This past spring, more than 100 prominent graduates joined family and friends at a Law School celebration honoring Professor Richard N. Gardner, who retired from teaching in 2012. The two-day, invitation-only event, titled “The Challenges We Face,” featured panel discussions on various pressing international issues, including human rights and global trade.
In introducing Gardner, John H. Coatsworth, the Provost of Columbia University and former dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, marveled at the breadth of the longtime professor’s accomplishments.
“No one else I know has managed to be a scholar, lawyer, teacher, policymaker, economist, diplomat, institution builder, comedian, and raconteur—all without resorting to reincarnation,” Coatsworth said.
Gardner first began teaching his renowned Law School seminar, Legal Aspects of U.S. Foreign Economic Policy, more than five decades ago. He is both a leading expert on international law and a skilled public servant. During his years at the Law School, Gardner took time away from teaching to serve as U.S. ambassador to Italy during the Carter administration, and President Bill Clinton later appointed him as U.S. ambassador to Spain.
During a lunchtime address, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, praised Gardner’s scholarly work for having “anticipated both the challenges of the emerging post-colonial and post-imperial world and the need for an enlightened response.”
Gardner’s wide-reaching legacy as a teacher became especially apparent during the event’s panel discussions, as participants included former students who went on to successful careers in law, business, government, and the nonprofit sector.
During one discussion, Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, praised Gardner for his commitment to teaching—and to his students.
“Year after year, he told me with great confidence that each successive Gardner seminar has attracted ever more capable students with ever more brilliant prospects,” Volcker said during his presentation at the event. “That should be a source of confidence about the future of the world.”