Previous Recipients


Alisa Weilerstein
In a life spent creating music that a thrills and inspires, you have set yourself apart as a cellist of exceptional talent and singular presence. A skilled artist who blends virtuosity and joy, you possess that rare ability to play a piece as if it were being played anew, infusing each performance with your distinct personality. Throughout your precocious career, you have pushed the boundaries of your craft, challenging assumptions about classical music and exposing new audiences to the pleasures it can bring. Your life story speaks to the power of skill, ambition, and love at the heart of artistic mastery. As a child, you were presented with your first cello, a painted cereal box, and, from that moment, you knew exactly what it was you wanted to do. Supported by your family of gifted musicians, you mad e your professional debut at thirteen and went on to perform with the world's greatest orchestras and conductors, championing new music alongside your classic repertoire. For your accomplishments, you were awarded a MacArthur Fellowship at th e age of 29. Your contributions to classical music call to mind Claude Debussy's declaration that, "Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art." In every performance, your expert technique, honed through rigorous practice, allows you to assert yourself freely on stage, connecting with the audience through undiluted expressions of emotion and feeling. Within a musical tradition often cerebral and restrained, your passionate interpretations of cello compositions succeed at being dramatic and innovative without losing their integrity. When it became necessary for you to decide whether to attend Columbia College or focus on your increasingly demanding performance schedule, you chose to do both-and graduated in 2004 with a degree in history. The challenging experience has left you steeped in the culture and ideas that shaped the modern world and with the unshakeable intellectual curiosity that comes from a Columbia education. For your commitment to expanding the boundaries of classical music and for your determination to make your own rules in the service of great art, Columbia is proud to count you as one of our own an d welcome you back to campus to receive the University Medal for Excellence.
Renzo Piano
“The thing of first importance in architecture-is beauty," Charles McKim once told Columbia students. Yet the legendary architect, who designed the unsurpassed Morningside campus we delight in every day, was driven also by a second impulse, one he expressed to his friend Edith Wharton: "The designer should not be too slavish, whether in the composition of a building or a room, in his adherence to the letter of tradition.” Among our contemporary architects, if there is a worthy modern successor able to reflect McKim's spirit of both beauty an d innovation in the design of a new Columbia created for a new century, it must be Renzo Piano. Born in Genoa, Italy, to a family of builders, you have designed iconic structures and urban spaces all over the world, including the Menil Collection, the Kimbell Art Museum, and the Nasher Sculpture Center in Texas, the reconstruction of Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, and The New York Times headquarters and Morgan Library addition in New York. Your early 1970s collaboration with Richard Rogers produced the revolutionary Centre Pompidou in Paris. Your works of soaring beauty push beyond and reinvent our traditions, animated by the organic vibrancy of urban life. Over the past decade, your dedication to Columbia has produced both a remarkable master plan for the University's 21st century campus in Manhattanville, and inspiring designs for the new campus's first three buildings: the Jerome L. Greene Science Center, the Len fest Center for the Arts, and the Academic Forum. Always in evidence is your creativity, your broad-minded intelligence, and, most significantly, a determination to design modern academic spaces that arc open and welcoming to the surrounding city from which Columbia gains its identity. Fittingly, ours is the first campus plan in the nation to earn the LEED Platinum rating for sustainable neighborhood development. A recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1998, you created the Renzo Piano Foundation, dedicated to architectural education and public service. In September 2013, the president of Italy made you Senator for Life. We are certain that when future generations of Columbians inhabit the thriving campus you have designed, they will stop and wonder, as we do every day at Charles McKim's great achievement that surrounds us, about the combination of foresight, humanity, and unbridled imagination that were alive in the architect responsible for its creation. It is therefore with enormous gratitude and deeply felt admiration that this generation of Columbians proudly presents you with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.
David Rosand
When in the 1950s you followed the a archetypal path to Morningside Heights traveled by so ma n y other sons of Brooklyn, you scarcely could have imagined that a t Columbia you would find an intellectual haven perfectly suited to your questing mind and a welcoming home that would sustain your own exemplary life in the academy for the next six decades. As a Columbia professor, you have distinguished yourself as a teacher of exceptional talent and a colleague of uncommon geniality. Your devotion to this institution resonates widely, from the Department of Art History and Archeology you twice chaired to the Wallach Art Gallery you helped to create. Fittingly, you have s pent your life studying the great masters of Renaissance Venice, determined to transmit what they can teach us about the mysteries of existence. A scholar in the classic sense, you always embraced research and teaching as mutually rein forcing endeavors. Your intellectual pursuits and those of the University have been perfectly synchronous, focusing broadly on the life of the mind without undue deference to traditional academic boundaries. You have inspired Columbia students and colleagues alike to reexamine their assumptions and explore new approaches to persistent problems. "Not to engage in the pursuit of ideas is to live like ants instead of men," philosopher and fellow Columbian Mortimer Adler once said. It is an n admonition you knew instinctively. As an undergraduate, you discussed the epics of Homer and Virgil, the dramas of Aeschylus and Sophocles, and the plays of Shakespeare. A budding artist in your own right, you were drawn into academe by the rich, layered paintings of Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto and held there by the enthralling world of sixteenth-century Venice they inhabited. Through these giants of creative expression, you explored the transformative power of art to define how we think about life, love, and the expansiveness of human potential. For half a century, your remarkable achievements have served as a testament to the power and the joy of an education at Columbia, where generations have found kinship in debating the most difficult questions about the human experience. For your rare blend of scholarship, mentorship, and, above all, for your life time pursuit of ideas, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.
