Paul LeClerc received his undergraduate degree at the College of the Holy Cross, where a Jesuit dix-huitièmeiste introduced him to Voltaire. After spending a post-graduate year in Paris he enrolled in Columbia’s graduate program in French in the fall of 1964, completing the requirements for the M.A. in 1965 and defending his dissertation in the spring of 1969. Both the MA essay and dissertation were on Voltaire and the latter was awarded distinction. His three dissertation sponsors were all leading scholars of the French 18th century: Jean Sareil and Otis Fellows of Columbia and Arthur Wilson of Dartmouth, a visiting scholar at Columbia in 1968-69. LeClerc’s views on the Enlightenment were also shaped by Peter Gay’s magisterial course on that period at Columbia in the mid-1960s.
In fall 1996, at the conclusion of his second year at Columbia, LeClerc accepted a full-time tenure track position at Union College. Union’s Shaeffer Library had a doctoral-level collection on the French 18th century, and each of the five volumes LeClerc eventually published or co-published with the Voltaire Foundation of Oxford University had their origins in that collection. He is presently working on manuscripts relative to Voltaire contained at the New York Public Library and Butler Library.
In 1979 LeClerc left Union to accept the first of several administrative positions: University Dean for Academic Affairs, CUNY; Provost and Professor of French, Baruch College, CUNY; President and Professor of French, Hunter College, CUNY; President and Chief Executive Officer, The New York Public Library; and Director, Columbia Global Centers | Paris.
His honors include: eleven doctorates in Humane Letters from US and European universities, including Oxford, Paris III--La Nouvelle Sorbonne, and Brown; the Order of the Palmes académiques (Officier) and Légion d’Honneur (Officier) from France and the Order of Isabel la Católica (Commandante), from Spain; being named by President Clinton to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and by the French Minister of Culture to the Conseil scientifique of the Bibliothèque nationale de France; election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and American Philosophical Society; and the Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Award for Distinguished Achievement.
LeClerc has served since 2012 as the Chair of the Advisory Board to the Columbia Maison Française and French Department. In addition, he has served on more than twenty non-profit boards, including those of : the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, J. Paul Getty Trust, New York Public Library, Teachers College, Union College, Voltaire Foundation, American Academy in Rome, National Book Foundation, Museo del Barrio, Clark Art Institute and Museum, American Friends of Les Arts Florissants.
At The New York Public Library, he was the first of its Presidents to initiate and organize exhibits. These included LaFontaine: The Power of Fables; Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World (a co-production with the BnF which was declared an official Millennial Event in both the US and France); The Newtonian Moment: Science and the Making of the Modern World; and Candide at 250: Scandal and Success.