Michael I. Sovern ’55
A member of the faculty for nearly six decades, Professor Michael I. Sovern '55 served as dean of Columbia Law School from 1970 to 1979 and as president of Columbia University from 1980 to 1993. He continues to teach Legal Methods each fall.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My parents. My first and most influential role models, they taught both by example and by explicit guidance. Loving and supportive, they gave me confidence. When my father died, my mother had to earn a living while raising my 8-year-old sister and me, a 12-year-old, by herself. Selflessly devoted to us, she still left us ample room to grow. Unlike her son, she was a modest woman and wouldn’t have dreamed of calling herself an inspiration. But she was, a truly extraordinary one.
How do you define success?
Getting up each morning and looking forward to the day.
Why did you go to law school?
There was nothing high-minded about my decision. I entered law school thinking that if I didn’t like it, I would shift to a Ph.D. in political science, but I fell in love with the law and decided I wanted to be just like my professors.
Who is your favorite lawyer of all time?
Charles Evans Hughes. He would be my choice even if he wasn’t one of our alumni. His record of public service has never been matched.
Finish this sentence: You wouldn’t catch me dead without . . .
My glasses. I can’t read without them, and reading is not merely central to our profession, it is also one of life’s great joys.
One thing you absolutely must do before you die?
Finish getting my affairs in order. My papers are a mess.
Thing for which you are most thankful?
My family. I am blessed with a nearly perfect wife and children I can happily both love and respect, who have blessed us with grandchildren we naturally think are wonderful.