Joseph Keller
Bertrand Russell said, "The true spirit of delight, the exaltation, the sense of being more than Man, which is the touchstone of the highest excellence, is to be found in mathematics as surely as poetry:' Your career certainly has been an exemplar of that truth. Indeed, the underpinning of your work as one of the world's preeminent applied mathematicians has been a consuming curiosity paired with a boundless imagination. These traits, as much as your intellectual brilliance, have produced copious amounts of new scientific knowledge, while leaving your students and colleagues enthralled. Your research has encompassed diverse topics ranging from single perturbation theory and fluid dynamics to carcinogenesis and biomechanics-even the mathematics of sports. The Geometric Theory of Diffraction, your groundbreaking description of wave propagation around the edges and corners of an obstacle, has long been a n indispensable tool for engineers and scientists. For this body of scientific accomplishment and its role in bettering society, you received the Wolf Foundation Prize in Mathematics in 1997, one of the highest accolades in your field. Early on, as a student at New York University, your unusual talent for devising practical solutions through elegant mathematical models stood out. While tackling subjects as critical as national security and as commonplace as a swinging ponytail, your research revealed a commitment to observing and clearly explaining physical phenomena in the hope of improving human experience. During your long tenure as a professor of mathematics at NYU, you helped create the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, a world-renowned center for advanced training in mathematics and computer science. Your principal association with this University came during World War II, when, as a member of Columbia’s Division of War Research, you joined other talented scientists supporting the war effort by analyzing the use of sonar in submarine detection. Your journey in academe took you eventually to Stanford, where you have taught generations of students to analyze physical phenomena and have shared your innate wonder at the intricacy and beauty of mathematical modeling. You were always a sought-after adviser, and today the students of your students who are making their mark in the field of applied mathematics number in the hundreds. For your exceptional contributions to science and society and for the true spirit of delight with which you have approached mathematics, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.
Cicely Tyson
In a career devoted to making great art in the service of social justice, you have distinguished yourself as an actress of uncommon talent and a human being of extraordinary moral conviction. An activist from the start, you wanted your work to be transformative, to educate the world about the beauty, the pain , and the diversity of experience that define what it means to be a black woman in America. And you have succeeded, extravagantly, at this lofty task. Your life story is a testament to how perseverance and creativity can transcend seemingly insurmountable divides. Born in Harlem in the era of segregation, you made it your mission to reach people through your artistry, taking on only those roles you felt contributed to the national conversation on civil rights despite the considerable professional cost you endured as a result. Always, your acting has been brilliant. Long remembered will be performances bringing to life historic icons such as Harriet Tubman an d Coretta Scott King and the literary giants Miss Jane Pittman and Carrie Watts. Over time, your principled commitment was rewarded in the most meaningful fashion, with a hard-won stature accorded only those rare popular artists who stand for something larger than their craft. Along the way, there has been no shortage of recognition for your virtuoso acting. From the Drama Desk Award received for your 1962 performance in the off-Broadway play Moon on a Rainbow Shawl to a crowning Tony Award for Best Actress for your wrenching portrayal in the 20 I 3 production of The Trip to Bountiful-and too many nominations and awards to count in between-acclaim for your memorable performances on stage, screen, and television has been universal. With each of the complex and inspiring women you have portrayed, you share the indomitable spirit captured so beautifully by this declaration attributed to Harriet Tubman: "Don't ever stop. Keep going. If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.” As you have impressed upon countless young people whose lives have been changed by calling you their teacher, no goal is out of reach if one is willing to work hard enough to accomplish it. For nearly six decades, you have kept going, using your enormous gifts as an actress to remind us all of the work still to be done to redeem our nation's founding ideal of equality. For this reason and for so many more, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.
Robert Silvers
Over your half century at the helm of The New York Review of Books, much has been revealed about your surpassing talent including, perhaps most essentially, that for you the job of editor is no mere occupation. It is who and what you are. A learned polymath, tireless reader, and fierce literary champion, you have earned your place among the greatest editors of our time. In her famous I 959 critique of literary reviews, Elizabeth Hardwick, your good friend who would later make her mark on the faculty of Columbia's School of the Arts, wrote: "For the great metropolitan publications, the unusual, the difficult, the lengthy, the intransigent, and above all, the interesting, should expect to find t heir audience:' Taking up Hardwick's call, you and your peers started a little publication that aimed to create a worthy arena for capacious intellectual discussions at the intersection of books, politics, and culture. For the past 50 years, against increasingly long odds, that periodical-The New York Review of Books-has demonstrated that an audience for rousing ideas and for writing of the highest caliber not only exists; it can be one of the most reliable forces in publishing if that audience's high standards are met with consistency. Indeed, The New York Review Books and its loyal readership have enjoyed an enduring marriage made in journalistic heaven. Together with co-editor Barbara Epstein, you advocated a view of literature as a serious enterprise, one with unique power to affect individuals and society at large. Your determination to supply rigorous examinations of modern geopolitical conflict has always been evident in the pages of the Review, where you have given voice to activists Vaclav Havel, Fang Lizhi, and many others persecuted for challenging state authority. Under your exacting guidance, scores of eminent writers have scrutinized government abuses of power, posed enduring philosophical questions, and grappled with crucial failings in diplomacy and policy. The Review continues to define itself by adhering to the highest intellectual standards at a time when thought­ provoking, stimulating, eccentric pieces of literary journalism have become increasingly rare. Your achievement has been duly recognized with honors from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences. For your unwavering devotion to cultivating the greatest literary minds of our time and for your determination to provide a n appropriately high-minded forum for our most consequential public debates, Columbia is deeply grateful and therefore proud to present you with the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.
