Honorary degrees to be given at Commencement

Seven people from the worlds of art, entertainment, mental health, science and mathematics will receive honorary degrees at Williams College’s 210th Commencement. President of the College Harry C. Payne will confer the degrees on Sunday, June 6, at 10 a.m. on West College Lawn. Actor Christopher Reeve will give the principal address. On Saturday, June 5, writer Paul Auster will give the Baccalaureate address.

The honorary degree recipients and their degrees are Paul Auster, Doctor of Letters; Shirley A. Jackson, Doctor of Science; Thomas Krens ’69, Doctor of Fine Arts; Constance and Stephen A. Lieber ’47, Doctors of Humane Letters; Curtis T. McMullen ’80, Doctor of Science; and Christopher Reeve, Doctor of Humane Letters.

Paul Auster

Well-known as a poet and writer of experimental fiction, The Times Literary Supplement has called Auster “one of America’s most spectacularly inventive writers.” Auster earned his B.A. and M.A. in English and

Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he discovered French poets and started his writing career as a poet, translator, and essayist.

But he told Marcelle Thiebaux in Publishers Weekly, “My dream was always to write novels. Absolutely. From the beginning. Writing novels gives you the opportunity to explore all sides of yourself—more than anything else I can think of.”

For years he labored in relative obscurity until the mid-1980s when he began to attract critical attention with his New York Trilogy, a trio of post-modern detective novels. Completed in 1987, the trilogy marked him as a talent to watch.

Although the influence of American writers like Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville is evident in his fiction, other influences range from Montaigne, and Pascal to Wittgenstein and Merleau-Ponty, and Beckett.

In addition to The New York Trilogy which contains the City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room, he is the author of In the Country of Last Things and Moon Palace, among others. He has written widely, including poetry, nonfiction, screenplays, and a memoir, The Invention of Solitude.

He was also editor of the Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poets, and has translated works by Joan Miro, Jacques Dupin, Jean-Paul Sartre, Stephan Mallarme, and Jean Chesneux, among others.

He also has contributed to art through film. His book Music of Chance (1990) was adapted into the 1993 film of the same title, the film rights to his book Mr. Vertigo (1994) were purchased by Miramax, the movie “Smoke” was based on a story he wrote for The New York Times (1990) about storytelling, and his movie “Blue in the Face” (filmed in 1994), featured Harvey Keitel with Michael J. Fox, Madonna, Lou Reed, and Roseanne Barr.

His awards include the chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1993, Prix Medicis for foreign literature in the same year, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1990, and Ingram Merrill Foundation, PEN Translation Center, and National Endowment of the Arts fellowships.

He taught in the creative writing program at Princeton University from 1986 to 1990.

Shirley Ann Jackson

Jackson has spent her career researching and teaching about particle physics — the branch of physics that uses theories and mathematics to predict the existence of subatomic particles and the forces that bind them together.

Graduating from Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., in 1964 as valedictorian, she entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she received her S.B. degree in physics, and became the first black woman to earn a Ph.D. from MIT in 1973.

Throughout her career she has focused on helping other female and black scientists. As a student at MIT, she organized and worked with the Black Student Union as its co-chairman for two years and as advisor through graduate school. She set up recruiting committees under MIT’s auspices and won a commitment from the university to make admission requirements more flexible.

After earning her doctorate, she was a research associate at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and a visiting scientist at the European Center for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland.

She went to AT&T Bell Laboratories in 1976, where she conducted research on the electronic and optical properties of electrons in two-dimension systems, studies that find application in the fabrication of integrated circuits and semiconductor lasers.

She was named professor of physics at Rutgers University in 1991, where she taught both graduate and undergraduate students.

Jackson, who had been elected to the MIT Corporation board of trustees in 1975, was elected as a life member also in 1992. In 1995, she was named chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in charge of maintaining the safety of the nation’s nuclear power industry. The agency has 3,000 employees and a budget of $478 million.

While serving as chairman of the NRC, Jackson spearheaded the formation of the eight-nation International Nuclear Regulators Association in 1997, and was elected its first chairperson. The Association comprises the most senior nuclear regulatory officials from Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It provides a forum for high-level policy discussion on global nuclear safety matters.

Her papers have appeared in Annals of Physics, Nuovo Cimento, Physical Review, Solid State Communications, Applied Physics Letters, and Journal of Applied Physics.

She holds five honorary doctoral degrees, and is the recipient of many honors, scholarships, and grants.

Jackson has been named president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and will be inaugurated as its 18th president in September, 1999.

Thomas Krens

Krens was director of the Williams College Museum of Art before being named director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1988. When he was named, a writer for The New York Times said Krens represented the kind of manager institutions now require—someone with “high-tech skills, entrepreneurial know-how and global ambitions.”

Calling on these skills, know-how, and ambition, Krens has parlayed the Guggenheim’s enterprise, notable for its European contemporary art, into a powerhouse adding to the museums in New York and Venice, pocket-size Guggenheims in SoHo and Berlin and the new Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, which has won kudos for its architecture by Frank Gehry.

