Write Columbia's History
Eisenhower at Columbia
Robert Orkand
Columbia College 1958

Ike stood on the stage of McMillan Theater in September 1950 and welcomed the 650 or so beanie-clad members of the class of '54.

We were Columbia's Bicentennial Class and the University's president termed us the "Class of Destiny." Ike joked that he himself was a sophomore at Columbia, having arrived in June 1948.

Although he was nominally Columbia's president until he departed for higher office, in point of fact Eisenhower served but two-and-a-half years at Morningside. By the end of the first semester of the "Class of Destiny's" freshman year, Ike was back in the same Army uniform he had worn when he arrived at Columbia in 1948.

What had happened was that in December 1950, while visiting Heidelberg College in Ohio, Ike was tracked down by a White House switchboard operator. Trudging through deep snow to a freight office with a phone, Eisenhower fielded the call, from President Harry S Truman, telling him that he was urgently needed back in uniform as the first supreme allied commander of a new defense group called NATO.

Two weeks after the call from HST, DDE was back in uniform.

As Columbia's president, Ike wasn't a happy camper. It was an unpleasant time for him and Columbia's faculty, a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Lacking academic qualifications, Ike never gained full faculty acceptance and—called to Washington for numerous defense commitments—he didn't have sufficient time to tend to Columbia-related duties.

So when Truman phoned with the NATO summons, Eisenhower was only too happy to take a leave of absence from Columbia and report to his new assignment in Brussels early in 1951.

Two years later, Ike was taking the oath of office as America's oldest (at that time) president. Did he look back with regrets at leaving Morningside? I doubt it.

Robert E. Orkand

Lt. Col., U.S. Army (Retired)

Columbia College 1958

(I was in uniform in 1954 and came back four years later to graduate with the class of '58.)

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