of Minnesota Law School, joined the Columbia faculty in 1957. Served as chairman of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Columbia University, 1968-69; dean of the School of Law, 1970-79; executive vice president for academic affairs and provost of the University, 1979-1980; president of the University, 1980-93.

Former arbitrator for disputes between numerous private companies and public agencies and the unions representing their employees; mediator in negotiations between the New York Transit Authority and the Transport Workers Union, as well as between New York City and its firefighters and policemen; author-moderator, WNBC-TV series Due Process for the Accused; host, WNET-TV series, Leading Questions; special counsel, Governor of New Jersey; consultant on law to Time magazine; and consultant to the Ford Foundation. Member, Pulitzer Prize Board and NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Presidential Legal Expense Trustee.

Founding member of the board of directors of Mobilization for Youth’s Legal Services Unit; the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund; the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Helsinki Watch. Chairman, New York City Charter Revision Commission, 1982-83. Chairman, State-City (New York) Commission on Integrity in Government, 1986.

Current member, board of directors of the Asian Cultural Council; WNET/13; and other corporate and nonprofit organizations. Member, Council on Foreign Relations; American Law Institute; American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and the American Philosophical Society. Honorary Chairman, Japan Society. Chairman Emeritus, American Academy in Rome. President, Shubert Foundation. Past Chairman of Sotheby’s.

Past member, board of directors of AT&T, Comcast, Pfizer and Chase.


Publications include an An Improbable Life: My Sixty Years At Columbia and Other Adventures (2014), Legal Restraints on Racial Discrimination in Employment (1966), Of Boundless Domains (1994), Cases and Materials on Law and Poverty (co-author) (1969).