School Honors Longtime SEAS Professor, Senior Vice Dean Emeritus

Nov 05 2012 | The School will be renaming the Dean’s Conference Room the Morton B. Friedman Conference Room.

In recognition for his unwavering dedication to Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, the School will be renaming the Dean’s Conference Room, located on the fifth floor of the Mudd Building, the Morton B. Friedman Conference Room. Morton Friedman (Mort) is a longtime professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics, of applied physics and applied mathematics, and is senior vice dean emeritus.

At the School’s annual Faculty Excellence Celebration, Interim Dean Donald Goldfarb paid tribute to Friedman and thanked him for his commitment and devotion to the School. Dean Goldfarb, who has known and worked with Friedman for 30 years, said he is grateful for the wise counsel Friedman provided him throughout his own career at SEAS as a professor, department chair, and as interim dean, twice now. When Goldfarb first served as interim dean in 1994, Friedman was senior vice dean.

In the mid-1960s, Friedman founded the division of mathematical models and operations research, and Goldfarb credits him with keeping the operations research discipline alive and thriving at the School through the years. Among the first students in that division are two winners of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences, commonly referred to as the Nobel Prize in Economics; Robert C. Merton BS’66, in 1997, and Alvin E. Roth BS’71, who received the honor just this year.

“Mort was reluctant to be in the limelight but we told him it was a requirement and he must show up,” said Goldfarb at the event. “Being the kind of guy that he is, he agreed. And that’s what he’s been doing his whole career—putting the best interest of the school in front of his own.”

Friedman was honored by the special recognition. “It’s more than I expected, frankly, because I’ve enjoyed being here at Columbia,” said Friedman. “It’s been a wonderful experience … I’m proud to say I played an important role in the process of hiring and tenuring faculty. Thank you.”

In addition to renaming the Conference Room in his honor, Friedman was presented with a calligraphic citation that enumerated his many significant contributions to the school. Goldfarb shared an excerpt from the citation with the faculty, students, staff, and friends who attended the Oct. 24 event, an excerpt that resonated with many who know Friedman well. Goldfarb read: “You have become a trusted advisor and friend to all with the wisdom to seek you out. How many crises have been averted, problems solved, and hazy ideas brought into focus because someone had the good sense to utter three simple words: Let’s ask Mort.”

Among his many achievements at the School, Friedman brought engineering education in the first-year curriculum with project-based design and with discipline-specific professional courses; he created a minors program in more than 20 liberal arts subjects; and he encouraged research opportunities with junior and senior faculty. He served as chair of the Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics from 1981 to 1995, and from 1980 to 1991, he also held the post of associate dean for instruction and research.

Friedman received his B.S., M.S., and Eng.Sc.D. degrees from New York University. In 1956, he joined Columbia as an assistant professor of civil engineering and engineering mechanics. In 1966, he was appointed full professor, a position he still holds. In 1995, Friedman was named vice dean, and then senior vice dean in 2010, and earlier this year, senior vice dean emeritus.

-Melanie A. Farmer

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