Columbia Announces 2012 Honorary Degree Recipients

Columbia University will confer six honorary degrees and recognize the alumni recipient of its University Medal for Excellence at commencement exercises on Wednesday, May 16. 

April 11, 2012

Columbia University will confer six honorary degrees and recognize the alumni recipient of its University Medal for Excellence at commencement exercises on Wednesday, May 16. The recipients are:

Muhal Richard Abrams, Doctor of Music

A pianist, composer and teacher, Abrams has been at the forefront of contemporary music for more than 40 years. He is predominately a self-taught musician who, as a result of many years of observation, analysis, and practice as a performing musician, has developed a highly respected command of a variety of musical styles. He is a founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. In 2010, he was inducted into "DownBeat" magazine’s Jazz Hall of Fame and was designated a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Michelle Bachelet, Doctor of Laws

An international leader on women’s rights, Bachelet has advocated for gender equality and empowerment throughout her career. As president of Chile from 2006 to 2010, she promoted social protection programs for women and children, child care for low-income families and pension reforms—issues she had advanced previously as Minister of Defense and Minister of Health. She is currently Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, which leads, supports and coordinates gender equality and the empowerment of women at the global, regional and country levels.

Shu Chien, Doctor of Science

As a doctor, researcher and professor, Chien, University Professor and Y.C. Fung Professor of Bioengineering and Medicine as well as director of the Institute of Engineering in Medicine at University of California, San Diego, has made seminal contributions to fields of biology, medicine and engineering. His primary areas of research are cardiovascular physiology, molecular and cellular bioengineering, and stem cell regulation. He is the author of more than 500 peer-reviewed scientific articles and editor of 11 books. He has been a leader of numerous professional societies and the recipient of countless awards, including the National Medal of Science, which he received from President Obama in 2011.

Jean Franco, Doctor of Letters

An author, literary critic and advocate for social justice and feminism, Franco’s interests and influence stretch far beyond her academic field of Latin American and comparative literature. Beginning in the 1960s when Latin American literature was largely unappreciated by the English-speaking world, the British-born and educated scholar helped lay the foundations for its acceptance, and embraced the study of literature not defined by nationality, continent or culture. At Columbia, she was appointed professor of Spanish and Portuguese in 1982 and was professor of English and comparative literature from 1989 to 1994, currently serving as professor emerita. As a pioneering Latin Americanist, her work has illuminated the relationship between Latin American cultural production and the society from which it has arisen.

Amy Gutmann, Doctor of Laws

The eighth president of the University of Pennsylvania, Gutmann is a national leader in facilitating greater access to higher education. She developed a no-loan guarantee that has become a national model, significantly expanded opportunities for low-income students, and is a champion of civic engagement and the interdisciplinary spirit. She has published widely on the value of education and deliberation in democracy, on identity politics, and on the essential role of ethics in public affairs. She currently chairs the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

Gloria Steinem, Doctor of Laws

An admired author, lecturer, activist and frequent public voice on issues of equality, Steinem has focused on the shared origins of sex and race caste systems, gender roles and child abuse as roots of violence, the cultures of indigenous peoples, and organizing across boundaries for peace and justice. She co-founded "Ms." magazine and has published her work in "New York" magazine, "Esquire," "The New York Times Magazine" and elsewhere. She helped found the Women’s Action Alliance, the National Women’s Political Caucus, Voters for Choice, and was the founding president of the Ms. Foundation for Women and its annual Take Our Daughters to Work Day.

Thomas Kitt, University Medal for Excellence, awarded annually to an outstanding Columbia graduate under the age of 45

As a musical director, composer, conductor and arranger, Kitt has quickly established himself as a versatile and prolific force on Broadway. Beginning with pivotal roles assembling Columbia College’s annual Variety Shows in the mid-1990s, the 1996 graduate has gone on to share the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and two Tony Awards for the musical next to normal. He has had a leading hand in several noteworthy on and Off-Broadway productions including Green Day’s "American Idiot," "High Fidelity," "The Winter's Tale," "All’s Well That Ends Well," "From Up Here," "The Retributionists," and the national tour of "Bring it On, The Musical."