Honorary degrees to recognize achievements in music, University leadership, mathematics, paleontology

The University of Chicago will present honorary degrees to a composer, a mathematician, a paleontologist and a University leader during the 507th Convocation Ceremony on Saturday, June 11.

The degree recipients are paleontologist Meemann Chang from Beijing University; former Chairman of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees James S. Crown; renowned composer Sofia Gubaidulina; and mathematician Robert Langlands from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ.

Nominations for honorary degrees are submitted each year by schools and divisions or their departments, are reviewed and approved by the Committee on Honorary Degrees and by the Council of the University Senate, and are finally confirmed by the Board of Trustees.  The University’s statutes dictate that honorary degrees are granted for specific achievements in “… such fields as scholarship, discovery, or administration.”

Pivotal studies advance knowledge of fossils in China

Meeman Chang, who will receive the degree Doctor of Science, began her career in the early 1960s working in China’s eastern coastal provinces, focusing her research on fossil fish unearthed from sediments deposited throughout much of the last 250 million years.

The onset of China’s decade-long Cultural Revolution in 1966 delayed Chang’s graduate studies, which she was unable to complete until 1982. Chinese academia generally suffered as a consequence of the revolution. Chang played an instrumental role following the revolution in reviving paleontological research in her home country, nurtured Chinese graduate students in paleontology, and assumed a pivotal role in fostering international collaborations.

Chang contributed her most important research on the skull anatomy of the earliest lobe-finned fishes and tetrapods (four-limbed vertebrates) from the 400-million-year-old rocks of eastern Yunnan, China. Although initially met with resistance, her work changed the way paleontologists viewed lungfish —from an odd, side-branch lineage to an integral part of early tetrapod evolution.

A member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Chang is a past president of the International Paleontological Association and of the Paleontological Society of China. Presenting Chang at the Convocation will be Paul Sereno, professor in anatomy & organismal biology.

University leadership and civic engagement

James S. Crown, who served as Chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees from 2003-2009, will receive a Doctor of Laws degree in recognition of his service to the University.

Crown is president of Henry Crown and Company, a privately owned investment company, where he has worked since 1985 and served as president since 2003. During his time as chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, Crown helped the University complete a $2.4 billion fundraising campaign and make major investments in buildings and programs, while personally supporting many divisions of the University. He continues to serve as a member of the Board of the University and of the Medical Center; he served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Medical Center from January 2009 to June 2010.

Born in 1953 in Chicago, Crown received a BA in political science from Hampshire College and a JD from Stanford University, where he was projects editor of the Stanford Law Review. In addition to his leadership of Henry Crown and Company, Crown is a director of JP Morgan Chase and Co., and General Dynamics Corporation, and has served as a director of many other companies. His civic and philanthropic commitments include serving as a trustee of the Aspen Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

At the University, Crown and his wife, Paula, have supported numerous programs including the Urban Education Institute, the Division of the Humanities, the Medical Center, the Biological Sciences Division, the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, the Smart Museum of Art, and sustainability initiatives.

In 2009, Crown was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. President Robert J. Zimmer will present Crown at the Convocation.

Compositions noted for “ecstatic and apocalyptic” qualities

World-renowned composer Sofia Gubaidulina will be awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Gubaidulina, who is of Russian and Tatar descent, is known for a prolific body of work that melds Russian, Central Asian and Western influences. Her symphonic works are “at turns ecstatic and apocalyptic, intense in their religiosity and uncompromising in their originality,” critic David Patrick Stearns wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Although her singular, haunting style was at odds with the Soviet musical establishment, Gubaidulina gained a devoted following in Russia. In 1985, she was allowed to travel to the West for the first time, where she soon found an equally appreciative audience.

She has received commissions from major ensembles worldwide, including the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She is perhaps best known for her 1980 violin concerto, the Offertorium and her 2002 Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ according to St. John.

She has received numerous honors for her work, including Japan’s Praemium Imperiale, the Russian State Prize, Sweden’s Polar Music Prize, and the Koussevitzky International Recording Award.

Shulamit Ran, the Andrew MacLeish Distinguished Service Professor in Music and the College, will present Gubaidulina at the ceremony.

Advanced mathematics research spawns new field of study

Robert Langlands is a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. While at Princeton University in 1967, Langlands wrote a 17-page, handwritten letter to André Weil at the Institute for Advanced Study, which the latter circulated widely among mathematicians as a typewritten copy. The letter outlined what mathematicians quickly began calling “the Langlands conjectures,” which has driven research in automorphic forms and representation theory ever since.

These conjectures about correspondences between algebraic and geometric objects form the basis of what has become known as the Langlands Program. University of Chicago mathematics Professor Ngô Bao Châu last year received the Fields Medal, the highest honor in mathematics, for work related to the Langlands Program. Ngô will present Langlands for his degree at the ceremony.

In 1988, Langlands became the inaugural recipient of the National Academy of Sciences Award in Mathematics for his “extraordinary vision that has brought the theory of group representations into a revolutionary new relationship with the theory of automorphic forms and number theory.”

Langlands also has received the 1995-96 Wolf Prize for “path-blazing work and extraordinary insights in the fields of number theory, automorphic forms, and group representation.” In 2007, he received the Shaw Prize for initiating “a unifying vision of mathematics that has greatly extended the legacy of the mathematics of previous centuries, connecting prime numbers with symmetry.”

For more information about the University’s 507th Convocation on Saturday, June 11, please refer to the following website: http://convocation.uchicago.edu.