Mortimer Zuckerman
When considering the stunning variety and remarkable impact of your myriad accomplishments, it is possible to see the very definition of a modern “Renaissance Man." Commerce, urban development, politics, journalism, academe, international affairs, neuroscience, and public health: each a world onto itself, and somehow, remarkably, every one of them a significant part of the wide world of Mort Zuckerman. The son of Jewish immigrants who came to Montreal seeking a better life for their children, you are yourself an immigrant, one who has not simply accepted but celebrated the responsibilities of the American citizenship you have chosen. From the outset of your career, you developed a guiding appreciation for the civic dimensions of real estate development and seized the opportunity to become enmeshed in the fabric of our nation’s great cities. You have been the responsible steward of cherished urban landmarks such as the John Hancock Tower in Boston, the Embarcadero in San Francisco, and the Citigroup Center and General Motors Building in New York City. In your weekly column in U.S. News and World Report, in your spirited turns as a political commentator on television, and through the New York Daily News' influential role in our city's politics and civic life, you have always been in the middle of our messy but essential public debate urging others, through your example, to leave the sideline and join the democratic fray. No legal treatise on the value of free speech and press could provide a more meaningful endorsement of the First Amendment and its role in shaping the character of your adopted country. Future generations will come to know you through the generous philanthropy you have bestowed on medical science and higher education, including your support of Columbia’s Mind Brain Behavior Institute, which will forever bear your name. From our own campus to the halls of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, your support for interdisciplinary research and clinical breakthroughs will add to the storehouse of human knowledge, while helping to cure disease and save lives. With this litany of achievement in mind, we recall the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson about life's purpose: "To be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well." For setting an example for all who aspire to make a difference as active citizens in a free society, Columbia celebrates the life you have lived so well and proudly presents you with the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Natasha Trethewey
When the great Rita Dove, your predecessor Poet Laureate of the United States, selected your first collection of poems, Domestic Work, for the inaugural Cave Canem Prize, she showed great prescience in calling you a poet "in full possession of her craft, ready to testify." And testify you have: memorably, achingly, and with impassioned conviction. In Domestic Work and the equally remarkable volumes that followed, Bellocq's Ophelia and Thrall, you erected monuments to life's invisible experiences, instantly rendering them meaningful and familiar. In Native Guard, the collection for which you were awarded the Pulitzer Prize from Columbia in 2007, you excavated the lives of the first official regiment of black Union soldiers, bonding their stories to your own and restoring their place in our collective history. At the heart of each tour de force beats a strong and steady insistence on building a more just society. Matching your artistry is a personal devotion to cultivating the next generation of creative writers. At Emory University, where you are the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing, the classrooms graced by your teaching ring with the encouragement and guidance young poets need to find their voices and tell their own stories. Over and over, your students' awareness of their potential is expanded forever. You have embraced your position as nineteenth Poet Laureate of the United States with the determination of someone keenly aware of the importance of this call to service. As laureate you have proven a brilliant and accessible herald, whether holding court in the Library of Congress or traveling far and wide to bear witness to poetry's potent force in the most unlikely corners of America. Like the subjects of your poem, "Wash Women," staring out from a past that has been erased, your body of work urges us to remember through verse and reclaimed histories. For this, you have been recognized by the American Academy of the Arts and Sciences, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation, among many other honors. For your singular testimony on the preciousness of memory, and for your insistence that poetry must record, recover, and reveal all of our stories, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.
David Remnick
There is, perhaps, no greater professional challenge than assuming the leadership of an iconic and beloved public institution, with the mandate not only to embrace the storied legacy but also to reach new heights of excellence, creativity, and achievement. Yet, this is unquestionably what you have done as editor of The New Yorker. Only two years after becoming editor, you were named Editor of the Year by Advertising Age in 2000. The magazine has been without peer throughout your time at the helm, winning some thirty National Magazine Awards, including five in both 2001and 2005. That you have fulfilled the weekly responsibility of overseeing a remarkable staff of talented writers, editors, contributors, cartoonists, and infamous fact-checkers while continuing to generate your own prodigious output of acclaimed articles and books seems an incomprehensible journalistic feat-one that can leave even the most accomplished colleagues wondering, like hapless characters in a Roz Chast cartoon, just how you do it. More than 100 articles in the magazine have carried your byline, including memorable profiles on many of our time's most consequential figures, including Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Shimon Peres, Ralph Ellison, Katharine Graham, Pope John Paul II, Michael Jordan, and Barack Obama. You joined The New Yorker after a decade at The Washington Post, where you began by bringing a uniquely literary insight to an eclectic mix of beats for the Metro, Sports, and Style sections: articles covering everything from desultory mid­ season Washington Bullets games to New Jersey Turnpike rest stops. In 1988, you began a four-year tenure as Moscow correspondent for the Post, giving you the opportunity to witness history and to chronicle the tumultuous collapse of the Soviet Union. You responded with your first book, Lenin’s Tomb, winner of both the 1994 Pulitzer Prize from Columbia and a George Polk Award for excellence in journalism. You have since edited seven anthologies of New Yorker articles and authored an eve r-growing list of acclaimed and popular books, including, most recently, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. From the postmodern poetry of John Ashbery to the pugilistic art of Muhammad Ali, there are few areas of human endeavor to which you have not brought your insightful reporting, graceful writing, and respected editing skills. As a result, we are a more literate, better informed society. For what will yet be a long career already defined by the highest level of journalistic excellence, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.


Laurence Tribe
Your life in the law, deciphering and expertly explaining the Constitution’s intricacies in classrooms and courtrooms, can only be described with superlatives. Thirty-five times you have argued before the Supreme Court, securing numerous landmark rulings, including decisions that sanctioned lawsuits against tobacco companies, preserved state authority to ban nuclear plants, and ensured public access to criminal trials. Harvard University, where you have been an admired faculty member for forty-five years, bestowed upon you the rank of University Professor, the school’s highest academic honor. You count among the legion of former students who are now society’s leaders both the President of the United States and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And your comprehensive and enduring treatise, American Constitutional Law, is indisputably the most frequently cited legal text of the past half century, a touchstone for the profession that has inspired, intimidated, and edified generations of lawyers. Among the countless brilliant attorneys who pursue excellence as both practitioner and scholar, you have few peers. How did this come to pass for a son of Russian Jewish parents, who arrived in the United States as a boy unable to speak English, after enduring a childhood in China lived in the shadow of tyranny and oppression? The answer is readily apparent to the students you have taught, the adversaries you have fought, the judges you have persuaded, and the faculty colleagues you have encouraged: a rare combination of towering intellect, fidelity to equal justice, and profound belief in the capacity of our Constitution to form a more perfect union has made you a singular legal scholar for our time. For bringing the American Constitution to life and for working tirelessly so that the framework for our democratic society fulfills its vast promise, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa.
