The 2011 Honorary Degree Recipients
Harvard recognizes nine leaders, including an African head of state, a women's-rights pioneer, an esteemed chemist, and an opera tenor who played himself on The Simpsons.
The University announced that at the morning exercises today, Harvard will confer honorary degrees on six men and three women. Brief profiles appear here; for the formal degree citations, check back later.
- Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee
- Plácido Domingo
- The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg
- Dudley Herschbach
- James R. Houghton
- Rosalind Krauss
- John G. A. Pocock
- David Satcher
- Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Photograph by Stu Rosner
Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, Doctor of Science. A physicist and computer scientist, he is director of the World Wide Web Consortium, the standards-setting organization for the Web, the invention of which is credited to him. In 1980, he proposed a project based on hypertext to share and update information among researchers at CERN (the European nuclear-research organization). In 1989, he proposed the Web, and in late 1990, he and a colleague first effected communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and server via the Internet. He is 3Com Founders professor of engineering in MIT's School of Engineering and professor in the electronics and computer-science department at the University of Southampton, in England.
Photograph by Stu Rosner
Plácido Domingo, Doctor of Music. The acclaimed Spanish tenor is both a leading performer of opera worldwide and a conductor and general director of the LA Opera and Washington National Opera. His recordings (which include DG's anthology of the complete Verdi arias for tenor) have won 12 Grammy Awards. He has also played himself on The Simpsons and voiced the role of Monte in Beverly Hills Chihuahua. For excepts of his recordings, visit his official website.
Photograph by Stu Rosner
The Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Doctor of Laws. An associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court since 1993, Ginsburg enrolled at Harvard Law School in 1956, one of only nine women in a class of more than 500; when her husband took a job in New York, she transferred to Columbia Law School, where she earned her LL.B. in 1959. She made law review at both schools, and graduated from Columbia in a tie for first in the class. She was professor of law at Rutgers from 1963 to 1972, and at Columbia from 1972 to 1980. She helped launch the American Civil Liberties Union's Women's Rights Project in 1971 and served as the ACLU's general counsel from 1973 to 1980, and on its national board of directors from 1974 to 1980. Building on her earlier work on gender equity, as chief litigator for the Women's Rights Project, Ginsburg was involved in briefing and arguing before the Supreme Court several of the landmark cases that reduced discrimination against women in law and society. Fred Strebeigh's Equal: Women Reshape American Law (2009) has more index entries for Ginsburg than for any other individual. The opening paragraph in chapter 1 begins:
Late in 1972 a new professor at Columbia Law School, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, heard the story of Paula and Stephen Weisenfeld. Immediately she knew that their sad tale offered the legal case she needed. By taking their story to the Supreme Court of the United States, she could accomplish her greatest professional goal: to eliminate what she called "gender lines in the law." Ginsburg in the early 1970s was making the most profound attack on sexist law in the history of the American legal system. [Paula Weisenfeld died shortly after childbirth, and Stephen, seeking to care for their newborn son, Jason, discovered that certain benefits providing for childcare for a parent whose spouse had died were available only to women.]
President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980, and she was nominated for the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993. She was confirmed nearly unanimously by the Senate.
A May 25 New York Times editorial, "Standing Up to Unwarranted Police Power," on Kentucky v. King, cited Ginsburg's solo dissent as "a reminder of the enduring value of privacy, as well as of her value to American law. It is unsettling that she is the only justice to insist that the law hold the line on its definition of exigent circumstances so that our 'officers are under the law,' as Justice Robert Jackson once put it. But it is reassuring to have her stand up for the Fourth Amendment and to police power that is literally and constitutionally unwarranted."
Photograph by Stu Rosner
Dudley R. Herschbach, Ph.D. '58, JF '59, Doctor of Science. The Baird professor of science emeritus—a member of the faculty since 1963 and former master of Currier House (with his wife, Georgene Herschbach)—shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986 with Yuan T. Lee and John C. Polanyi for fundamental work on the dynamics of chemical reactions. Beyond his scientific prowess, Herschbach is esteemed for his humor (see, for instance, the illustration at page 3 of his Nobel Lecture, "Molecular Dynamics of Elementary Chemical Reactions,") and his personal warmth and interest in fostering the scientific enterprise—much of the historical narrative in that lecture retraces his scientific upbringing, with gracious credit to others, as in these concluding passages:
This paper is a tour through a family album. The frequent mentions of work by "we" pertain to my colleagues listed in Table 1, a roster of 51 graduate students and 35 postdoctoral fellows (in italics) listed in order of their "graduation" from our research group. Their work totals about 250 years of research, 150 of that in reaction dynamics. The investment of human resources is far greater, however. Beyond the direct contributions by the machine shop and other staff, all of us received vital help along the way from our teachers, our relatives, and many friends and colleagues. Sustained financial support was likewise vital, including many scholarship and fellowship awards as well as research grants from several agencies, especially the National Science Foundation. To all who made our research possible, I am deeply grateful.
