September 02, 2020

Announcement Regarding Bard Hall from President Lee Bollinger

On Friday, August 28, 2020, President Bollinger sent the message below to the Columbia campus community.

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I write today to share an important change, namely that Bard Hall, the CUIMC residence hall on Haven Avenue, will be renamed.

When this dormitory opened in 1931, it was named for Samuel Bard, the founder of what is now Columbia’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Bard was a significant physician in the 18th century, a pioneer in obstetrics and treating diphtheria, who served as George Washington’s doctor. He also owned slaves (the country’s first census in 1790 lists their number as three). We know about at least one instance, in 1776, in which he advertised, with a promised reward, for the return of a fugitive slave.

Bard Hall is a dormitory for our clinical students. We all understand how careful we need to be in shaping the environment, symbolic as well as physical, in which we ask our students to live and to call home. These are sites with the special resonance that comes from mixing the personal features of daily life with the formation of lasting friendships and a sense of community with a shared mission, together with a period of life involving extraordinary intellectual and professional growth. The change I am conveying here, however, also feels urgent not only for the individuals who have been asked to call Bard Hall home, but for the many students, staff, and faculty in the broader Columbia community, and especially vivid at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, where the contradiction between the egalitarian health service norms they cherish and slavery's denial of full human standing is starkly blatant and offensive.

In June, I asked Interim Provost Ira Katznelson to convene a group to consider campus names and symbols associated with matters of race and racism. As they began to fashion a longer-term process to thoroughly review these matters, work that will continue as the academic year begins, the committee forwarded to me the unanimous recommendation on which I am acting. 

Of course, we cannot, indeed should not, erase Samuel Bard’s contributions to the medical school. But we must not recall this history without also recognizing the reason for our decision to rename Bard Hall. As the fall term advances, I will share how we will honor this building with a name that represents our University’s values.


Lee C. Bollinger

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