Columbia University Archives

Central Files (Office of the President records), 1890-1984

Summary Information


Central Files is composed chiefly of correspondence sent and received between Columbia University administrators and other University officers, faculty, and trustees, as well as correspondence sent and received between University administrators and individuals and organizations from outside the university.

At a Glance

Call No.: UA#0001
Bib ID 4080177 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Columbia University. Office of the President
Title Central Files (Office of the President records), 1890-1984
Physical Description 927 linear feet (927 record cartons)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

Due to the nature of these records, Central Files are closed for 25 years after their creation.

This collection is located onsite.



This collection is arranged in 14 series. Correspondence within each folder is arranged chronologically and files can vary in size from a single folder to nearly 200 file folders on a particular person, corporate entity or topic. Each academic fiscal year (July 1 to June 30) after 1970-1971 constitutes a new series.


Scope and Content

Central Files mostly contains correspondence sent and received between Columbia University administrators and other University officers, faculty, and trustees, as well as correspondence sent and received between University administrators and individuals and organizations from outside the University. In most cases, incoming correspondence and copies of replies are filed under the name of the individual or organization corresponding with University administrators.

Correspondents from within Columbia include presidents and high-level administrators (the provost, secretary of the University, treasurer and controller, and vice presidents); administrators in various administrative units such as facilities management, budget, student services, controller's, provost's and registrar's offices; presidents, deans, and directors of Columbia's affiliated institutions, colleges, graduate schools, and professional schools; faculty members, in particular those who served as departmental chairs, departmental executive officers or committee chairs; trustees, in particular the chair of the board and the chairs of trustee standing committees; alumni and benefactors; and the chairs of University standing and special committees.

Correspondents from outside Columbia include the presidents, administrators, and faculty of other colleges, universities, or research institutions; the officers of private foundations; government officials and military personnel; appointed officials of the New York State Department of Education; honorary degree recipients; dignitaries and politicians; members of the public; and, occasionally, students at the University.

Other records in the files include: reports, budgets, proposals, minutes and agenda, legal documents, personnel records, invitations, pamphlets, publications, floor plans, petitions, fliers, press releases, and speeches. Records represent the tenure of presidents Seth Low (1890-1901), Nicholas Murray Butler (1902-1945), acting president Frank D. Fackenthal (1945-1948), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1948-1953), Grayson Kirk (1953-1968), Andrew Cordier (1968-1970), and William J. McGill (1970-1980). The first few years of the tenure of President Michael I. Sovern (1980-1993) are also represented.

  • Series I: Central Files, 1895-1971

    Central Files documents a wide range of people, topics and functions. The strengths of Series I include documentation of the administration and governance of the University; Columbia's academic affairs and the administration of the academic divisions of the University; research programs and institutes; affiliated institutions and relations with other institutions; the development of disciplines and professions; the University's relations with the surrounding community; development programs; gifts to the University, donor relations, and alumni affairs; student affairs and services; campus planning and architecture; awards and honorary degrees; and events and ceremonies.

    Central Files reflects Columbia's development into a university; the formation and implementation of administrative policies and procedures; the structure of the University administration; the activities and role of the University's governing bodies; and the daily operations of the University.

    Central Files is a critical resource for documentation Columbia's development as a university. The earliest records in the files date from the administration of Presidents Low and Butler, who were instrumental in Columbia's transformation from a college into a university. Materials in the files chronicle the move to Morningside Heights, the establishment of schools and departments, the introduction of new administrative offices, and the increasing size and gradual professionalization of the administration.

    As the University grew, so did the number of administrative tasks and issues to be faced. Central Files provides information on the formation and implementation of new policies and procedures as well as the introduction of new administrative posts and offices. For example, during the Butler and Low administrators, the president and secretary often corresponded regarding administrative issues and how to carry out administrative tasks. It is sometimes possible to follow the development of a particular procedure or policy from early discussions in the correspondence to the implementation of the new policy or procedure. Records in the files also relate to the formation of new administrative offices, many of which reflected the increasingly businesslike structure of the University administration. For example, the creation of the posts of vice president for business and comptroller as well as the evolution of new registration procedures are recorded in the files. The records also reflect the shift from assigning committees of faculty, alumni, and administrators to undertake tasks to the introduction of a new administrative post or office to oversee that task.

