Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, October 10, 2011

Four to receive honorary degrees at Winter Commencement

One of the nation's foremost journalists, a world-renowned scientist who specializes in pharmaceutical chemistry, a former U-M provost and the current chancellor of Syracuse University, and a Harvard professor and author whose work focuses on community, diversity, religion and politics in modern society are to receive honorary degrees at the U-M Winter Commencement 2011.


Click here for more about Winter Commencement.

Jill Ellen Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from the university and serve as keynote speaker for the exercises to take place at 2 p.m. Dec. 18 in Crisler Arena.

Also receiving honorary degrees are scientist Leslie Benet, honorary Doctor of Science; higher education leader Nancy Cantor, honorary Doctor of Laws; and Harvard author Robert David Putnam, honorary Doctor of Science.

The honorary degrees are pending approval by the Board of Regents at Thursday's meeting.

Abramson has investigated world events through periods of political turmoil and social transformation. As an undergraduate student at Harvard, earning a degree in history and literature, she worked as a stringer for Time magazine, where she would stay after graduation to report on the 1976 presidential election. In 1979, she joined the inaugural team of investigative reporters for the new publication The American Lawyer.

She moved to Washington, D.C., in 1986 to serve as editor of the periodical Legal Times, and in 1988 was hired as an investigative reporter in the Washington office of The Wall Street Journal, later becoming deputy bureau chief, then Washington editor and later Washington bureau chief. In 2003 she moved to New York as managing editor of the Times, and this September was named executive editor.

Abramson has co-authored two books, "Where They Are Now: The Story of the Women of Harvard Law 1974" and "Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas," the latter a National Book Award finalist. Her newest book "The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout," published in October, combines her passion for inquiry with her love of dogs.

Abramson has taught courses on journalism and politics at Yale University and Princeton University. She has served U-M as a member of the Knight-Wallace Fellowship board, and has participated as a panelist at its Public Policy Conference. She was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001.

Benet, who holds three degrees from U-M, is a professor in the Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, where he has served for 40 years, including 20 years as department chair. His research has established the foundation for much of what is now known about the rate at which drugs are metabolized in the body. He is known as one of the creators and disseminators of the concept known as clearance, which serves as the basis for calculating how much of a prescribed drug to give to a patient.

His degrees from U-M include a Bachelor of Arts in English and creative writing, a Bachelor of Science in pharmacy, and a Master of Science degree in pharmaceutical chemistry. He has a doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry from the University of California, San Francisco.

Benet has published more than 500 scientific articles and book chapters, holds 11 patents, and served as editor of seven books. He also has founded four companies and serves as a scientific board member or consultant for more than 25 pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

He was the founder and first president of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS), and has been president of several professional organizations, including the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences. He was elected a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and received the first AAPS Distinguished Pharmaceutical Scientist Award.

Benet received a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the U-M College of Pharmacy in 1982 and spoke at the college's graduation ceremony in 2007. He has been presented with honorary doctorates from universities in Sweden, Greece, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Cantor, former provost of U-M, currently serves as chancellor of Syracuse University, where she also holds an appointment as a distinguished professor of psychology and women's studies. Her career has focused on providing leadership and illumination on issues related to higher education, specifically regarding access to higher education and the engagement of universities with their surrounding communities.

Raised in New York City, she earned her bachelor's degree at Sarah Lawrence College. Her dissertation from Stanford University in social psychology received a national award from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. Shortly thereafter she received the Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology from the American Psychological Association.

At Princeton University she served as an assistant and associate professor, and later as chair of the Department of Psychology. At Michigan she was a faculty member, dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, and provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. Honors at U-M include the Henry Russel Award and a Faculty Recognition Award. She established the foundation of policies that still guide the university and, as provost, was closely involved with the admissions lawsuits that eventually were decided by the Supreme Court of the United States.

In 2001 she was appointed chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and in 2004 accepted her current role at Syracuse.

Her published work includes more than 90 book chapters and journal articles and three books that she authored or co-authored.

Cantor was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and as a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. Recently she was presented with the Carnegie Corporation Academic Leadership Award for community engagement, and the American Council on Education honored her with the 2011 Reginald Wilson Diversity Leadership Award for making it a top priority to "open the halls of academia to all people."

Putnam, the Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, is a world-renowned author who also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses while sustaining a prominent research profile and consulting with national leaders around the world.

Raised in Ohio, he attended Swarthmore College, earning his bachelor's degree in psychology and political science. He then undertook graduate study at Balliol College, Oxford and Yale University, where he received his Master of Arts and doctorate in political science. Before finishing his doctoral thesis he joined the political science department at U-M in 1968, where he rose to the rank of full professor before departing for a faculty appointment at Harvard University.

His first five books — on European political and bureaucratic elites and on international negotiation — won academic praise, but his 1993 book on social capital in Italy, titled "Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy," won even wider attention and was praised by The Economist as "a great work of social science, worthy to rank alongside de Tocqueville, Pareto and Weber." With political scientist David Campbell, Putnam co-authored the 2010 book "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us," delving into the link between religion and community. This book was honored with the 2011 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award of the American Political Science Association, presented annually for the best book on government, politics, or international affairs.

Putnam is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the British Academy, a fellow of the American Philosophical Society, and past president of the American Political Science Association. He was the 2006 recipient of the Skytte Prize, the most prestigious international award for scholarly achievement in political science.

He has received honorary degrees from universities in the United States and Europe. He is the recipient of the Wilbur Cross Medal of Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for outstanding career achievement. The London Sunday Times has called him "the most influential academic in the world today."