College to confer seven honorary degrees at 2003 commencement

Eric S. Lander, head of the Whitehead Center for Genome Research, and Gwen Ifill, moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week in Review,” are among the seven men and women to be honored at the College’s Commencement exercises this year. Lander will be the principal speaker at Commencement exercises on June 8, and Ifill will be the Baccalaureate speaker on June 7. President of the College Morton Owen Schapiro will confer honorary degrees to them, as well as to Michael R. Beschloss ’77, James MacGregor Burns ’39, Monica Lozano, Thaddeus Lott and Paul A. Volcker.

Commencement speaker Dr. Lander is the founder and director of the Whitehead Center for Genome Research, which is the primary contributor to the international project to sequence the human genome. Under his leadership, the center has been responsible for developing most of the keys to modern mammalian genome study.

A graduate of Princeton and Oxford universities, Dr. Lander was a member of the managerial economics faculty at the Harvard Business School from 1981 to 1990. In addition to his work at Whitehead, he is also a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Dr. Lander received a 1987 MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship for his work in genetics and was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1990. He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1997, the U.S. Institute of Medicine in 1998 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1999.

Baccalaureate speaker Gwen Ifill is the first woman and the first African-American to host PBS’s political analysis show, “Washington Week in Review,” since its launch in 1967.

A communications major at Simmons College in Boston, she worked at The Boston Herald-American and The Baltimore Evening Sun before moving on to The Washington Post and The New York Times. Next, Ifill worked at NBC before joining PBS, where she now moderates “Washington Week” and serves as senior political correspondent on “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.”

She is chair of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Journalism Awards and is a board member of the Harvard Institute of Politics and the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. This will be her ninth honorary degree.

Honorary degree recipient Michael Beschloss ’77 is an award-winning political historian who specializes in the American presidency. A regular commentator on “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer” and a contributor to ABC News, he has written six books and been hailed by Newsweek as “the nation’s leading Presidential historian.”

Beschloss’s first book, “Kennedy and Roosevelt: An Uneasy Alliance,” began as his senior honors thesis in history at Williams. His published works also include a three-volume series on Lyndon B. Johnson’s secret tapes, and “At the Highest Levels: The Inside Story of the End of the Cold War,” which he co-wrote with Strobe Talbott.

After graduating from Williams in 1977, Beschloss received his M.B.A. from Harvard. He has held appointments in history at the Harvard Russian Research Center, the Smithsonian Institution and St. Antony’s College, Oxford University. He was named a senior fellow of the Annenberg Foundation and served as director of the Harry S. Truman Centennial Commission and the PEN/Faulkner Foundation.

Also receiving an honorary degree is Professor James MacGregor Burns ’39, a pioneer in leadership studies, a Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential biographer, a long-time Williams faculty member and a senior scholar at the University of Maryland’s Academy of Leadership that bears his name. He has written more than a dozen books on leadership and the presidency.

Whether his focus is on history, politics, or a combination, Burns’ books investigate the nature of political leadership. Since the 1978 publication of his book, “Leadership,” which effectively established the field of leadership studies, over 900 programs in leadership studies in higher education have been established in the United States, including Williams’s own in 1997.

After graduating from Williams in 1939, Prof. Burns attended Harvard University, where he received his Ph.D. in political science. He attended the London School of Economics before returning to Williams to teach political science, which he did from 1947 to 1986.

Prof. Burns was the Democratic nominee for the 1st Congressional District of Massachusetts in 1958, and served as a delegate to four Democratic National Conventions and as a combat historian in the Pacific Theater from 1943 to1946. He is former president of the American Political Science Association, served as co-chair of the Salzburg Leadership Seminar in Salzburg, Austria in 1997 and has won the National Book Award.

Honorary degree recipient Monica Lozano is president and chief operating officer of La Opinión, the largest Spanish-language daily newspaper in the United States. Founded in 1926 by her grandfather, the paper has won numerous awards, including the 1999 and 2000 awards for Best Hispanic Daily from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.

Lozano received her B.A. from the University of Oregon. After returning to California, she worked at local community newspapers in San Francisco while attending San Francisco City College, where she received a degree in printing technology before choosing to return to the family business.

She has also served on the University of California Board of Regents, the state Board of Education and is a member of the University of Southern California Board of Trustees. She also serves on the boards of the Walt Disney Company, Union Bank of California, the California HealthCare Foundation, the National Council of La Raza and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Also receiving an honorary degree is Thaddeus Lott, the principal of Wesley Elementary School in Houston, Texas. The school made national news in 1991 when Houston’s school board tried to discredit the school, criticizing it for being old-fashioned. But the success of Dr. Lott’s leadership at the school has had results. For example, 100 percent of third graders passed the 1996 Texas Assessment of Academic Skills in reading – as compared to the 18 percent that passed when Dr. Lott first became principal in 1975.

Dr. Lott has trained his faculty to teach students to read using phonics, to expect them to memorize and do homework and to assess students’ skills daily. He has continually fine-tuned the curriculum, trying to perfect the instruction.

A graduate of Texas Southern University, he now feels that he was “almost designed to be a public servant.” He worked first as a classroom teacher, quickly becoming assistant principal and principal in the Houston school system. Dr. Lott has since retired as principal of Wesley but remains district coordinator of the Acres Home Coalition, a group of four Houston charter elementary schools.

Paul A. Volcker, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, will also receive an honorary degree. Volcker worked to help lower the double-digit inflation rates during the tumultuous financial period of the early 1980s, attempting to usher in an era of financial deregulation and innovation. In his position as chairman, he oversaw the Federal Open Market Committee, which decides the conduct of U.S. monetary policy.

Many observers felt that the problems confronted by trying to cut inflation were too high, and criticized Volcker strongly. However, after the inflation came down and the economy rebounded, Time magazine called him “the most revered economic leader of his era.”

He defended the Federal Reserve Board’s oversight powers in banking regulation, arguing that in order to fulfill its role of “lender of last resort” to financially troubled banks, the Fed must maintain day-to-day regulation over those banks. He has also worked as a consultant to various financial institutions, including the World Bank.

Volcker attended Princeton and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Public Administration. He has received numerous honorary degrees, as well as the 1969 One of Ten Outstanding Young Men in Federal Service Award and the 1972 Alexander Hamilton Award, given each year by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research to individuals helping to foster the revitalization of America’s cities.

Courtesy of OPA