Zena Stein
Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.” These words, attributed to Hippocrates—as much aspiration as observation—serve as a fitting commentary on your life’s work and on a singular career defined by compassion, morality, and scientific rigor. As the setting for your study and practice of medicine shifted and expanded from Alexandra Township in South Africa; to Manchester, England; and then to Columbia University in the City of New York, so too have the subjects of your clinical interests and research. In a career spanning seven decades, you have contributed significantly to: the care available to nonwhite populations in apartheid-era South Africa; the understanding of the impact of economic disparities on public health; research into the prevalence and sources of perinatal disease; the linkages between prenatal nutrition, cognitive development, and other outcomes later in life; and society’s concern for HIV in women and children, including prenatal and perinatal HIV infection. Your dedication to advancing medical knowledge always has been accompanied by uncompromising advocacy for social justice, beginning with your efforts as one of the earliest members of the anti-apartheid movement during your college years in Cape Town. Many of your professional successes have been a family affair: you and your husband, Dr. Mervyn Susser, joined together to make Columbia’s Department of Epidemiology a recognized leader in the field, while your son, Ezra, has helped carry forward your research exploring the effect of prenatal conditions on adult health. Happily, one constant in your long and varied career has been Columbia University, which you have made your intellectual home for almost half a century and where you continue today as Professor Emeritus of Epidemiology. For loving humanity and medicine unconditionally, and for your enduring commitment to the promise of science and this University, we are proud to bestow upon you the degree of doctor of science, honoris causa.
Paul Steiger
More than two centuries ago in arguing a libel case before New York State’s Supreme Court, Columbian Alexander Hamilton declared that the “office of a free press is to give us early alarm and put us on our guard against the encroachments of power.” For more than forty years, you have fulfilled this founding vision of journalism’s role as a moral force in a free society. As a celebrated reporter and editor for The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times you built an unmatched track record of the highest quality newsgathering, shining an unwelcome light on abuses of power and failures by our institutions to uphold the public trust. Never one to settle for less than journalistic excellence, during your sixteen-year tenure as managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, your newsroom won an astonishing sixteen Pulitzer Prizes. You have been a leader and mentor, trusted by the loyal members of your newsroom over the years and admired by your peers across the profession. You never stopped being ahead of the news curve, as evidenced in 2008, when you saw clearly that in a changing news business, vital accountability journalism was at risk. While many news organizations viewed the painstaking, time-consuming work of investigative reporting as a luxury, you knew it to be essential to journalism’s mission. So you embarked on creating the next generation news organization in ProPublica: a nonprofit journalistic enterprise that exposes exploitation of the weak by the strong and reveals when those with power betray the trust they hold. Still in its first years of existence, ProPublica already is fulfilling that mission by investing in persistent, in- depth, and award-winning coverage of a wide range of major issues and institutions. Now serving as Executive Chairman, you have continued to be a leader in developing a new model for quality journalism in the digital age. Your service as the chairman of the Committee to Protect Journalists and as a former member and chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia echo your personal commitment to maintaining a robust, uninhibited, and wide-open public square, free of censorship and, above all, capable of providing us with the information we need to address modern society’s challenges. In recent years, Columbia has benefited from your encouragement of the future journalists on our campus through your enthusiastic support for the Columbia Daily Spectator. For your uncompromising commitment to a free press capable of sounding the early alarms that guard our democracy, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa.
Arnold Rampersad
In a career devoted to illuminating the lives of American originals, you have helped us better understand who we are and how we came to be as a nation. Your biographies of towering figures like Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, W. E. B. DuBois, and Jackie Robinson have rightfully placed them at the center of our collective history, reminding us that America’s most enduring challenge is to embrace fully our founding ideals of equal justice for all. Your scholarship takes the full measure of each subject, offering a portrait that is nuanced and incisive. We encounter an elusive Langston Hughes, whose fierce ambition and passion for literature helped him produce masterful poetry celebrating the richness of black culture in all its forms. We meet Jackie Robinson, a young man of both athletic and intellectual gifts, who changed ideas about race relations in America not simply with a bat, ball, and bases run, but with courage, dignity, and grace under fire. We are also brought face to face with Ralph Ellison, a writer of astonishing gifts, who ultimately became isolated from the black community whose experiences he so powerfully chronicled. In The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. DuBois describes with haunting eloquence the power of literature to reach across racial and historical barriers and speak to each of us. “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color-line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas,” he wrote. “I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension.” Your admired scholarship and teaching reaffirm the essential value of ideas to transcend divides and enhance understanding of our shared humanity. For your elegant and insightful explorations of our nation’s past and its meaning for our present, Columbia is proud to move arm in arm with generations of your students, colleagues, and readers to present you with the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa.
