June 10, 2004
Vol. 23 No. 18

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    University to confer honorary degrees on Jannotta, six scholars

    By Laurie Davis, Steve Koppes and Seth Sanders
    News Office

    At the University’s 477th Convocation, former Chairman of the University Board of Trustees Edgar Jannotta will be presented with the Degree of Doctor of Laws. Jannotta will be honored at Session III, Saturday, June 12, when the University confers degrees on students in the College.

    The University also will confer honorary degrees at Session II of its Friday, June 11 ceremony, recognizing the significant contributions of six scholars who have benefited their fields of study through their research and scholarship.

    Jannotta will be honored for his devoted support of the University while serving as Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1999 to 2003.

    Jannotta, who received his A.B. from Princeton University, also earned an M.B.A. from Harvard University Business School. He joined Blair & Company in 1959 as an associate and continued to rise through the ranks of the firm from associate to partner to managing partner to senior director and then chairman of the firm in March 2001.

    A member of the University’s Board of Trustees since 1984, Jannotta succeeded Howard Krane in 1999 as Chairman, and he led the search committee that brought President Randel to the University. Jannotta continues to serve the University as Chairman of the Chicago Initiative, the University’s $2 billion capital campaign.

    The University is honoring Jannotta for his strong advocacy of academic freedom, of civility in discourse on campus, and of the importance of high quality undergraduate education as a central and core mission of the University. Jannotta also will be cited for having provided leadership that is symbolic of the close bonds that have linked the city of Chicago to the University for more than 100 years.

    Richard Saller, Provost of the University and the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in History and Classical Languages & Literatures, will present Jannotta with the degree.

    At Session II of the University’s Convocation on Friday, June 11, six scholars—Elizabeth Blackburn, Mogens Trolle Larsen, Hilary Putnam, Gilbert Vassart, Trevor Weekes and Craig Wright—will be presented with honorary degrees.

    Blackburn began her groundbreaking work as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University in 1975. Answering an unresolved and critical question, Blackburn discovered that the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres, are capped by a complex of a unique DNA sequence—consisting of six base pairs that are repeated many times, proteins and RNA—which protects the telomeres from fusion.

    In 1985, she discovered telomerase, the enzyme responsible for this process. Moreover, she showed that RNA provided the template, or pattern, for the specific six-base pair DNA sequence. Blackburn’s elucidation of telomere structure, function and maintenance was a landmark in biology. Its implications for understanding cancer and for highlighting a potential target for new therapy have provided a foundation for remarkable advances in biology and in medicine. A leader in the field of biology and medicine, Blackburn will receive a Doctor of Science degree.

    Mogens Trolle Larsen, a professor of Assyriology at the University of Copenhagen, has used ancient Assyrian texts to explore the areas shared by the humanities and the social sciences. Larsen has done this through studies ranging from ancient merchants in Anatolia to the work and temperament of Mesopotamian men and women, in studies on the connection between their families and their societies, and on the broadest economic and historical dynamics of their era in western Asia.

    He has worked to unite the troves of Assyriologists’ knowledge and the methods of historians and anthropologists, having a significant impact on how Assyriologists conceive the data of Mesopotamian history and how they undertake interdisciplinary collaboration. The example and opportunities he has offered have sparked the ambition of many students and colleagues, making the record of the ancient Near East a vital element in the present effort to understand history, culture and society.

    Larson will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

    Hilary Putnam of Harvard University has made major contributions to symbolic logic, the philosophy of mathematics, metaphysics, the philosophy of the natural and social sciences, epistemology, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language, the history of philosophy, ethics, and political philosophy.

    At one end of this spectrum, Putnam has made important contributions to logic (his first, short book, titled Philosophy of Logic, is still considered by many to be the best overview of the subject), to mathematics (he contributed to the solution of Hilbert’s tenth problem), to philosophy of science (his famous early defense of quantum logic still has many adherents), and to cognitive science and the philosophy of mind (in particular, as the originator of the functionalist program for explaining the nature of mental states).

    At the other end, he has done important and influential work in ethics (especially his critique of the fact/value distinction, his vindication of thick ethical concepts and his refutations of various forms of proceduralism in ethics), in political philosophy (his defense of Dewey’s conception of democracy, his critique of Habermas’ account of norms of validity, and his criticisms of traditional welfare economics), and in history of philosophy (his proto-functionalist reading of Aristotle’s De Anima, his partial defense of Kantian epistemology, and his interpretation of William James as a common-sense realist).

    Putnam will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

    The central theme of Vassart’s work has been the application of modern biological methods to the study of hormones, their molecular mechanisms of action and their defects leading to inherited diseases.

    His use of molecular genetics in endocrinology also has had a profound impact on the fields of signal transduction and molecular pharmacology.

    Through an innovative approach to genetic cloning by structure similarity, he identified novel members of a cell membrane receptor family, including one that confers resistance to HIV in humans.

    Vassart will be presented with a Doctor of Science degree.

    Trevor Weekes, senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, founded a new branch of astronomy and astrophysics called TeV gamma-ray astronomy. TeV refers to tera, or a trillion, electron volts, the energy at which gamma-ray radiation travels through the universe. This extreme level of radiation is far more powerful than anything astronomers have previously encountered in their ground-based observations, or even those observed by space-based X-ray and gamma-ray observatories.

    Weekes opened up the TeV energy spectrum to scientific examination by developing the air-Cherenkov telescope. Such a telescope observes the faint signals of Cherenkov light that are generated when a TeV gamma-ray particle enters the atmosphere and produces a shower of secondary electrons and positrons. This technique in effect employs the entire depth of the Earth’s atmosphere as a detector.

    After years of perfecting his new technique, Weekes managed to detect TeV gamma-ray emission from the Crab nebula in the Milky Way galaxy. He followed that milestone with the discovery of spectacular gamma-ray outbursts from distant active galactic nuclei, which are galaxies whose bright cores outshine the stars of the galaxies as a whole.

    Weekes’ success has spawned the construction of other gamma-ray telescopes, including the Very Energetic Radiation Imaging Telescope Array System in Arizona. Weekes, along with University scientists, are among the VERITAS project’s collaborators. Weekes will receive a Doctor of Science degree.

    A professor of music at Yale University, Craig Wright is perhaps the preeminent voice in early music scholarship. His work includes the history of musical performance, the sociology of the composer, the relationship of music to art, architecture, theology and place, and the use of symbol and myth in music.

    Through archival explorations of the powerful Burgundian dukes of the late middle ages, Wright reshaped the view of the decline of late medieval musical style and the birth of a new art.

    For Wright, the great Cathedral of Notre Dame in 12th-century Paris offered a site for a new kind of scholarship of place. Here he set in context a body of avant-garde and, for the first time, clearly rhythmical polyphonic music, while charting the career of its brilliant composer, the elusive Leoninus.

    In many other churches, deep secrets of construction and enduring symbols of medieval theology lay hidden for centuries in the music of their consecrations and their floor mazes. Wright illuminated these pieces, showing how a medieval Motet for Florence Cathedral symbolized the proportions of the church universal, exemplified in King Solomon’s Temple. So, too, his Maze and the Warrior displays the power of the labyrinth as metaphor in an astonishing array of mythic, ritual and vernacular contexts.

    His work has created lasting models of scholarship for many generations of music historians. Wright will receive a Doctor of Humane Letters degree.