    Central Files is an important resource for understanding the structure of the University administration and the administrative reorganizations that took place throughout the twentieth century, such as the major restructuring that occurred in 1949 when the entire administration was studied and business operations, in particular, were significantly revised. In addition to administrative reorganizations, Columbia conducted a number of self-studies and long-range planning projects during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Some of the studies were University-wide, while others were aimed at a particular school or group of schools. A number of these projects are well documented in Central Files. Correspondence, reports, and working papers provide information on the motivation for the study, its mission and scope, the activities of the committee that was appointed to conduct the study, and the findings and recommendations of the study. Such records help to captures the University at a particular moment in time and provide information on a range of issues, such as space needs, finances, the mission and goals of the University, the curriculum, and the organizational structure of the University.

    Records in Central Files also contribute to the understanding of University governance. In particular, substantial correspondence in the files relates to the board of trustees. Over 100 of the sub-series in Series I contain materials regarding the board or correspondence from trustees. For the most part, materials in the files reflect the routine business of the board, such as arrangements for meetings, social engagements, and membership on the board. In some cases, Central Files also contains reports regarding the board and substantive correspondence about the powers of the trustees. Correspondence between trustees and the president also illustrates the involvement of the trustees in the life of the University in all its variety. In their letters, trustees, presidents, and administrators discussed topics such as academic freedom, University finances, donor relations, the appointment of deans and administrators, and the mission and role of he University. The routine business and, in some cases, activities of the standing committees of the trustees are also recorded. Trustees' committees that are reflected in the files include the committees on honors, education, buildings and grounds, and alumni affairs.

    Many of the records in Central Files relate to the daily operations of the University. The files record a host of routine tasks, including the management of administrative offices, in particular in terms of officer personnel, facilities and finances; the preparation of reports, bulletins, and other publications; and the scheduling of appointments and meetings, as well as administrative issues, such as University-wide employee benefits and labor relations. More importantly, Central Files documents admissions issues, registration and related tasks, finances, and facilities management through the University.

    A number of sub-series files in Central Files Series I concern issues related to admissions. Materials in the files chronicle a number of periods in which admissions criteria and procedures were reviewed and changed. In particular, the records relate to the College Entrance Examination Board and the University Committee on Entrance Examinations from the 1890s to the 1920s. These materials reflect the formation of standardized entrance examinations and include discussions of admissions criteria, the content of examinations, and examination policies and procedures. In addition, correspondence documents the reevaluation of admission criteria and procedures during the late 1940s, and correspondence and announcements reflect issues surrounding admissions and recruiting efforts during the late 1960s.

    Columbia's growing student body and the introduction of new schools presented complications for the antiquated registration system. Beginning in the 1890s, the University sought to improve the registration process and related tasks. Records regarding registration date from 1898 to 1971. In particular, Central Files records the formation of new registration procedures and the daily administration of registration and related tasks from 1898 to 1920. In some instances, the files also include enrollment statistics and the evaluation of enrollment trends.

    Central Files chronicles the University's sometimes troubled finances and documents the financial administration of the institution. Between the 1890s and the 1930s, Columbia continuously struggled to service the debt accrued by the purchase of a new campus and the initial phase of expansion. In addition, throughout the twentieth century, the University's budget and expenditures increased drastically, new endowments were created, and investments were acquired in many forms. Columbia also underwent several financial crises, including those that occurred in 1917-18 and the 1930s. Central Files contributes to the understanding of these trends. Specific topics related to University finances range from routine appropriations and expenditures, accounting and reporting, and the management of special funds to University-wide budgetary policy and the preparation of the annual budget, investment policies and planning, financial planning and analysis and the financial needs of the University.

    The management of Columbia's facilities is a common topic in Central Files. The records document construction and renovation projects, maintenance, and repairs. The continuous pressure of increased enrollment, growing numbers of faculty and staff, and new offices and departments made space needs a frequent topic of concern. Materials in the files document efforts to allocate space to competing offices and departments and attempts to carve more space out of existing buildings. Central Files also includes a number of studies that evaluate the use of individual buildings. For example, Low Memorial Library received the attention of at least two studies that assessed the condition of the building and use of space in it.

    The University's academic functions altered dramatically during the first half of the twentieth century. Schools, departments, and programs expanded or were created; new professorships were established; new subjects were added to the curriculum; numerous institutes were formed; library facilities, collections, and staff increased; and new degrees were introduced. The University also confronted issues involving its growing graduate and professional programs along with related questions surrounding the role of Columbia College and undergraduate educations in the University. Central Files contains correspondence, reports, proposals, minutes, and bulletins documenting numerous topics related to the academic affairs of the University. The records also reflect influences on Columbia's educational mission and academic policies.