Herbert and Florence Irving
Over your rich lifetime together, you have demonstrated—as few couples have—the great good that comes when society is repaid for the opportunities it provides. Your longstanding example of humility, integrity, selfless generosity, and steadfast loyalty is one from which we all can learn. David Rockefeller once observed that “Philanthropy is involved with basic innovations that transform society, not simply maintaining the status quo or filling basic social needs.” You have understood this instinctively, even as your support for great causes and institutions always has been grounded in personal experience. The Columbia University Medical Center, first known to you through the care it provided, is now home to the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, where more than 3,500 new cases of cancer are diagnosed and treated every year, and the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, dedicated to speeding the development of new treatments and delivering them more quickly and effectively to patients in need. Perhaps your most far-reaching contribution to curing disease and caring for the sick is embodied today in the 103 Irving Scholars selected since 1987 for the Florence and Herbert Irving Clinical Research Career Awards. The group includes a director of clinical research at the National Institutes of Health, three medical school deans, and twenty-six directors of programs and departments: a cohort of physician-scientists who are defining the future of medicine. This special combination of vision and generosity, forged over the years in partnership with the Medical Center’s leaders, is felt every day in the University’s laboratories and classrooms, and in the care provided by Columbia-trained doctors. Your support for New York City’s great institutions has extended to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where your transformative gifts to the Department of Asian Art are reflected in the Museum’s galleries bearing your names, the curatorship you have made possible, and the scholarly activities placing the Museum at the forefront of presenting Asian art. Your marriage of more than seven decades provides a vivid example of how the shared commitment of a loving couple ripples outward over time, touching the lives of so many other people, achieving an enduring impact on our community, our city, and our society. For showing us the transcendent value of helping others, and for doing so with great modesty and grace, Columbia is proud to grant you each the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa.
Stanley Falkow
Philosopher and educator John Dewey said that “Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.” That perfectly captures your extraordinary contributions to the fields of microbiology and immunology. Through your penetrating and imaginative research into the relationship between microorganisms and human biology, you have revolutionized our understanding of the mechanisms germs use to cause disease and pioneered discoveries in antibiotic resistance. That deepened knowledge has been of invaluable service to society, influencing critical developments in issues of public health, medical, and agricultural practices. Your life story speaks to the power of curiosity at the heart of scientific inquiry. As a young boy, you looked up at the stars and were filled with an overwhelming desire to discover what lay beyond. When you discovered the book Microbe Hunters, your enchantment with the mysteries of microscopic organisms and the trailblazing researchers who discovered them set you on a different, earthbound scientific path. Propelled forward by undergraduate experiences in the lab and with hospital patients, you became a microbe hunter yourself. Your ability to grasp the perspective of a bacterium allowed you to ask simple but profound questions, challenge prevailing assumptions about germs and disease, and make critical discoveries that have enhanced understanding of human health. You have said that “the greatest compliment one can receive is when a student says he or she wishes to work with you.” As a result, your most enduring legacy may be the generations of loyal students whose wishes became reality and whose scientific careers you helped launch. For your exceptional blend of scholarship, mentorship and, most of all, invaluable audacity of imagination, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of doctor of science, honoris causa.
Alicia Abella
Upon receiving a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Columbia’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science—your third graduate degree from the University—you wasted no time in putting your scientific brilliance and technical expertise to productive use. In the eighteen years since joining AT&T Labs, you have conducted groundbreaking research into human-computer interaction, social media, and data analytics and are now the Executive Director of the Innovative Devices and Services Research Department. Your determination and skill have created enormous value for society, from improvements in Interactive Voice Response Systems relied upon by millions of consumers, to technology that has made teleconferences a more efficient—and environmentally sustainable—alternative to air travel. By humanizing the way in which our networked society connects, you are helping to improve how people live, work, and communicate. Yet some see your greatest professional contribution in your actively engaged mentorship of a new and more diverse generation of aspiring scientists and engineers. Your leadership of the Young Science Achievers Program and the AT&T Labs Fellowship Committee has encouraged high school and postsecondary students from diverse backgrounds to pursue, in your words, “their own version of the American dream.” They and we admire the extraordinary example you have set as a first- generation Cuban-American woman flourishing in a field traditionally dominated by men. Fittingly, two years ago, you were selected by President Barack Obama, and sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, as a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Educational Excellence for Hispanics. As Justice Sotomayor herself has explained, role models provide more than inspiration; their flesh and blood existence, she said, turns others’ self-doubt into self-confidence with the knowledge that, “Yes, someone like me can do this.” For your pioneering accomplishments in developing technology that better serves society’s needs, and for your personal commitment to helping others follow in your footsteps, Columbia is proud to welcome you back to campus to present you with the University Medal for Excellence.


Shu Chien
“There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere.” That insight, from Columbia alumnus, Isaac Asimov, has found a true expression in your extraordinary academic contributions to the fields of physiology and bioengineering. By transcending traditional boundaries separating biology, medicine, and engineering, you have pioneered an integrative approach to molecular and cellular bioengineering and deepened our understanding of something as basic as how blood flows through our veins. And that enhanced knowledge has led to advances in the treatment of sickle cell anemia, atherosclerosis, and a better understanding of stem cells and cancer cells. Your leadership in building the biomedical engineering program at the University of California, San Diego, is, in its own right, a lifetime achievement. Recognized across the nation for setting standards of excellence, this program has helped to create the scientific foundations for breakthroughs in systems biology, regenerative medicine, and multiscale bioengineering focused on the diagnosis and treatment of human disease. All the while, you have been an irreplaceable mentor to generations of students and postdoctoral fellows. Only ten other scholars share with you the honor of membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. In November, President Obama awarded you the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest recognition for scientists. Now, Columbia is proud to honor you on the campus where you began your celebrated career, first as a Ph.D. student, and then, for more than three decades, as a distinguished faculty member in the Departments of Physiology and Biophysics; and where, on five separate occasions, you were honored for the excellence of your teaching. For your rare and invaluable blend of intellect, curiosity, and generosity, it is with great pleasure that we present you with the degree of doctor of science, honoris causa.
