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Vartan Gregorian to receive honorary degree

April 13, 2004

Photo of Vartan GregorianVartan Gregorian comes home to the University that launched his distinguished career on May 29, when the champion of knowledge and understanding and leader of Carnegie Corporation of New York receives an honorary doctor of humane letters from SFSU. He will also deliver the Commencement address in Cox Stadium with ceremonies beginning at 12:15 p.m.

Gregorian, 69, is perhaps best known for his eight years (1981 to 1989) as president of the New York Public Library, where he orchestrated a dramatic rebuilding that made books and public access to knowledge a cause celebre among the city's social elite. In the process, he set an example for communities across the United States, repositioning libraries as democratic institutions that symbolize freedom and foster self-improvement.

His career began at what was then San Francisco State College, where he taught European and Middle Eastern history from 1962 to 1968. In his recent memoir, "The Road to Home: My Life and Times," Gregorian recalls SF State at that time as a "campus beset by rallies, sit-ins and strikes," that resulted in such positive accomplishments as creating "a campus-wide and nationwide discussion on American foreign policy, national priorities, the civil rights of African-Americans and other minorities, free speech, the mission of American universities, and the autonomy of faculty and the curriculum." He left, he wrote, "hopeful ... convinced that teaching actually mattered."

Since then, he has served on the faculty or administrations of four universities, including University of California at Los Angeles, University of Texas at Austin, the University of Pennsylvania where he was founding dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and provost, and Brown University. As president of Brown from 1989 to 1997, he made community engagement a hallmark of his presidency and helped to found national Campus Compact which encourages campuses such as San Francisco State University to become involved in community service and service learning.

"I am deeply touched that the institution that launched my career as a teacher, nurtured my lifelong commitment to higher education and convinced me of the importance of the university in American life would bestow upon me its highest honor," Gregorian said. "I look forward to joining the community of professors, scholars, university administrators and graduates in this annual celebration of learning."

As president of Carnegie Corporation of New York since June 1997, Gregorian is responsible for the nation's 11th largest foundation with more than $1.8 billion in assets. Created by industrialist Andrew Carnegie for "the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding," the corporation supports a range of efforts to improve the life of the nation and contribute to international peace and security. These include the Schools for a New Society grant program aimed at redesigning urban high schools to participate in a knowledge-based economy and Teachers for a New Era, which encourages bold reforms in teacher education, along with programs to promote literacy and school reform, strengthen U.S. democracy and civic participation, and promote international development, peace and security.

"Vartan Gregorian's life has been an homage to books and the learning and insight that they make possible," said President Corrigan. "As a truly global citizen who recognizes the importance of honoring one's cultural legacy while respecting those of different peoples, he is a splendid role model for all of us. We are delighted to honor his legacy and example."

Born and raised in the Armenian enclave of Tabriz, Iran and further educated in Beirut, Gregorian went on to earn a bachelor's and doctorate in history from Stanford University. In "The Road to Home" the much-traveled Gregorian said he considers himself "truly a son of New York City," where he currently lives with his wife, Clare. They have three grown sons -- Vahe, Raffo and Dareh.

Gregorian joins a distinguished list of recipients to receive an honorary degree from San Francisco State University, including South African President Nelson Mandela, Bay Area philanthropist Richard N. Goldman, actor Danny Glover, singer/activist Peter Yarrow, Japanese American artist and teacher Ruth Asawa and labor journalist and historian David Selvin.

-- Ellen Griffin


San Francisco State University

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Last modified July 27, 2004 by University Communications