Campbell earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Syracuse University, a B.S. in physics from Drexel University and is a graduate of the Executive Management Program at Yale University.
George Campbell served as president of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art from July, 2000 through June, 2011, and upon retirement was elected President Emeritus by the Board of Trustees. During Dr. Campbell’s tenure, Cooper Union, replaced 40 percent of its academic space, substantially renovated the remaining 60 percent, reduced the campus carbon footprint by 40 percent and grew its endowment from $100 million to more than $600 million. Celebrated by architecture critics as one of the decade’s great buildings, it is among the first science buildings to be awarded Platinum LEEDs Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for its design although most of the green building designs were never implemented. Among the prestigious awards the building received are the MASterworks Award, Best New Building; Municipal Art Society’s, Green Building Design Award; Global Green USA, Honor Award; American Institute of Architects, Design Award; American Institute of Architects California Council, International Architecture Award; Chicago Anthenaeum, Energy Performance+Architecture Award; interclima+elec, Project of the Year: Green Building; New York Construction Best of 2009 Award, Creating Stellar Architecture Citation; American Institute of Architects National Technology in Architectural Practice, Building Information Model, Architecture Design Award; American Institute of Architects.
Equally important, under Dr. Campbell's leadership the college enhanced its national and international recognition as one of the leading institutions of higher education . Among the various surveys and polls, the college was ranked first by U.S. News & World Report among regional colleges in the Northeast and the Most Desirable College in the small college category by Newsweek/Kaplan (seventh among all of the nation's colleges and universities). Many other national and international rankings consistently placed Cooper Union among the best academically.
Previously Campbell was the president and CEO of NACME, Inc., a non-profit corporation focused on engineering education and science and technology policy. Additionally he spent twelve years at AT&T Bell Laboratories, served as a U.S. delegate to the International Telecommunications Union, served on the faculties of Nkumbi International College Zambia, and Syracuse University. He has published papers in mathematical physics, high-energy physics, satellite systems, digital communications, science and technology policy and science education and is co-editor of Access Denied: Race, Ethnicity and the Scientific Enterprise, Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-510774-8. He has served on a number of national policy boards, including the United States Secretary of Energy Board and the Morella Commission of the U.S. Congress.
As an undergraduate, Dr. Campbell was a Simon Guggenheim Scholar and member of the national physics honor society. Among his awards are the 1993 George Arents Pioneer Medal in Physics, the Drexel University Centennial Medal, as an inaugural a member of the Drexel 100, the Leon J. Obermeyer Award from the City of Philadelphia Board of Education and several honorary doctorates. He has been elected to the Alumni Hall of Fame at Syracuse University and at the prestigious Central High School of Philadelphia. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the New York Academy of Sciences.
Campbell currently serves on the Board of Directors of Consolidated Edison, Inc and Barnes and Noble, Inc. He is also on the Board of Trustees of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, MITRE Corporation, Montefiore Medical Center, the Josiah Macy Foundation, the United States Naval Academy Foundation and is chairman of the board of trustees at Webb Institute. He is noted as having said that "at a place like Webb, everyone is admitted on an equal footing. When you remove the financial aspect of the college conversation and everyone understands that their peers are there on the same basis -- there's no questioning or doubting whether anyone belongs. There's a trust. This particular culture is very rare in higher education today.".
In the wake of the college's recent financial difficulties that led to the School dismantling its 150 year mission of free tuition, many faculty, students and alumni questioned Campbell's actions and intentions as President. According to John Hechinger in 2009, George Campbell helped the school sidestep a crisis. Although by October 31, 2011 Jamshed Bharucha announced an insurmountable deficit that allegedly could not keep the institution sustainable without tuition, in May 2013 former Board of Trustees investment committee chair John Michaelson admitted the school could have continued to use the endowment to cover deficits and would have survived until 2018, when the higher payments from the Chrysler lease start.
In an investigation of Cooper Union's finances released in a cross petition on September 2, 2015, New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found that "President Campbell misinformed the community as to the strength of Cooper Union’s finances, when they had sufficient information to know the truth of the school’s increasingly dire condition." Additionally, Schneiderman found that Campbell had an "apparent conflict of interest" in a $175,000 bonus that would to be awarded George Campbell Jr., if construction of the New Academic Building at 41 Cooper Square was completed while he was President.
The investigation concluded that the Schools financial difficulties in fact had happened under Campbell's presidency and planning: "The Attorney General’s financial and operational investigation, which began in August 2014 and the results of which are being released today, revealed that Cooper Union’s current financial problems are rooted in the failure of a 2006 plan to finance the construction of a new academic building at 41 Cooper Square. The plan involved the school taking out a $175 million mortgage loan on the land it owns beneath the Chrysler Building, while simultaneously committing to a long-term renegotiation of its lease with the tenant that owns and operates the building."
Married since 1968 to Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell, President of Spelman College and dean emerita of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Campbell and his wife have three sons and live in Atlanta, GA.