    Schools: Central Files chronicles the history of a number of Columbia's schools and faculties, including undergraduate colleges, graduate, and professional schools; the continuing education division and home study program; and the summer session. Over 200 sub-series folders related to schools, and nearly 40 to Columbia College alone.

    The files document the establishment of several schools. For example, records describing the establishment of the School of International Affairs and a number of its institutes and programs date from 1931 through the 1940s. Issues relating to the formation of schools include funding and planning, mission, curriculum, and facilities. Often, by reviewing the files of specific deans and administrators, it is possible to trace the history of a school over the course of decades, from its founding through its successive mergers, divisions, and administrative changes. To illustrate, the files contain extensive records on the School of Engineering and Applied Science and its predecessors (the School of Mines; Schools of Mines, Engineering and Chemistry; and the School of Engineering) dating from 1891 to the 1950s and, less comprehensively, from the 1950s to 1971. The development of graduate schools, including the School of Political Science; the Faculties of Political Science, Philosophy and Pure Science; the Graduate Faculties; and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, is chronicled from 1890 to 1939, 1949 to 1958, and the mid 1960s to 1971.

    Central Files also reflects the daily administration of the schools. Numerous files contain information on faculty recruiting and appointments, gifts, budgeting, the administration of departments and divisions within the school, relations with the University's administration (often in terms of finances and facilities), school administrative and advisory boards, facilities, prizes and awards, and finances. Materials relating to the academic affairs of individual schools, including degree requirements, the creation of new degrees, the mission of the school, the administration of doctoral examinations, and the curriculum of the school are also prevalent in Central Files. In addition, the files detail major building programs, special projects, long-range planning efforts, and funding campaigns.

    Academic Departments and Programs: Central files contain over 300 named folders related to the development and operation of numerous academic development and operation of numerous academic departments and programs. A number of these are documented over the course of decades. For example, the files provide a nearly complete record of the Department of Chemistry from 1890 to 1959, as well as a less comprehensive body of materials on the same department dating from 1960 to 1971. Records also chronicle the history of Asian studies at Columbia - including the Department of Chinese and Japanese, the Department of Chinese Languages and Literatures, the Committee on Oriental Studies, and the East Asian Institute - from 1891 to 1969. Records relating to the Department of Physics date from the 1890s to the 1950s.

    Correspondence, budgets, reports, and other records reflect a wide variety of subjects involving departments. Topics treated range from the routine to the substantive. Most often, the records relate to budgeting; faculty recruiting and appointments; arrangements for courses; prizes and awards; appropriations and expenditures; the management of special funds for research, prizes, and scholarships; departmental office facilities; faculty affairs, such as sabbaticals and travel arrangements; gifts to the department; and visiting professors and lecturers. Folders relating to the science departments also include information on research facilities, equipments, fieldwork, laboratories, and the administration of sponsored projects.

    In addition to the administrative issues listed above, department-related records illuminate more substantive topics regarding the curriculum, mission, faculty, and structure of the department. These subjects include staffing needs in terms of the number of faculty members required and fields for which the department hoped to hire a new faculty member; proposed special programs and new courses; course requirements; teaching loads; the establishment of named professorships; the curriculum of the department; the evaluation of faculty performance; and relations with other departments. On occasion, a department was evaluated by an outside committee comprised of faculty and administrators. The reports of these committees discuss issues ranging from the organization of the department to faculty performance to the curriculum. In some cases, records in Central Files also provide information on the establishment of a department. The influence of particular donors, developments in the curriculum and the structure of the new department are among the topics that relate to this issue.

    Faculty: Records relating to schools, departments, and programs often include information on Columbia's faculty - both as individuals and in general terms. Most of the information regarding faculty is administrative in nature. For example, correspondence and budget letters related to faculty salaries, teaching loads, and courses and sometimes evaluate the work of faculty members. Materials in Central Files also record faculty personnel issues, such as appointments, recruiting efforts, appointments to fellowships, salaries, leaves, and benefits. In addition, correspondence, publications, and speeches help to document individual faculty members' committee responsibilities, professional activities, and attendance at conferences and official functions. In some cases, information regarding the administration of a faculty member's research projects, fieldwork, and writing projects is also available. Most of this material is routine in nature. Central Files does not include faculty members' research notes or lecture notes. Records also relate to faculty personnel policies and benefits on a University-wide basis. In particular, Central Files includes information regarding the formation and management of pension plans for University faculty.