Jean Franco
A true pioneer of Latin American studies, through your scholarship and writing spanning almost half a century, you are responsible for helping to introduce the English-speaking world to Latin American literature and creating a body of work that has shaped and defined your chosen field. The clarity and perceptiveness of your critical analysis of authoritarian government, mass culture, Marxism, Mexico’s history, postmodernism, and feminism have long been on display, nowhere more so than here at Columbia, the university that has been your academic home for the last three decades. From the auspicious publication in 1967 of The Modern Culture of Latin America to The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City: Latin America and the Cold War, which received the 2003 Bolton-Johnson Prize for best English work on the history of Latin America, your scholarship has wrestled with history and identity, as well as cultural politics. Always your work has been infused with an abiding concern for social justice. You insisted on an appreciation of literature that acknowledges yet moves beyond nationality and culture. As a result, you have been at the forefront of a historic transformation in higher education, which today celebrates global citizenship and learning in a manner you embraced in the 1960s. In this, you were once again ahead of your time and your peers. In recognition of your devotion to Latin American literature, you have been decorated by the governments of Mexico, Chile and Venezuela. You have served as president of the Latin American Studies Associations of Great Britain and the United States and have received the Association’s lifetime achievement award. For having long been a beacon in the study of Latin American literature and culture, Columbia is proud to bestow upon one of our most respected faculty members the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa.
Amy Gutmann
Your life’s work in the academy shows that you have heeded well the admonition from the University of Pennsylvania’s founder, Benjamin Franklin, to “either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” You most assuredly have done both. The voluminous books, articles, and essays you have written or edited on ethics and public policy, democracy, and education, have made lasting contributions to political science and philosophy, while frequently serving as a corrective to a public discourse that has become altogether too fractious. As president of the University of Pennsylvania for the past eight years, you have supplied transformative leadership, moving one of America’s most respected institutions of higher education from, in your words, excellence to eminence. Bound together through our shared experience as great urban universities, Columbia salutes you and our University of Pennsylvania colleagues for so successfully navigating a familiar path in service of educating young citizens for a rapidly changing world. Indeed, from the creation of Penn Park, which connects your campus to downtown Philadelphia, to the no-loan financial aid policy you instituted to broaden college access, you have acted on the belief that both education and democracy demand engagement with society’s full spectrum and have done so with spectacular results. For this your university has earned the distinction of being the number one “good neighbor” among American colleges and universities, and the Penn Compact has become a model of civic participation. Your appointment by President Obama in 2009 as Chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues and your recognition by Newsweek magazine as one of 150 women who shake the world are fitting testaments to the scope of your impact. For your infectious enthusiasm and uncompromising leadership, and for your indelible mark on the field of political science and on higher education in America, Columbia is proud to bestow upon you the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa.
Tom Kitt
A life story that stirs together a precocious affinity for music, undying allegiance to New York City, an unexpected star turn in a rollicking public duet with a rock-and-roll legend, and years of dogged collaboration with a college friend resulting in a convention-bending Tony Award– and Pulitzer Prize–winning musical sounds like the book to an especially implausible Broadway show. Yet it happens to be your unvarnished biography. Your busy career of composing, conducting, creating orchestrations and arrangements, and leading your eponymous band has, thus far, been highlighted by the revelatory music you composed for Next to Normal. The New York Times described it as a “surging tidal score” that “keeps shifting shapes, from dainty music-box lyricism to twanging country-western heartbreak, suggesting a restless, questing spectrum of moods.” There have been many other triumphs, from your work on the musical American Idiot, which was nominated for a Drama Desk Award, to your score of incidental music for the Public Theatre’s staging of The Winter’s Tale, along with your contributions to other productions on and off Broadway. Without question, future triumphs, showcasing your gift for theatrical composition, lie ahead. We take no small pride in the fact that your talent was first on display here at Columbia in the Varsity Show and Kingsmen performances, proving that in the performing arts, as in so many academic disciplines, Columbia continues its long tradition of setting the standard of excellence among new generations of writers and performers. For treating us all to an innovative brand of musical artistry that is at once atypical and yet perfectly suited to the stage, Columbia is proud to present you with the University Medal for Excellence.
Gloria Steinem
Few names in modern American history are as emblematic of a great social movement as yours. Through powerful writing on issues of equality and the creation of innovative new publications, you helped produce new journalism that, along with your organizing and activism, fueled fundamental changes in our society. Your distinctive mix of conviction, thoughtfulness, wit, and grace gave you a voice to speak for a generation and a gender, despite your oft-stated resistance to presuming such a role. Always making sure to reject the most grandiose assessments of your impact, you have declared your personal contribution to the women’s movement to be small relative to the collective impact of those who joined you. On this last point, we must disagree. Though you were making a larger statement, you could have been describing yourself when you said, “If you say, I’m for equal pay, that’s a reform. But if you say, I’m a feminist, that’s a transformation of society.” And transform society you have. Perhaps most insightfully, this is why you have described your work as not only feminist, but humanist as well. You famously critiqued women’s magazines for simply molding women into better consumers and showed us all a different way with Ms. magazine—energizing a world-changing conversation about reproductive rights, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and date rape when those issues barely occupied the periphery of America’s public discourse. It is a conversation that continues unabated today; indeed, it has never been more important at a time when seemingly long-settled progress faces new political challenge. You helped create the Women’s Action Alliance, the National Women’s Political Caucus, Voters for Choice, Ms. Foundation for Women, and the internationally recognized Take Our Daughters to Work Day. In the fights for women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights, you have employed all of your considerable talents as an award-winning journalist, bestselling author, sought-after lecturer, and omnipresent activist and organizer. For the courage and tenacity to establish a new path forward for a more just society and for empowering countless others to join in this cause, Columbia is proud to bestow upon you the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa.
