University to bestow three honorary degrees at 527th Convocation

The University of Chicago will present honorary degrees to two distinguished scholars and one University of Chicago Trustee during the 527th Convocation on Saturday, June 11.

The honorary degree recipients are Andrew M. Alper, AB’80, MBA’81, former chairman of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees; Frances H. Arnold, the Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology; and J. Patrick Olivelle, the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas at Austin.

Andrew M. Alper, who served as chairman of UChicago’s Board of Trustees from 2009-2015, will receive a doctor of laws honorary degree in recognition of his service to the University.

Alper started his career on Wall Street at Goldman Sachs, where he spent 21 years as an investment banker, co-head of the Financial Institutions Group, and chief operating officer of the Investment Banking Division. In early 2002, he was appointed president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and chairman of the New York City Industrial Development Agency. Alper was responsible for developing strategies to bring jobs and economic growth back to the city in the aftermath of 9/11. Currently he manages his family office, Alper Investments, Inc.

Alper’s involvement with the University is characterized by many years of distinguished service and philanthropic commitment. He was awarded the Young Alumni Service Citation in 1993 and the Distinguished Public Service/Public Sector Award in 2004. Alper was elected a member of the University’s Board of Trustees in 1999. In 2005 he became campaign chairman for the University’s most ambitious capital campaign at the time, the Chicago Initiative, leading to a record-breaking completion with a total of $2.38 billion. After serving for six years as vice chair, he was elected chair in 2009.

Alper helped the University launch the public phase of its current $4.5 billion campaign, The University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact, which already has achieved half of its goal. He continues to serve the University as a member of the Board of Trustees and is a life member of the Chicago Booth Council and a trustee of the University of Chicago Medical Center.

Frances H. Arnold, a highly influential founding figure in the field of molecular engineering in biological systems, will receive a doctor of science honorary degree.

Arnold has developed a number of fundamental insights and approaches that have been translated to application and societal impact in green chemistry and biofuels.

Arnold pioneered the novel concept of directed evolution starting in the late 1990s. She undertook extensive work to develop the field of directed evolution, in which molecular biological methods are employed to put selective pressure on a biomolecule to iteratively move from its starting function to a potentially entirely new function. Through this work, Arnold developed a new approach for biomolecular discovery.

The concept of directed evolution has been adopted widely by academia and industry alike, the latter especially for the development of new biocatalysts for synthesis of biofuels and the environmentally friendly production of chemicals.Arnold has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences. She also has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and earned awards such as the ENI Prize in Renewable and Non-Conventional Energy, the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and the Charles Stark Draper Prize.

J. Patrick Olivelle, a prolific scholar of Sanskrit and Pali literature and South Asian religions, will receive a doctor of humane letters honorary degree.

Olivelle’s work has come to define the field of Indology as it is currently understood, transforming the scholarly world’s understanding of fundamental concepts in India and helping reorient contemporary perceptions of its past.

Over the course of the past 40 years, Olivelle has produced a major synthesis of the overlapping and often contending religious and learned cultures of classical Indian civilization. Much of his work has concentrated on one particular and especially significant area of this wider field, what might be termed “classical Brahmanism.”

He has translated works of the Buddhist poet Aśvaghoṣa—the earliest classical Sanskrit poet whose works survive—and several works on the animal fables of the Pañcatantra. Most recently, he has directed his attention to one of the major historical figures of early India, the philo-Buddhist Maurya king Aśoka.

Olivelle has won several prestigious fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellowship and an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship. He served as president of the American Oriental Society from 2005 to 2006.