    Central Files also documents the related topics of academic freedom and relations between the faculty and the University administration. In particular, the records reflect these issues during times of crisis, such as World War I, when several professors were dismissed from the University; the late 1940s and early 1950s, when a number of faculty members faced charges of communist activities; and the 1960s, when faculty-administration relations were strained by social and educational issues as well as conflicts over student unrest.

    Libraries: Columbia's library system changed dramatically during the first half of the twentieth century. New libraries were formed to serve the needs of specialized fields; library facilities, services, and collections were expanded; and the library staff grew from a single University librarian to a large staff of professionals. Central Files helps to chronicle this transformation and includes correspondence, reports, floor plans, newsletters, and financial statements relating to the Columbia University Libraries. Most of these materials date from the 1920s to the 1950s. The records documents facilities, personnel administration, library fees, finances and costs, collection management, gifts, the appraisal and acquisition of new collections, and policies of the University libraries as well as certain departmental and special libraries. Central Files also records the formation of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library and area studies libraries.

    Columbia's Academic Mission and Philosophy: Central Files is an important resource for identifying and understanding influences on the academic mission and philosophy of the University - from individual donors to social and political trends. In particular, records prior to the 1940s demonstrate ties with German academia through the Roosevelt Professorship, Germanistic Society of America, the Kaiser Wilhelm Professorship, and Columbia's Deutsches Haus. Later records show the effects of World War II, which had a profound influence on the schools and departments in the sciences and engineering as well as the financial underpinning of research at the University; the postwar era, when concerns over competition with communist governments raised issues regarding progress in science and engineering; and the 1960s and 1970s, when minority group and student pressure brought upheaval and change to the campus.

    Topics related to research include the formation of government, corporate, and foundation-sponsored research programs; the administration of research projects and research facilities; and the formation and operation of research institutes. While countless individual projects are documented, Central Files is particularly strong in the areas of physics, engineering, social sciences, and earth sciences research as well as the development of University-wide research programs and facilities.

    Central Files chronicles the institution of an organized research program at Columbia from government-sponsored projects hastily set up in response to wartime needs to the eventual founding of the University's Office of Projects and Grants. In particular, the records focus on government-sponsored research and the growth of ties between the government and the University during the 1940s and 1950s. For the most part, the records relate to facilities, security, financial administration, and personnel issues involving government contracts. Occasionally, the records also discuss policies guiding sponsored research and demonstrate the ways in which Columbia determined its relationship with the government, especially in terms of cost overhead. The files also include records relating to training programs that were run by the University for the government and military during World War II.

    Materials in Central Files also relate to the creation of research facilities at Columbia and the administration of research facilities and projects in departments, schools, and institutes. Most of the records documenting departmental research pertain to such routine subjects as payments to research assistants and laboratory equipment. Many departmental files, however, also contain research proposals that were submitted to foundations or reports summarizing research efforts in the department. Records in the files also document research-related issues and facilities on a University-wide basis. For example, records describe the founding and administration of the University's Nevis research facilities during the 1940s and 1950s.

    Records in Central Files chronicle developments in the fields of science and engineering research. In particular, the records relate to research in physics from 1935 to 1969 and research projects involving a variety of fields that took place in the engineering school and engineering departments from the 1890s through the 1950s. Social science research institutes are also well documented in the files. Related topics range from the establishment, mission, and funding of institutes to administrative issues, such as facilities and personnel. The records also include reports and funding proposals that describe the activities and accomplishments of research institutes. For example, files chronicle the organization, policies, and research goals of the Bureau of Applied Social Research, which began as the University's Office of Radio Research, from 1934 to 1960. Records dating from 1949 to 1960 chronicle the National Manpower Council and the Conservation of Human Resources Project, which were based at Columbia.

    Research in the earth sciences is also recorded in Central Files, first through records regarding the School of Mines and the Geology Department and, eventually, through materials relating to the formation and administration of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which is documented from the 1940s to 1971. Related records chronicle relations between the observatory and the Lamont family, who donated the estate that houses it, as well as negotiations with the Doherty Foundation, which provided major funding for its further development. Other topics include Lamont-Doherty's funding, facilities, and faculty and the administration of research projects, such as the ocean core sample project. Occasionally, letters or reports provide accounts of expeditions. In addition, the records often pertain to the needs of the observatory and its relations with donors and the University.

