Third Informal Thematic Debate
Civilizations and the Challenge for Peace: Obstacles and Opportunities

Paul LeClerc

Paul LeClerc, President and Chief Executive Officer of The New York Public Library, was born on May 28, 1941, in Lebanon, New Hampshire, the grandchild of French Canadian immigrants. French was spoken in his childhood home and formed the basis of his later interest in French language and culture. Raised in Queens, he attended parochial schools there. His father died while LeClerc was in high school, and he and his brother both worked and received financial aid for their college studies. LeClerc graduated from the College of Holy Cross in 1963 and spent the next academic year studying at the Sorbonne. Returning to New York City, he completed a Ph.D. in French literature with distinction at Columbia University, writing a dissertation on Voltaire, an author he was introduced to by a Jesuit at Holy Cross during his freshman year.

Dr. LeClerc was a member of the faculty of Union College in Schenectady, New York, from 1966-79, where he chaired the Department of Modern Languages and the Division of Humanities, and received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the American Philosophical Society to support his scholarly work on the French Enlightenment.

Dr. LeClerc returned to New York City in 1979 to join the central administration of The City University of New York, the nation's third largest university and its largest urban university system. He served successively as University Dean for Academic Affairs, and Acting Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for CUNY. He left the CUNY Central Office in 1984 to become Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs of Baruch College, CUNY, home of the largest business school in America.

In 1988, Dr. LeClerc was appointed President of Hunter College, the largest public institution of higher education in New York City. Under Dr. LeClerc's leadership, Hunter, which provides an education from kindergarten through to the Ph.D., adopted the nation's most comprehensive and diverse undergraduate requirements and moved into 12th place nationally in awarding degrees to minority students. As Hunter College's president, he succeeded in making Hunter the first-choice college of most students applying to the City University of New York. He also held the position of Professor of French and taught during nearly every semester of his presidency.

Dr. LeClerc became President and Chief Executive Officer of The New York Public Library on December 1st, 1993. The New York Public Library is broadly recognized as one of the preeminent libraries in the world, with collections now numbering some 55 million items. The New York Public consists of 89 libraries, spread over 130 square miles of New York City, and serves a more varied set of constituencies and has the broadest mission of any library in the nation. In 2002, there were 15 million reader visits to the library system. The Library is organized as a private, non-profit foundation with its own, non-governmental, Board of Trustees. Its $200 million annual operating budget includes $130 million of public sector support and $70 million of private sector funding. The Library’s endowment, which is used to support the operations of its four research libraries, is now $420 million.

Under Dr. LeClerc’s guidance and through the enthusiastic support and involvement of the Library’s Board, The New York Public Library has implemented a targeted series of initiatives that have made it a world-wide leader in the field of information collecting and distribution. These initiatives, backed by a $723 million capital campaign that concluded in 2000, include: strategic alliances with the most important collections in Western Europe, South America, and Russia; creating for the public’s use one of the most advanced IT systems in any library; creating a robust web site that is presently receiving one billion “hits” per year and serving readers from 200 different countries; acquiring prestigious new collections for the research libraries and achieving substantial new public funding for branch library collections; systematic renovation and modernization of the Library’s historic buildings; and creating a new Center for Scholars and Writers at The Humanities and Social Sciences Library at Fifth Avenue.

David Remnick described Dr. LeClerc in The New Yorker as "an unassumingly brilliant administrator and Voltaire scholar." He is the author or co-editor of five scholarly volumes on writers of the French Enlightenment and his contributions to French culture earned him the Order of the Academic Palms (Officier) in 1989 and the French Legion of Honor (Chevalier) in 1996. Dr. LeClerc has received honorary doctorates from Hunter College, Union College, Fordham University, Hamilton College, the College of the Holy Cross, Long Island University, Brown University, The New York Medical College, the University of Paris III-La Nouvelle Sorbonne and Oxford University.

Dr. LeClerc has served on a number of non-profit boards. He is presently a trustee of The New York Public Library and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Dr. LeClerc also is a Director of the National Book Foundation, and the Maison Française of Columbia University. He serves on the Editorial Board of The Complete Works of Voltaire (Oxford University) and on the Advisory Committee of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (at Yale University). President Clinton appointed him to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. He was recently elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Director of the American Academy in Rome and the American Philosophical Society.

Dr. LeClerc is married to Dr. Judith Ginsberg, Executive Director of the Nash Family Foundation. Dr. Ginsberg is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Brown University and received a doctorate in Spanish literature from CUNY Graduate Center using the facilities of The New York Public Library. They have a nineteen-year-old son.