Michael Sovern

Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and President Emeritus

Michael Sovern

Chancellor Kent Professor of Law and President Emeritus

Michael I. Sovern is the Chancellor Kent Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and President Emeritus of Columbia University. After two years on the faculty at the University of Minnesota Law School, Sovern joined the Columbia faculty in 1957, where he served as chairman of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Columbia University from 1968 to 1969; dean of the Law School from 1970 to 1979; executive vice president for academic affairs and provost of the university from 1979 to 1980; and president of the university from 1980 to 1993.

Sovern is a former arbitrator for disputes between numerous private companies and public agencies and the unions representing their employees. He has served as a 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. He was an author-moderator for the WNBC-TV series Due Process for the Accused and a host of the WNET-TV series Leading Questions.

He has been special counsel to New Jersey’s governor, consultant on law to Time magazine, and consultant to the Ford Foundation. He has served on the Pulitzer Prize Board and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Board, and as a trustee of President Clinton’s Legal Defense Trust.

  • LL.B., Columbia University, 1955
  • B.A., Columbia University, 1953
Areas of Expertise
  • Legal methods
  • Evidence
  • Labor law
  • Conflict resolution
  • An Improbable Life: My Sixty Years At Columbia and Other Adventures, Columbia University Press, 2014
  • Of Boundless Domains, University Press of America, 1994
  • Cases and Materials on Law and Poverty, West Pub. Co. 1969
  • Legal Restraints on Racial Discrimination in Employment, Twentieth Century Fund, 1966
Activities and Affiliations
  • Member, Board of Directors, Asian Cultural Council
  • Member, Board of Directors, WNET/13
  • Member, Council on Foreign Relations
  • Member, American Law Institute
  • Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • Member, American Philosophical Society
  • Chairman Emeritus, Japan Society
  • Chairman Emeritus, American Academy in Rome
  • President, Shubert Foundation; Member, Board of Directors, Shubert Organization
  • Chairman, State-City (New York) Commission on Integrity in Government, 1986
  • Chairman, New York City Charter Revision Commission, 1982-1983
  • Past Member, Board of Directors, Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund
  • Past Member, Board of Directors, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • Past Member, Board of Directors of Comcast, AT&T, Pfizer and Chase
  • Past Chairman, Sotheby’s
Honors and Awards
  • LL.D., Columbia University, 1980
  • D.Phil., Tel Aviv University, 1982
  • LL.D., University of Southern California, 1989
  • Commendatore in the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy, 1991
  • 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
  • Distinguished Service Award, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2017
  • The Gold Honor Medal for Distinguished Service to Humanity, The National Institute of Social Sciences, 2017
  • Living Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to New York City, New York Landmarks Conservancy, 2018
Legal Methods