    In addition to Columbia's schools, departments, and institutes, Central Files documents numerous other educational, research, social, and cultural institutions that are or were affiliated with Columbia. The files are an especially useful source of information on affiliations with New York area hospitals. Materials in the files relate to the formation of affiliation agreements; gifts to affiliates; and relations between affiliated institutions and Columbia, in particular in terms of finances, legal issues, faculty, and facilities. In some cases, it is possible to trace the history of an affiliation in order to see the development of a relationship with an institution and changes in that relationship over time. For example, Central Files chronicles the affiliation between Columbia University and Presbyterian Hospital, which began ca. 1910 and resulted in the creation of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in 1928.

    Through records relation to schools, departments, programs, research, and affiliated institutions, Central Files also chronicles the growth of certain disciplines and professions, such as engineering, physics, chemistry, the social sciences, international affairs, and journalism. Correspondence and other records provide information on developments in the curriculum, funding efforts, and gifts supporting research and education in a particular area, prominent faculty in the field, the advent of professional training in certain fields, and the establishment of new programs and schools, as well as changes to existing ones in order to serve the needs of developing professions and disciplines.

    Since its move to Morningside Heights, Columbia has had an impact on the surrounding community. Community issues and problems have also had a growing influence on the University. Columbia's public relations and community relations are documented in a variety of sources in Central Files. Most prominently, Central Files is a useful source of information on Columbia's troubled community relations during the 1960s. The records relate to Columbia's efforts to improve public relations and address community issues; landlord-tenant conflicts between the University and the community; Columbia's plan to erect a gymnasium in nearby Morningside Park; urban renewal programs; and community services such as medical clinics and sports programs.

    Central Files contains extensive records regarding Columbia's development efforts, donor relations, alumni relations, benefactors, and gifts. In particular, the files are an important resource for information on the establishment, terms, and use of specific gifts and endowments. They also record such gifts as money, stocks, property, art and artifacts, library and manuscript collections, and equipment. Central Files also reflects the influence of donors on the University in terms of its finances, physical development, academic programs, and curriculum. Some files span many years, chronicling a donor's or potential donor's relationship with Columbia over time. Others record only a single gift or a short period of time.

    The files also relate to the development campaigns for the University in general as well as for its schools. A number of major funding campaigns, both those that were realized and those that were not successful, are well documented in Central Files. For example, files include information on the successful campaign for an engineering center and failed attempts to fund an arts center. Funding proposals are often a detailed source of information regarding the space needs, costs, mission, and activities of a proposed project and reflect the goals and priorities of the University at a particular point in time.

    Central Files also records the creation of a professional, organized development program at the University, which began in 1945 with the hiring of a development officer to plan a ten-year funding program. The records document the formation of development strategies and priorities, the work of development committees, and the operation of the Development Office.

    Closely connected to development is alumni relations. While Central Files is not a comprehensive source of information on alumni groups and relations, it offers evidence of the interaction between certain alumni groups, in particular the Alumni Federation of Columbia University, and the University administration. Most of the records pertain to routine preparations for alumni events and the administration of local and regional alumni clubs. Alumni involvement is the life of the University – whether through funding, the oversight of student activities, or interaction with the administration – is also reflected in Central Files. In addition to materials relating to the Alumni Federation and other alumni groups, most of which date from 1914 through the mid 1960s, Central Files also contains numerous letters from individual alumni who wrote to the president and administrators on topics ranging from football to academic freedom.

    The management of student affairs at Columbia has reflected the changing nature of student activities and student relations with the administration, a persistent concern for how student organizations reflect upon the University, and attempts to deal with conflicts between students and the administration. Between 1900 and the 1940s in particular, Columbia sought ways to centralize the administration of nonacademic services and to make those aspects of students' lives more conducive to a community spirit and more supportive of the academic function of the University. Central Files includes records from deans, deans of students, and the administrators and alumni who oversaw student groups, housing, discipline, athletics, health services, and other aspects of the students' lives outside the classroom.

