Nov. 2, 2000
Vol. 20 No. 4

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    Ten scholars to receive honorary degrees today at inaugural convocation

    At the inaugural convocation at 2:30 p.m. today in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, Don Michael Randel will be officially inducted as the 12th President of the University. As Randel is honored, he in turn will honor 10 distinguished scholars by conferring on them honorary degrees.

    Chicago’s approach to awarding honorary degrees is unlike its peer institutions’ degree-granting process, in that the University does not honor actors, ambassadors, presidents or monarchs unless they meet stringent requirements for scholarship. The University traditionally awards honorary degrees for scholarship and to those who have served as presidents of the University or chairmen of the Board of Trustees in recognition of their service to the University.

    A key characteristic of the Chicago honorary degree is that nominations are made by the faculty beginning at the level of degree-granting units rather than by the administration. The departmental honorary degree committees collect letters of recommendation from outside scholars as well as complete bibliographies of the candidates. They make their recommendations to the divisional committees, which then make their recommendations to the deans.

    The deans in turn pass on those they have approved to the University-wide honorary degree committee, which makes the final determination of the names to be submitted to the Council of the Senate. Following its vote, the names of the candidates go to the Board of Trustees for final approval.

    This year, David Ledbetter, the Marjorie I. & Bernard A. Mitchell Professor and Chairman of Human Genetics, chaired the honorary degree committee.

    The 10 scholars who will receive honorary degrees today are David Aldous, University of California, Berkeley; John Bahcall, Princeton University; Veena Das, the Johns Hopkins University; Raymond Davis Jr., University of Pennsylvania; Charles Fillmore, University of California, Berkeley; Martin Gellert, National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health; Marc Kirschner, Harvard Medical School, Harvard University; Qiu Xigui, Peking University; Claude Steele, Stanford University; and Alan Walker, Pennsylvania State University.

    David Aldous, a professor of statistics at the University of California, Berkeley, will be awarded a Doctor of Science degree. Aldous’ contributions place him among the world’s leading practitioners of both mathematical probability and in the theory of computing.

    His 1989 monograph, Probability Approximations via the Poisson Clumping Heuristic, concisely shows how to solve more than 100 challenging and wide-ranging problems in probability theory.

    In 1993 he became the first recipient of the Line and Michel Lo‘ve International Prize in Probability. The prize recognizes the outstanding contributions of probability researchers under the age of 45.

    John Bahcall, the Richard Black professor of natural sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study and a visiting professor at Princeton University, will be awarded the Doctor of Science degree.

    Bahcall’s precise mathematical models of the sun were instrumental in helping scientists detect neutrinos, ghostly subatomic particles that are produced in the sun’s nuclear reactions.

    He also was chairman of the National Academy of Sciences Decade Survey Committee for Astronomy and Astrophysics in the 1990s. The committee’s recommendations, known as the “Bahcall Report,” successfully set research priorities for an unprecedented decade of discovery that followed.

    Veena Das, the Krieger-Eisenhower professor of anthropology at the Johns Hopkins University will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. She is credited with expanding anthropologists’ understanding of complex societies.

    Her work led to new uses of religious texts of South Asian civilizations in the study of enthnography. She also explored Hindu family histories and narratives in new ways and the role of pain and suffering in society. Her work has linked domestic violence to language, testimony and subjectivity.

    Raymond Davis Jr., a research professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania, will receive a Doctor of Science degree. In collaboration with Bahcall, Davis proposed in 1964 that a chlorine detector could signal the passage of solar neutrinos.

    Davis then developed an experiment that successfully detected solar neutrinos in a 100,000-gallon tank of dry-cleaning fluid sitting at the bottom of a South Dakota gold mine. The experiment directly demonstrated for the first time the nature of the sun’s nuclear-burning process and led to new insights into the mysterious properties of neutrinos.

    Charles Fillmore, a researcher and theorist whose work is fundamental to contemporary practices in linguistics, will be presented with a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. He is professor emeritus in linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

    During the past four decades, Fillmore’s research has concentrated mainly on questions of syntax and lexical semantics, and has emphasized the relationship between properties of linguistic form and matters of meaning and use. The impact of his thought, which has yielded important proposals such as cyclic-rule application and semantic cases, has been felt throughout the cognitive sciences.

    Fillmore, who is currently collaborating with Paul Kay, professor in linguistics at Berkeley, on a construction grammar monograph, is also engaged in several projects in computational lexicography known as “FrameNet.”

    Martin Gellert, Chief of the Section of Molecular Genetics and the Laboratory of Molecular Biology for the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, will be awarded a Doctor of Science degree.

    Gellert has been a major contributor to scientists’ understanding of the cellular rearrangement, manipulation and preservation of genomes. Gellert’s specific interest in DNA enzymology led him to the discovery and characterization of an enzyme that joins DNA ends. That discovery provided insights into cell replication and cell processing of DNA.

    His seminal contributions to the field of DNA recombination have implications for the immune system’s evolution, DNA mutations in cancer and the cell cycle.

    Gellert’s achievements have served both basic science and the technological development of molecular genetics.

    Marc Kirschner, chairman and the Carl W. Walter professor of cell biology at Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, will be awarded a Doctor of Science degree.

    Kirschner has contributed to the understanding of the cell cycle, the cytoskeleton and the role of protein degradation in the regulation of cellular function. A pioneer in his field, Kirschner was the first to use complex cell-free systems to clarify fundamentally important mechanisms in cell biology and was the first to demonstrate that the timer for the cell cycle is separable from nuclear events.

    He established the sequence of biochemical events required for completing the cell cycle, established the role of proteolysis in driving the cycle and demonstrated that the exit from cell division was as critical as the entry.

    Kirschner formulated the theory of microtubule dynamic instability to explain many aspects of microtubule function, including microtubular-dependent chromosomal movement.

    Additionally, he has been an advocate of basic science, in both the public domain and the federal government.

    Qui Xigui, who is China’s leading paleographer, will be awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. He is a distinguished service professor in Chinese language and literature at Peking University.

    Qui’s scholarship has not only brought to light new translations of specific manuscripts and inscriptions, but also has revolutionized modern theories of the early development of Chinese writing.

    Qui has been a leader in the effort to interpret and elucidate the diverse forms of early Chinese writing that have been uncovered during the past 40 years of archaeological research in China. His seminal text, Chinese Writing, which discusses in detail the nature, composition, history and evolution of Chinese script, is a widely used reference for scholars and students concerned with the history of Chinese script.

    Claude Steele, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, will receive a Doctor of Science degree. Examining prejudice and stereotypes, Steele’s analyses have led to a new understanding of the role of self and the ways in which people construct their own feeling of worth.

    Steele expanded his theory to help explain how African Americans’ and women’s perceptions influence intellectual performance and academic identities. He also has developed practical programs to help children overcome prejudice in schools.

    Alan Walker, a distinguished professor of anthropology and biology at Pennsylvania State University, will receive a Doctor of Science degree. He is a leading paleobiological researcher who has explored the early stages of human evolution through the discovery and interpretation of a number of important specimens.

    He is particularly well known for his work on a 1.5-million-year-old skeleton called “Turkana Boy” that he discovered in Kenya. His work adds important knowledge to the role of hominids in human evolution, and he has established a new species related to human evolution that is 4 million years old. Story by Laurie Davis, Arthur Fournier, William Harms and Steve Koppes.