In revisiting the album, I have lingered fondly on the early episodes because, as in dynamics generally, the initial conditions are often as important as the force field. I hope that students and young researchers starting their own work might be encouraged to see how simple and naive were our first steps. I hope also that some research administrators and funding agencies might be encouraged to take a longer-range view of quixotic projects. In our work the essential impetus was the evangelical fervor of young scientists captivated by new vistas. But to pursue such distant vistas we have freedom and support.…
Working in such a community in pursuit of new insights is a splendid prize, enhanced in the sharing. Thereby we offer thanks for the privilege of studying our ever mysterious atoms and molecules.
In his Nobel autobiography, he notes that "In my boyhood we lived in what was then a rural area of fruit orchards, only a few miles outside San Jose. For years I milked a cow, fed the pigs and chickens, and during summers picked prunes, apricots, and walnuts. From an early age I loved to read but was also very involved in outdoor activities, scouting, and sports." Although he was engaged by science, he was offered scholarships to play football ("perhaps that presaged my later pursuit of molecular collisions") by several universities (he played for Stanford as a freshman, but had an academic scholarship and turned away from sport). As a House master, he wrote, "Typical of many memorable episodes was the night we were summoned to a student's room to meet a seal in the bathtub."
Herschbach's combined enthusiasms for science, the history of science, and science education have led him to become an expert on Ben Franklin—work presented as Harvard Magazine's November-December 1995 cover story, "Ben Franklin's 'Scientific Amusements,'" available here.
On Tuesday, May 24, he was awarded a Phi Beta Kappa teaching prize during that honor society's annual Literary Exercises in Sanders Theatre; the citation noted his role as a “lifelong supporter of undergraduate education.” (As a visiting professor at Texas A&M, where he has had a visiting appointment since 2005, Herschbach has taught a research seminar each autumn. He remains active by talking about science education, as well, and participating in middle- and high-school science fairs—something he has done for more than 20 years.)
Separately, he has long worked to increase the number of women in the sciences—a particular challenge in the physical sciences, including his own field of chemistry.
Photography by Stu Rosner
James R. Houghton '58, M.B.A. '62, Doctor of Laws. Houghton served as a Fellow of the Harvard Corporation, the University's senior governing board, from 1995 to 2010, stepping down as senior fellow (a position he assumed in 2002) at the end of the 2010 academic year. In that capacity, he brought Derek Bok back to Massachusetts Hall to serve as interim president in the 2006-2007 academic year, following the resignation of Lawrence H. Summers, and led the search that culminated in the appointment of Drew Faust as the University's twenty-eighth president in 2007. Toward the end of his Corporation service, Houghton helped lead the discussions that resulted in the changes in University governance announced last December (the first fundamental changes since 1650), including the expansion of the Corporation from seven members to 13, the appointment of standing committees, and the institution of term limits for Fellows. He was chairman and CEO of Corning Incorporated from 1983 to 1996 and later served again as both chairman (2002-2008) and CEO (2002-2005). In addition to numerous corporate and other board positions, Houghton has chaired the board of trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the past 13 years—a position he will relinquish this September.
Photograph by Stu Rosner
Rosalind Krauss, Ph.D. '69, Doctor of Arts. Krauss, a leading historian, critic, and theorist of twentieth-century painting, sculpture, and photography, has been on the faculty of Columbia University since 1992; she held the professorship in modern art and theory named for Meyer Schapiro, the eminent art historian, until she was named a University Professor effective January 1, 2005. She co-founded and edited the art journal October, and has written about subjects ranging from Picasso to sculptor Richard Serra to Cindy Sherman, the latter reflecting her deep interest in photography. Her analyses, of great importance in the academic and philosophical interpretations of art, are both theoretically dense and fierce (of an art critic's interpretation of Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills, she wrote, "…he has bought the salesman's pitch but never thought to look under the hood. He has taken the first order sign as a composite, a signifier and signified already congealed into a finished meaning…and he has completed the mythical content"). Krauss's The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (1985), a collection of her essays from October and other journals, on subjects ranging from Giacometti to surrealism to photography, is among the most widely read works on modern art and cultural theory. An essay on photography concludes:
Everywhere at present there is an attempt to dismantle the photographic archive—the set of practices, institutions, and relationships to which nineteenth-century photography originally belonged—and to reassemble it within the categories previously constituted by art and its history. It is not hard to conceive of what the inducements for doing so are, but it is more difficult to understand the tolerance for the kind of incoherence it produces.
In her first book, Terminal Iron Works: The Sculpture of David Smith, based on her doctoral dissertation, Krauss described that artist’s now widely known Cubis series in these fresh, clear terms: "I think it is accurate to see the Cubis as the culmination of Smith's experience with drawing in the fifties. The Cubis should be related to the whole question of drawing with found objects, for Smith thought geometrical entities were as much 'found' elements as tongs or wheels or wrenches." Krauss has curated exhibitions at the Pompidou Center, the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum, among others.