Muhal Richard Abrams
“They teach you there is a boundary line in music,” Charlie Parker said. “But, man, there is no boundary line in art.” That insight captures perfectly the unique music you have created over a lifetime—a body of work that always has defied convention and never been predictable, while displaying your artistic mastery. From the release of Levels and Degrees of Light, your 1967 debut album, through your present-day compositions and performances, you have sought not simply to engage but to provoke the listener. A single Abrams composition can swing from Charles Ives to Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington to Thelonious Monk, from trailblazers of electronic music and back to composers of the Great American Songbook. It is a passionately innovative style born of a musical dexterity that could come only from a self-taught virtuoso with boundless imagination. As you grew up on Chicago’s Southside, your keen eye, sharp mind, and attuned ear became your guide to the rich diversity of sound emanating from that city’s jazz scene. In 1965, faced with a paucity of hometown performance venues available to African American musicians who wanted to improvise and experiment, you co-founded the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music. The AACM became an incubator for generations of groundbreaking African American musicians seeking to develop their styles and play their way to wider audiences. First in Chicago and then in New York, you have continued in the role not only of innovative artist but also of dedicated mentor. Your compositions have been performed by the Chicago Symphony, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and at Carnegie Hall by the Kronos Quartet. You have been inducted by DownBeat magazine into its Jazz Hall of Fame, and in 2010 the National Endowment for the Arts named you a Jazz Master. You were the first recipient of the prestigious international Jazzpar Prize conferred by the Danish Jazz Center in Copenhagen. In recognition of your wide-ranging contributions to our musical culture in both experimental and established idioms, Columbia is honored to confer upon you the degree of doctor of music, honoris causa.
Michelle Bachelet
Through your courageous public service and personal example of forgiveness and hope, you have improved lives and communities and helped a nation bind up historic wounds, all the while shattering gender stereotypes and barriers. Your life story speaks to both the pathos and promise of state power. Out of the suffering you and your family endured under the Pinochet regime, you gained firsthand experience of the human toll of authoritarian injustice, leaving you determined to protect the vulnerable from tyranny. Your career has been dedicated to fostering nonviolent change, democracy, social equality, and human rights. As Chile’s minister of health, you expanded access to quality care by remaking the nation’s system of public health clinics. As Latin America’s first female defense minister, you helped strengthen democratic control over military affairs and reshaped attitudes toward women in both the armed services and law enforcement. And as Chile’s first female president, you succeeded in preserving and enlarging social protections for children and women while battling the economic pressures of the global financial crisis. Who but a pediatrician trained at the world’s finest defense academies would possess the breadth of experience to assemble such a diverse record of accomplishment? Now, as the United Nations’ Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women, and inaugural Executive Director of UN Women, you are bringing your experience as a citizen of the world to bear on urgent problems of global dimension. In you, women the world over in need of a champion have found a formidable advocate. Susan B. Anthony once said that true reformers cannot afford to be limited by society’s judgment: “Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation.” For your earnest commitment to true reform and for personifying the bold, uninhibited, and generous leadership essential to social progress, Columbia is proud to present you with a doctor of laws, honoris causa.


Keith Thomas
In a world dominated by short attention spans, forever accelerating technological innovation, and a prevailing obsession with the latest trends, your career as one of Oxford’s most revered historians stands as a reminder that few academic pursuits are more thrilling or meaningful than the insightful re-interpretation of earlier times and cultures. Your heroic capacity to search the depths of vast seas of source material has produced several sweeping narratives of early modern English life, each recognized as an enduring classic despite their sometimes radical departures from traditional interpretation. Interdisciplinary learning, whose value we recognize today, has long been essential to the distinctive approach to social and cultural history that characterizes your body of work. Employing the skills of a social anthropologist, you were able in your first book, Religion and the Decline of Magic, to trace society’s journey from a supernatural world where magic quelled anxiety to a world of reason and scientific inquiry. In Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England, 1500–1800, you illuminated the interplay of forces driving England from a society defined by its ascendancy over nature to one with a newfound concern for the environment and animal welfare, accompanied by similarly profound changes in hygiene, civility, and manners. Just two years ago, you again added to the learning in this field withThe Ends of Life: Roads to Fulfillment in Early Modern England, a magisterial work encouraging reflection on our own lives and a sense of shared experience with our forebears. Your contributions to historical scholarship have been celebrated by the British Academy, the Academia Europaea, the Japan Academy, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a Knighthood from the Queen. But nowhere is your intellectual achievement embraced with greater admiration and gratitude than among the legion of former students who have benefited from your teaching and mentorship. Generations of budding historians have been challenged and enriched by your distinctive approach to the discipline. The scholarly environment you created, the academic rigor you demanded, and the generous support you provided have been responsible for launching many accomplished academic careers—a tribute to the lasting impact of your scholarship and teaching. This sterling academic career unfolded while you also helped to lead the University of Oxford in a series of important administrative roles, including fourteen years as President of Corpus Christi College. With great respect and admiration for your many extraordinary achievements, we are proud to bestow upon you the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa.
Joan Steitz
The phenomenon of inheritance has long puzzled the greatest scientific minds. Your brilliant scholarship at the forefront of RNA research has altered forever our understanding of the molecular basis of this once intractable mystery. The new knowledge you have discovered is at once astonishing and invaluable, supporting advances that are expected to one day revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of disease. For those suffering from lupus and other autoimmune conditions, your research offers reason to believe that the day is drawing nearer when the fruits of scientific discovery will transform treatment regimens and improve the health of the chronically ill. As the first female graduate student to work in the laboratory of James Watson, the codiscoverer of DNA’s structure, you have inspired and encouraged countless women determined to succeed at the highest levels of scientific inquiry. Having once commented that you came of age when it was virtually impossible to find a woman at the top of any scientific discipline, you built a trailblazing career that has filled that void and provided a role model at the core of a rising community of women in science. Your many prestigious awards for scientific achievement convey only part of the story of your illustrious career. Students cherish your mentorship. Colleagues praise your brilliance. And in the future, patients are likely to reap lifesaving benefits from your self-described “personal love affair with RNA.” It is a love that distinguishes the scholarly temperament—the enduring passion for new discovery. For your pioneering leadership in and outside of the laboratory, we are proud to present you with a doctor of science, honoris causa.
