Inaugural Symposium: The Power of the Liberal Arts — Historian, Pioneering Academic and University President Hanna Holborn Gray


Hanna Holburn Gray

The Power of the Liberal Arts,” the symposium that is prelude to the inauguration of Clayton S. Rose as Bowdoin’s 15th president, comprises leaders from the worlds of business, design, government, higher education and public health. The symposium will be held in Pickard Theater, Memorial Hall, 2 p.m.­–5 p.m., Friday, October 16, 2015. In advance of the discussion, we continue a series of participant profiles.

Hanna Holborn Gray led the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1993, one of the longest, and most productive, presidencies in the university’s history. The first female president of a major research university, Gray set about strengthening the academy’s commitment to scholarship and excellence. In her inaugural address, she encouraged scholars and students to strive for more than “decent mediocrity.”

Over the next few years, applications and enrollment grew considerably. By 1991, undergraduate enrollment alone had climbed 28 percent.

Before becoming University of Chicago’s president, Gray taught at Harvard University and the University of Chicago. She was named dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University in 1972, the first woman to hold the position.

She was named professor of history and provost at Yale University in 1974, and, in 1977, she was named acting president at Yale — once again, the first woman to hold the position.

Her research interests include the history of humanism, political and historical thought, church history, and politics in the Renaissance and the Reformation. More than 60 universities have bestowed honorary degrees upon Gray, including Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Brown, Columbia, Princeton and Duke.

Gray’s most recent book, Searching for Utopia: Universities and their Histories, was published by the University of California Press in 2011. She has received many awards, including, in 1991, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

Born in Heidelberg, Germany, Gray earned her bachelor’s degree at Bryn Mawr in 1950 and her Ph.D. in history at Harvard in 1957.

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