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In 1897, Columbia moved from the Midtown Manhattan site that is now Rockefeller Center to the Morningside Heights site of the former Bloomingdale Hospital. Many distinguished alumni were fearful that traditions and values of old Columbia would be lost in the move to the new, modern, McKim, Mead & White designed campus. Consequently, then recent alumni formed the Interclass Society of the Early Eighties and, in response to its success, older alumni founded, in 1909, the Society of Older Graduates of Columbia. The objectives of this latter group - which has evolved to become the Society of Columbia Graduates - were ". . . to encourage and maintain mutual understanding between Columbia and her graduates; and to uphold the influence and further the interests of Columbia University." By its second Annual Meeting, the Society had over two hundred members.
In the course of the twentieth century, the period of years after graduation required for membership in the Society decreased from thirty to twenty-five to the current ten. Other criteria for membership have evolved as well. Each year, a Committee appointed by the Society's Board of Directors consults with the Deans of Columbia College and the School of Engineering as well as with Alumni Association Presidents, and active Members to identify potential new candidates for membership in the Society. The object of their search is to find twenty to thirty alumni/ae who display a deep dedication to Columbia through their service as undergraduates, and as alumni, in Columbia's various associations and activities, including class reunions. The candidates are approved by the Board and invited to join the Society. Those who become Members pay a single, modest lifetime fee. All activities of the Society are paid for separately by the Members who attend them.
In 1949, the Society was inspired to embody Columbia's highest ideals by establishing the Great Teacher Awards. Beginning with Mark Van Doren and Edwin H. Armstrong, one College and one Engineering Professor have been selected for recognition each year upon the recommendation of students, faculty and deans. Their Awards have been presented in Gala Dinners in Low Library in the presence of the awardees' families, their faculty colleagues, the Presidents, Provosts, Deans of the University, and local and national press.
In 1992, to better symbolize the Society's mission, the Society commissioned Professor Stanley Wyatt to create a sculpture of the Teaching Lion, which is installed on the east wall of the Robert M. Rosencrans Reading Room on the first floor of Butler Library, and in miniature on the lapels of each of the nearly one thousand Members of the Society.