    Although students are documents in Central Files, they usually appear as the were seen through administrators' eyes – as recipients of financial aid, scholarships, and awards; users of student services; disciplinary problems; or in terms of demographics and statistics. For example, records relate to the management of residence halls and the formation of student health services. Materials in the files also pertain to provisions for students' social, religious, and civic lives through the Earl Hall religious center, the Ferris Booth Hall student center (replaced by Lerner Hall), and other programs. Periodically, policies governing students and student groups are also discussed in the records. For example, records from the 1950s relate to the introduction of policies governing speakers sponsored by student groups following a controversy regarding a student-sponsored speaker.

    Central Files also helps to document issues surrounding female students at Columbia. A small body of records, including correspondence from the deans of Barnard College and the adviser to women graduate students, relates to housing, the admission of women to University courses, services for female students, and the status of women students on the campus. In addition, the files includes information regarding services for international students from the 1940s to 1971, as well as veterans' affairs and services during the 1940s and 1950s.

    One important issue that is reflected in Central Files is the relationship between students and the University, in particular during the campus disturbances of the 1960s. Correspondence between deans, administrators, and trustees as well as proctors' reports and official University announcements illustrate this relationship. The proctors' reports are of particular interest in illuminating student activities. They list and very briefly discuss student meetings, events, demonstrations, disciplinary problems and pranks, security violations, rules infractions, and rumors regarding protests. In some cases fliers that were distributed at demonstrations as well as student petitions are also found in the records. Among other topics, the files reflect the administration's efforts to control and discipline students, responses to student demonstrations, attempts to respond to students' demands for reform of University government, and struggles with public relations issues.

    The original concept for much of Columbia's Morningside Heights campus was determined by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Materials in Central Files document the initial plan for the development of the new campus, the design of buildings, plans for further development of the site, space needs, and diversions from the original campus plan. The records also relate to major building projects - both those that were proposed but never undertaken and those that were completed. For example, projects recorded in the files include the design and construction of Low Memorial Library, a plan by I.M. Pei to construct towers in the center of campus, and efforts to erect a gymnasium in Morningside Park. Other buildings and facilities that are well documented in the files include Butler Library, Ken Hall, University Hall (now the site of Uris Hall), Engineering Terrace, the Baker Field athletic facility, and the South Field portion of the campus.

    Records relating to campus design and planning demonstrate trends in Columbia's architecture, influences on the physical growth and style of the campus, and concepts of the purpose of new buildings. In documenting Columbia's design and expansion, Central Files contributes to the understanding of the University's impact on the surrounding community and the development of the Morningside Heights neighborhood.

    Countless prizes and awards - including those that were granted by individual departments or schools, the University, or nationally - are documented in Central Files. Topics relating to prizes and awards include their establishment, the selection of prize and award recipients, the management of prize funds, and the funding and purpose of prizes and awards. In particular, the records contain information on the Pulitzer Prizes dating from 1893 to 1971. Honorary degrees are also recorded in the files. Related topics include preparations for honorary degree convocations and the nomination and selection of degree recipients. The records also contain citations and speeches that were delivered at degree ceremonies.

    Official University ceremonies and certain special events are often documented in Central Files. Records relating to events include minutes, correspondence, proposals, fliers, programs, newsletters, lists, invitations, texts of citations and speeches, press releases, and floor plans. Many of the issues related to events and ceremonies are routine in nature. For example, Central Files documents seating plans, travel arrangements, menus, crowd control, publicity, and acceptances and regrets. Certain named files also contain more substantive information on the purpose of events. In particular, records from the 1950s chronicle Columbia's yearlong bicentennial celebration, which took place in 1954. Many of the folders in Central Files dating from this period contain at least a small amount of correspondence regarding the 200th anniversary celebrations, and several named files contain extensive correspondence, minutes, newsletters, and other related materials. Beginning in the mid 1940s and continuing through the 1950s, committees of administrators, faculty, and trustees began planning for the bicentennial. Related topics include the selection of themes for the celebration, planning and preparations for events, publicity, and anniversary-related development campaigns.

    Central Files also includes numerous records - such as correspondence, proceedings, and programs, regarding many lecture series, seminars, and conferences that were held at Columbia. Some lectures and seminars, such as the Bampton Lectures in America of the University Seminars, were University wide. Others were hosted by a particular department or school. For the most part, these records relate to the appointment of lecturers or seminar and conference participants, travel arrangements, honoraria, and the management of special funds in support of lectureships and seminars. Certain named folders also contain information on the purpose of lecture series, conference and seminars, as well as information regarding the establishment of lecture series and the agenda and proceedings of conferences.