Eleanor Jackson Piel
“The law will never make men free,” Henry David Thoreau said. “It is men who have got to make the law free.” In a legal career spanning seven decades, you have put that philosophical truth into practice and expanded its meaning for the enduring benefit of our city, our country, and our world. Your life in the law has defied convention, while making an indelible mark on the civil rights legacy of the United States through your efforts to seek justice for Japanese internment victims during World War II; your advocacy on behalf of New York City children facing gender-based segregation in public high schools; and your tireless work to free innocent prisoners on death row. In each case, your dedication has served to vindicate one of the most fundamental tenets of American democracy: equal justice under law. Your determination to ensure that the voices of all Americans are heard above the persistent din of discrimination moved seamlessly between the representation of vulnerable clients and your own efforts to open opportunity to female attorneys in a legal profession dominated by men. At the start of your career, a female Supreme Court justice or U.S. Attorney General was as unlikely seeming as the landslide election of an African American as President of the United States. Today, the presence of talented and deserving female lawyers serving at the top of the profession in both private practice and public service is a powerful testament to the success that you and a small group of pioneering contemporaries have had in opening new avenues of opportunity for women in the law. Indeed, your lifelong example of fearless leadership and principled advocacy suggests this addendum to Thoreau’s pronouncement: It is not just men, but women as equals who will make the law free. With the greatest respect for your accomplishments as a trailblazing lawyer and champion of social justice, we are proud to bestow upon you the degree of doctor of laws, honoris causa.
Martin Meisel
George Bernard Shaw, the subject of your first major published work, once remarked that “a gentleman is one who puts more into the world than he takes out.” Adopting that insight as our measure, we can say without equivocation that you have lived the life of a gentleman and a scholar. Your distinguished career in the academy has been defined by a courageous and wide-ranging intellect, a belief in the scholar’s duty to explain important truths, and, to Columbia’s lasting benefit, your fidelity to this University. Just four years ago, well into the fifth decade of an academic journey bending categories and defying categorization, you authored How Plays Work: Reading and Performance. Taking aim at questions at the very heart of dramatic literature, this audacious book presumes that we need to better understand the essential qualities of a familiar art form and then succeeds spectacularly in transforming and advancing that understanding. Consideration of the defining duality of a play—at once fully formed artistic expression and also performance script—becomes in your hands another opportunity to describe drama’s unique contributions among the world’s many forms of literature. With great clarity, you have taught us that comprehending the nuances of theatrical convention allows for the fullest appreciation of a playwright’s imagined world. During the forty-three years that Columbia has been your academic home, you have been cast in diverse roles, including Brander Matthews Professor of Dramatic Literature; chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature; and University Vice President for Arts and Sciences; as well as emissary and liaison to the world of artistic communities beyond Columbia’s gates. In each and every capacity, you discovered your way to serve as mentor and teacher, always putting far more into the role of the moment than you took out. It is therefore no wonder that we know you not only as a gentleman, but also as an exemplary and resourceful contributor to the pursuit of new knowledge that gives a university community its reason for being.
Ornette Coleman
The label “revolutionary” is too weighty a classification for all but a select few artists; yet it fits you as comfortably as one of your porkpie hats. By inventing a new language of jazz and extending the boundaries of that uniquely American musical genre, you rightfully have earned that distinction and many more. As one critic has put it, “Metaphorically Mr. Coleman questioned his parents, if his parents were Charlie Parker, the blues, and American popular song. He broke from the family business.” Your theory of harmolodics threw off tradition and helped launch an era of “free jazz,” unconstrained by the rules of rhythm or the expectations of traditional forms. A groundbreaking marriage of melody and harmony, your music has inspired new generations of artists who seek to break the bonds of conventionality. From acoustic works and string quartets to full orchestras and ballets, your influence has stretched across multiple musical genres. Your virtuosity has provided a model to which countless musicians aspire. The many celebrated alumni of the “University of Ornette” praise you as a mentor and thank you for your teaching. Since the legendary New York City debut of Ornette Coleman at the Five Spot in 1959, you have assembled a career of consummate musical artistry, a career celebrated by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Miles Davis Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, and the Pulitzer Prize awarded here, at Columbia University. Now, in the city that witnessed the rise of your groundbreaking career, Columbia University recognizes your extraordinary contributions to our culture. It is with admiration and pride that we present you with a doctor of music, honoris causa.


Lydia Polgreen
In a still young career, you have developed a distinctive style of reporting, recognizable for its rare mix of captivating storytelling, determined investigation, and the ability to employ all the tools available to modern journalism. Your skill in conveying the relevance of far away events to the lives of Americans has made an invaluable contribution to our public discourse. Reporting from Darfur, Chad, the Central African Republic, and Congo, you have courageously explained not only the human toll of ethnic violence, but also the complexity of the religious, historical, and political dimensions of these deadly conflicts. Now you are building on this impressive body of work, reporting from South Asia on a kaleidoscope of events ranging from violent protests in Kashmir to the work of a community kitchen in a Sikh temple. If journalism is indeed the first rough draft of history, then future historians one day will be joining today’s newspaper readers in thanking you as they apply their scholarly perspective to events you have conveyed with remarkable insight as they were occurring. On this campus, the many prestigious awards for foreign news reporting you have earned come as no surprise. You are remembered at our School of Journalism as an exceptional student, confident in your abilities yet eager for constructive criticism and dedicated to improving your craft. Happily, your postings to far corners of the globe have not kept you from returning regularly to share your experiences with the next generation of journalism students. In you, they see a model of professionalism and dedication, creativity and commitment.As do we. It is therefore with pride and admiration that we award you the Alumni Medal for Excellence.