Lee C. Bollinger (1946– ), a legal scholar of the First Amendment and freedom of speech, is best known for advocating tolerance theory, which argues that broad acceptance for expression will increase tolerance and diversity of ideas.
A graduate of the University of Oregon and Columbia Law School, Bollinger served as a law clerk for Second Circuit Court of Appeals judge Wilfred Feinberg and for U.S. Supreme Court chief justice Warren Burger before joining the University of Michigan’s faculty in 1973. In 1987 Bollinger became the dean of the university’s law school and went on to hold the post until 1990. Four years later, he became the provost of Dartmouth College and professor of government before returning to the University of Michigan in 1996 as its twelfth president.
During his time as dean of the University of Michigan Law School, Bollinger faced criticism for his lack of response when the university instituted a speech code, which a federal court deemed unconstitutional fifteen months after its introduction. Bollinger repeatedly claimed, after the fact, that he had always been against the code. In 2002 he became the nineteenth president of Columbia University.
In September 2007, Bollinger made news by publicly rebuking Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before a speech the Iranian was to deliver at Columbia as part of the World Leaders Forum. The invitation to Ahmadinejad, who has questioned the Holocaust and called for the destruction of Israel, had prompted controversy beyond the campus. In introducing Ahmadinejad, Bollinger observed,“It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open our public forum to their voices; to hold otherwise would make vigorous debate impossible.” Bollinger went on to defend extending the invitation to Ahmadinejad not on the basis of “the rights of the speaker” but on the basis of the rights of the academic community “to listen and speak.”
Bollinger is the author of numerous works dealing with the First Amendment as well as other subjects. In addition to essays and scholarly articles, he has written two notable books on the First Amendment: Images of a Free Press (1991) and The Tolerant Society: Freedom of Speech and Extremist Speech in America (1986). Along with Geoffrey R. Stone, he co-edited Eternally Vigilant: Free Speech in the Modern Era (2001). Bollinger is a recipient of the Clark Kerr Award, the highest faculty-conferred award of the University of California, Berkeley, as well as the National Conference for Community and Justice’s National Humanitarian Award, and the National Equal Justice Award from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.Send Feedback on this article