    Central Files documents a critical time in the history of one of the nation's leading academic institutions. During the twentieth century, Columbia has not only undergone significant changes to its curriculum, facilities, administration, and student body but has also played an important role beyond its gates. By documenting the transformation of Columbia from a college to a university and recording the history of its many schools and departments, the formation of research programs at the University, Columbia's relations with other educational and cultural institutions, new directions in numerous academic disciplines and professions, and a host of other topics, Central Files takes its place as a major resource for researching the evolution of higher education in the United States.

  • Series II, 1971-1972

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1971 to June 30, 1972. They start after the administrative transitional period between Presidents Andrew Cordier (1968-70) and William McGill (1970-80). Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence. Important subjects addressed in the general alphabetical files are noted parenthetically.

    Photographs found in this series have been removed to the Historical Photograph Collection. A photocopy of the photograph has been left in place of the original. The folders labeled "Miscellaneous" contain various letters regarding the student protests of the late 1960s to early 1970s. Most correspondence regarding student unrest is interspersed throughout the General Alphabetical files for 1971-1972 under the name of the sender.

  • Series III, 1972-1973

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1972 to June 30, 1973. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence. Important subjects addressed in the general alphabetical files are noted parenthetically.

  • Series IV, 1973-1974

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1973 to June 30, 1974. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence. Important subjects addressed in the general alphabetical files are noted parenthetically.

  • Series V, 1974-1975

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1974 to June 30, 1975. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence. Important subjects addressed in the general alphabetical files are noted parenthetically.

  • Series VI, 1975-1976

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1975 to June 30, 1976. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence.

  • Series VII, 1976-1977

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1976 to June 30, 1977. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence.

  • Series VIII, 1977-1978

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1977 to June 30, 1978. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence.

  • Series IX, 1978-1979

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1978 to June 30, 1979. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence.

  • Series X, 1979-1980

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1979 to June 30, 1980. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence.

  • Series XI, 1980-1981

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1980 to June 30, 1981. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence.

  • Series XII, 1981-1982

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1981 to June 30, 1982. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence.

  • Series XIII, 1982-1983

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1982 to June 30, 1983. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence.

  • Series XIV, 1983-1984

    This series of Central Files is the continuation of records found in Series I covering the year July 1, 1983 to June 30, 1984. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence. Only the first three folders of this series ("A", "AC" and "AD") are currently available for use. The rest of this series is currently unavailable for use.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

Due to the nature of these records, Central Files are closed for 25 years after their creation.

This collection is located onsite.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Central Files ; Box and Folder; University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University in the City of New York.

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Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs records, 1939-2006 [Bulk dates: 1956-2003] Columbia University Archives.

University Protest and Activism Collection, 1958-1999 [Bulk Dates: 1968-1972]. Columbia University Archives.

Columbia University in World War I Collection, 1914-1970. Columbia University Archives.

Columbia University in World War II Collection, 1933-1956. Columbia University Archives.


Materials have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact for more information.


In 1995, Central Files was transferred from the Office of the President to the Columbia University Archives, where it forms the Archives' core collection on the history of the University. Subsequent records, dating from 1971 onwards, have been periodically transferred to the Archives from the Office of the President.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Records dating between 1890 and 1971 (681 cubic feet) in this collection were processed by David Hill, Linnea Anderson and Rhea Pliakas between 1995 and 1999.

Records dating between 1971-1972 and 1974-1975 were processed by Abby Lester in 2003.

Records dating from 1975-1976 to 1983-1984 were minimally processed by student employees Richard Mick (MFA 2011) and Madeline Stevens (MFA 2012).

The initial processing of this collection (the 1890-1971 records) was made possible by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Revision Description

2011-10-18 PTL created file from PDF

2012-5-18 Jocelyn Wilk edited front matter and container lists.

2015-11-19 Call number information added by Catherine C. Ricciardi.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Agreements Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Budgets Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Personnel records Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Reports Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Speeches (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
minutes (administrative records) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Butler, Nicholas Murray, 1862-1947 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
College administrators Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
College students Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Administration Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Alumni and alumnae Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Buildings Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Curricula Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Faculty Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Finance Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Libraries Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Officials and employees Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Presidents Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Student strike, 1968 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University -- Students Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Cordier, Andrew W (Andrew Wellington), 1901-1975 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Education and state Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Eisenhower, Dwight D (Dwight David), 1890-1969 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Fackenthal, Frank Diehl, 1883-1968 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Kirk, Grayson L. (Grayson Louis), 1903-1997 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Low, Seth, 1850-1916 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
McGill, William J. (William James), 1922-1997 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sovern, Michael I. Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note


Central Files grew out of the information needs, working relationships, and activities of the president of the University as well as the secretary, provost, and other administrators. In order to comprehend the scope and content of Central Files, it is helpful to understand the changing relationships between the president and secretary of the University, the working relationships and administrative patterns established at Columbia during the 1890s and the early years of the twentieth century, and the changing needs and structure of the University administration over time.