Michael Kimmelman in The New York Times assessed Krens’s directorship in an article in 1998: “A decade has now passed since Mr. Krens arrived at the Guggenheim. Unlike anyone else, he has articulated a vision of the art museum in the 21st century that transcends the old parochial model and suits a world of shrinking distances.”

Krens received his B.A. from Williams College in 1969 where he was a political economics major but took several studio art classes. He went to Switzerland for a year, where he was an apprentice to a master printer, and then studied printmaking at SUNY/Albany, receiving his M.F.A. in 1971. He was appointed assistant professor of art history at Williams in 1972.

He became director of Williams College Museum of Art in 1980, and presided over a six-year $8 million expansion program that doubled the size of the museum with a building designed by Charles Moore.

During his tenure, Krens also studied for and received a Masters in Public and Private Management from Yale University in 1984.

Locally Krens is, perhaps, best known for conceiving MASS MoCA, an art museum in North Adams, Mass. in a cluster of empty mill buildings, for which he spearheaded public and political support around its inception in 1985. MASS MoCA opened in May of this year.

Constance and Stephen A. Lieber

In 1963, the Liebers founded the Essel Foundation, whose major philanthropic interest is scientific research aimed at better treatments and cures for severe psychiatric disorders, notably schizophrenia.

The Essel Foundation has been the major supporter of the National Alliance for Research of Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), which is headed by Constance Lieber as president. This organization, which began providing research grants in 1987, is the largest private sector, philanthropic contribution-supported funder of research in severe mental illnesses. It has provided more than 1,000 research grants to scientists in 145 universities and medical research centers in the United States and seven other countries.

In 1987 the organization established the Lieber Prize, an annual award given for extraordinary achievement in schizophrenia research. The winners are selected by the NARSAD Scientific Council. The council supports a number of research and educational projects, including the Williams College Neuroscience Program.

Mrs. Lieber has long been active in mental health. She has served as a board member of the World Federation of Psychosocial Rehabilitation, National Mental Health Leadership Forum, and The National Mental Health Advisory Council of the NIMH, as well as numerous regional mental health organizations. She is a member of The National Advisory Council of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Research!America, and the Advisory Council of Rockefeller University.

She graduated from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York majoring in art and architectural design. Her post-graduate studies were at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture. Afterwards she initiated an independent practice as an interior designer specializing in residential and office interiors in Manhattan and Westchester County in New York.

Mr. Lieber is a member of the Williams Class of 1947.

Attending the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1947-48, he left to enter publishing and then moved on to the financial world. In 1956, he co-founded Alfred L. Vanden Broeck & Co., later Vanden Broeck Lieber & Co.). He was partner in charge of research and investment management.

In 1969, he founded Lieber & Co., members of the New York Stock Exchange and registered investment advisors. He initiated mutual fund operations for the firm in 1971, with the founding of the Evergreen Fund, a mutual fund specializing in entrepreneurial growth companies. In subsequent years, he founded a number of other mutual funds. The Evergreen Fund-Lieber & Co. operation manages 16 mutual funds, and Lieber & Co. also provides investment management services for individuals and tax-exempt separate counts.

With the acquisition of Lieber & Co., by First Union Corporation in 1994, he became chairman of Lieber & Co. and Evergreen Asset Management Corp., both subsidiaries of First Union Corporation. Mr. Lieber is also chair of the advisory council of the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry and is on the Advisory Council of Rockefeller University.

Curtis T. McMullen

McMullen, who is Class of 1980 at Williams, teaches at Harvard University, from which he received his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1985. McMullen has made contributions in numerous fields of mathematics, and in

August received the Fields Medal, the highest award for mathematicians.

He was awarded the prestigious gold medal primarily in recognition of his work finding the relationship between the geometry of three-dimensional objects and the universal structure that occurs in the transition from regular to chaotic physical behavior.

“There are many practical applications to this work,” he said in an interview in the Harvard Gazette, “such as more detailed knowledge of how heart attacks begin, how earthquakes start, and how an asteroid might suddenly change its path and head for Earth.” The Fields Medal is presented every four years together with a prize of

15,000 Canadian dollars to four mathematicians who are not more than 40 years old, consistent with the donor’s wish that the awards recognize both existing work and the promise of future achievement.

At Williams, McMullen did his senior honors work under H. William Oliver, now retired professor of mathematics. “I early on realized he had exceptional talents in math,” said Oliver, “and was an extremely quick learner. What was most impressive about him was his insight as to what was essential.”

After graduating from Williams and receiving the Herchel Smith Fellowship, McMullen studied at Cambridge University. He also studied at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques in France in 1984.

He is associate editor of the Annals of Mathematics and the Journal of the American Mathematical Society.

He has taught at MIT, Princeton University, and the University of California, Berkeley. He was a member of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton in 1986-87.

In addition to the Fields Medal, McMullen has won nine major awards or honors, including membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Salem Prize.

article and photos from the Office of Public Affairs

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