Photograph by Stu Rosner
John G. A. Pocock, Doctor of Laws. Pocock, Black professor of history emeritus at Johns Hopkins, was born in London and reared in New Zealand. He earned his Ph.D. from Cambridge University in 1952 and held academic appointments at several institutions, including the University of Canterbury, Washington University (in St. Louis), and Johns Hopkins. He is renowned as an historian of early republicanism in Europe, Britain, and the United States, for his analysis of Edward Gibbon and contemporaries as historians of the Enlightenment, and for pioneering work on the history of political discourse through the study of texts in their context and the language and terms used at the time—the so-called "Cambridge school" of the history of political thought. His first book was The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law: A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century (1957). Chapter II, "The Common-law Mind: Custom and the Immemorial" begins this way:
As a key to their past the English knew of one law alone. It was possible for them to believe that, as far back as their history extended, the common law of the king's courts was the only system of law which had grown up and been of force within the realm; for the records and histories of England did not reveal that any other law had been of comparable importance. The common law was and had been the only law by which land was held and criminals deprived of life by their country, and by which consequently the greater part of men's secular rights and obligations were determined. Civil and canon law and law merchant could be regarded, especially after the Reformation, as systems borrowed from abroad and confined within limits by the common law…. The English need not think, as the French must, that a different system of law existed alongside their ancient native custom, one which had a different origin, had been introduced into the land at a different time and had grown up along different lines. Once the French began to think historically of their written law, they were bound to make some extension of this way of thinking to their customary law as well, and this acted as a check to any tendency they may have had to represent the whole of their law as immemorial custom. But in England it was precisely this tendency which ran riot.
The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (1975) elucidates political thinkers' responses to the destruction of states and political orders in the early modern world. He has recently been completing a six-volume work on Gibbon entitled Barbarism and Religion. As leader of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, he delivered his presidential address in verse—including one couplet matching "blue ribbon" and "Gibbon."
Photograph by Stu Rosner
David Satcher, Doctor of Science. Satcher, the sixteenth Surgeon General of the United States, from 1998 to 2001, served simultaneously as assistant secretary of health with the rank of four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. During his term in office, he issued pioneering reports on tobacco use among U.S. racial and ethnic minority groups, and on sexual health and responsible sexual behavior. He was previously director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1993 to 1998) and president of Meharry Medical College, in Nashville, from 1982 to 1993. He now serves as director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute (which aims to train public-health leaders and reduce disparities in health and healthcare), and of the Center of Excellence on Health Disparities, both at Morehouse School of Medicine—the first medical school established at one of the historically black colleges and universities in the United States. A graduate of Morehouse, he earned his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees at Case Western Reserve.
Photograph by Stu Rosner
Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, M.P.A. '71, Doctor of Laws. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, is Africa's first female elected head of state. When the University announced that she would be the principal speaker during the afternoon exercises at this Commencement, President Drew Faust said, "Over the course of her nearly 40 years in public service, President Sirleaf has endured death threats, incarceration, and exile, all the while challenging the inequality, corruption, and violence that defined life in Liberia for so long. We are proud to welcome such a respected African leader and active proponent of democracy to speak on Commencement Day."
Johnson studied economics and public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School as an Edward S. Mason Fellow, earning her degree in 1971. She returned to Liberia the next year and worked on civic reforms, in government and out, before being forced to flee a military coup, a pattern repeated twice more before she won election in 2005 as her nation's twenty-fourth president, in the wake of the Second Liberian Civil War—the conclusion to a series of conflicts that inflicted hundreds of thousands of casualties on Liberia (whose population is just under 4 million), featuring horrific abuses of civilians and combatants, brutal rapes, and the conscription of children as soldiers, and left the capital city, Monrovia, without functioning electricity and water distribution for more than a decade.
Sirleaf has emphasized reconstruction, debt relief, education, economic growth, and reconciliation from the war, as described in her recent memoir, This Child Will Be Great (2009), where she wrote, "The root cause of conflict is not just poverty but poverty brought on from exclusion." Read a New York Times Magazine profile of her presidency, published last October. In Liberia's case, ironically, that exclusion arose as the ruling elite, formed when freed slaves were repatriated from the United States, progressively monopolized power and resources, from which the native ("country") people derived little benefit. In her introduction to Globalisation and Economic Success, a set of policy essays published in 2008, Sirleaf wrote, "Money is seldom the only problem—governance, government capacity, skills, and the right policy set are more important. Hence development is more than growth figures and mercantilism, but is also about employment, inclusiveness, political values and resources."
"As Africa's first female elected head of state," said Faust, Sirleaf "stands as an example for a generation of girls in Africa and beyond of the ways in which education opens new frontiers."
Read the official University announcement, or listen to President Sirleaf's 2008 graduation address at the Harvard Kennedy School.
The University's honorary-degree announcement appears here.