The records that eventually became Central Files originated in the Office of the President during the 1890s. President Seth Low's correspondence was organized by his personal secretary, William H.H. Beebe. Beebe later became the first secretary of the University, a position that was created in 1895 to assist the president in carrying out an ever-increasing number of administrative duties. As University secretary, Beebe continued to keep the president's correspondence, and this task remained a responsibility of the secretary's office until the 1970s.

Close cooperation between the president and secretary continued throughout the administration of Nicholas Murray Butler, particularly until the 1920s. As new administrative responsibilities emerged, they often devolved on the president and the secretary until new posts could be created to undertake them. Information for the president was often funneled through the secretary.

A closely interacting group of administrators and the centralization of administrative functions also helped to create and maintain Central Files. From the 1890s to 1920, in particular, administrative responsibilities were placed in the hands of these few individuals, many of whom remained at the University for decades. The president, treasurer, secretary, registrar, superintendent of buildings and grounds, and deans handled most administrative tasks. In addition, University Presidents Seth Low and Nicholas Murray Butler were actively and personally involved in administrative issues, kept close tabs on a range of issues and projects and frequently requested information from their staffs. Because Low and Butler were so intimately involved in administrative affairs, their records acted as the administrative files of the University.

This close collaboration among administrators, the personal involvement of presidents, and a continuously increasing number of administrative tasks resulted in the creation of the large body of interrelated correspondence and other records that became Central Files. The patterns established in the 1890s and early 1900s of channeling information to the president and secretary, filing records under the name of the sender, and centrally collecting and disseminating information continued even as the University administration developed into a larger and more complex organization. Eventually, however, these patterns no longer served the differing business needs and administrative styles of a more modern, professionalized administration.

Several important changes in the nature of Central Files occurred during Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration as president of the University from 1948 to 1952. During this time, there appears to have been a less direct relationship between the president, secretary, and Central Files. In addition, Eisenhower was often absent from the University and seems to have delegated many tasks to the provost, secretary, vice presidents, and other top administrators. These officers used Central Files as a depository and sent batches of records to the files as needed. It also appears that Eisenhower kept his own separate set of files and may not have used Central Files as much as his predecessors did. Finally, most of the records relating to Eisenhower's administration were removed from the University following his election as president of the United States. As a result, while Central Files remains an important resource for documenting the University and its administration during the late 1940s and the early 1950s, the records from this period provide less information on the presidency.

Throughout the 1960s, Central Files seems to have become less useful to the majority of administrators. Documents regarding Central Files cite difficulties locating information; the length of time needed to retrieve records; lack of subject filing; and administrators' concerns that, because of the filing system employed in Central Files, clerks were not able to locate all the materials relevant to their particular requests as reasons for reluctance to use the files and their proposed reorganization. (Plans for reforming the filing system were never realized. However, during the 1960s or 1970s, file clerks purged certain records dating prior to the 1940s. No documentation regarding what materials were removed from the files has been located). Other collections in the Archives that include records from this period show that many administrators were keeping their own separate sets of files. In fact, three top-level administrators made significant deposits of records to the files in 1967, apparently at the request of the secretary of the University. The absence of a single central figure requesting and filing information may also have contributed to the declining usefulness of the files as did the changing role of the secretary, whose post had become more administrative and less closely tied to the president and high-level policy decisions. For example, the Office of the Secretary was placed under the vice president in 1959, where it remained until 1969. Most importantly, the secretary's role as a link between the president and the rest of the administration appears to have lessened after the 1940s.

A third important change in Central Files occurred in 1971. After seventy-six years, responsibility for Central Files was transferred from the secretary to the president's office. At the time, a major argument in support of the move was that the president's records should be managed by the president's office rather than that of the secretary. The relationship that began with William Beebe overseeing the president's voluminous correspondence had been outgrown by a burgeoning University administration, changing administrative styles, and differing concepts of the role of key administrative offices.