The Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal, the Graduate School’s highest honor, was awarded to four outstanding alumni on October 4 by the Graduate School Alumni Association (GSAA). This year’s winners were Stanley Fish (PhD 1962, English), Leslie F. Greengard (MD/PhD 1987, Computer Science), Bernice Pescosolido (PhD 1982, Sociology), and Huntington F. Willard PhD 1979, Genetics).
While on campus, the medalists interacted with current students and faculty in both formal and informal settings, presenting talks on their research and speaking about their career paths and their years at Yale. To cap the celebration, a private dinner was held at the Yale Center for British Art at which the medals were officially conferred by President Richard Levin, Dean Thomas Pollard and Rahul Prasad (PhD 1987, Engineering and Applied Science), chair of the Graduate School Alumni Association’s Executive Committee.
History of the Medal
Established in 1966, the awards are named for Wilbur Lucius Cross, dean of the Graduate School from 1916 to 1930. Cross was a scholar of distinction who wrote definitive works on English literature, revived and edited the Yale Review and, following his retirement from Yale, served as governor of the State of Connecticut for four terms. Each year, the medal is presented to a handful of Graduate School alumni in honor of their outstanding achievements. The very first was given to Edgar Stevenson Furniss (PhD 1918, Economics) by the GSAA in 1966. Furniss became dean of the Graduate School in 1934 and served as University provost from 1937 to 1957.
Previous winners of the Medal include several with strong ties to Yale. Richard Brodhead (BA 1968, PhD 1972, English), currently serving as the ninth president of Duke University, spent 40 years at Yale as a student, faculty member and, for the last 11 years, dean of Yale College. Marie Boroff (PhD 1956, English) was the first woman to teach in the English department at Yale, one of the first two women to be granted tenure in any department at Yale, and the first woman ever to be named a Sterling Professor, the highest honor bestowed on Yale faculty.
Wilbur Cross medalists have made outstanding contributions to the body of knowledge. They include Nobel laureates John Fenn (PhD 1940, Chemistry), honored in 2002 for analytical techniques essential to biochemistry and environmental engineering, and Eric F. Wieschaus (PhD 1974, Biology), who won the 1995 Physiology/Medicine prize for his genetic study of the fruit fly. Other award-winning medalists include MacArthur “genius grant” winner Richard Rorty (PhD 1956, Philosophy), Pulitzer Prize-winning author David M. Kennedy (PhD 1968, American Studies), and Gerald Brown (PhD 1950, Physics), winner of the Max Planck Medal as well as both the Bonner and Bethe prizes of the American Physical Society.
Notable leaders in every field of human endeavor, past medalists include Francis S. Collins (PhD 1974, Physical Chemistry), director of the Human Genome Project; Hong Koo Lee (PhD 1968, Political Science), former prime minister of South Korea and ambassador to the United States; and Ernesto Zedillo (PhD 1981, Economics), former president of Mexico. Groundbreaking thinkers among the medalists include Ruth Barcan Marcus (PhD 1946, Philosophy), analytic philosopher; John Suppe (PhD 1969, Geology & Geophysics), pioneer in plate tectonics; and Shelley E. Taylor (PhD 1972, Psychology), innovator in the fields of social cognition and health psychology.
Public intellectual Stanley Fish is one of the most prolific and important literary and cultural critics alive today. Currently serving as a visiting professor of law and Oscar M. Ruebhausen Distinguished Senior Fellow at Yale Law School, he is also the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law at Florida International University and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Distinguished Professor of English, Criminal Justice, and Political Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has previously taught English, political science, criminal justice, religion, and law at the University of California-Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Duke, and Cardozo Law School. His lively, often irreverent essays on a wide range of topics appear regularly in the New York Times and on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. He is a frequent media commentator and has appeared on CNN, Hardball with Chris Matthews, The O’Reilly Factor, NBC Nightly News, and NPR. His 1967 book on English poet John Milton, Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost, not only turned the field of Milton studies upside down, but became one of the most influential books of literary criticism on any subject published over the course of several decades. His work on “reader-response criticism” drew attention to the process of reading and the significance of a reader’s experience, creating an entirely new set of tools with which to approach the study of literature.
A prolific and creative writer, Fish is author of more than 200 scholarly publications and over a dozen books, including Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities; Save the World on Your Own Time; There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing, Too; and most recently, How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One (2011), a celebration of the craft and pleasure of the sentence.
Fish’s Wilbur Cross lecture, “Academic Freedom Studies: The Inauguration of a New Field,” presented a taxonomy of the different positions held in debates over academic freedom, arranging them on a continuum from political right to left. He argued that positions on the right of the spectrum emphasize “academic,” while those on the left emphasize “freedom.”
Leslie F. Greengard
Leslie Greengard, professor of mathematics and computer science at New York University and former director of NYU’s Courant Institute, is one of the world’s leading applied mathematicians and computational scientists. He has made — and continues to make — fundamental contributions to his field that have changed the standards of what can be computed and how accurately it can be done. The Fast Multipole Method (FMM), which he developed as a graduate student at Yale in collaboration with then-junior faculty member Vladimir Rokhlin, was cited by the American Institute of Physics and the IEEE Computer Society as one of the top ten algorithms of the twentieth century. The FMM provides a way to calculate gravitational or electrostatic forces and solve problems related to Maxwell’s equations by reducing computational effort to one that is proportional to the number of particles being computed, all while maintaining the desired degree of accuracy. This algorithm and its variants are now at the core of large-scale simulation packages in molecular dynamics, quantum chemistry, chip design, radar analysis, remote sensing, fluid mechanics, and a host of other applications. Greengard’s other work includes representations of electromagnetic fields, non-reflecting boundary conditions for wave propagation, and random dispersion — major discoveries in very different areas.
Greengard’s honors include the American Mathematical Society’s Steele Prize, shared with Rokhlin, and election to the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
When he returned to Yale for the Wilbur Cross Medal festivities, Greengard met informally with students over lunch and discussed his own student days. As an MD/PhD student, he had originally intended to pursue research in medical imaging, but became fascinated by electrostatics problems during his time in the Department of Computer Science. That launched his collaboration with Rokhlin on the Fast Multipole Method (FMM), and the rest, as they say, is scientific history. During his lecture, he explained the FMM algorithm and some of its numerous applications.
Bernice Pescosolido, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Chancellor’s Professor at Indiana University and director of the Indiana Consortium for Mental Health Services Research, is known for her groundbreaking research, outstanding teaching and mentorship, and impressive professional contributions. Serving on advisory boards and panels, she has influenced how sociologists think about teaching and learning. Her research focuses on the processes that promote and inhibit access to medical and mental health care, especially among disadvantaged populations. In the early 1990s, she developed a model that illuminated how people come to recognize the onset of health problems, respond to them, and make use of health care services. She has initiated major national and international studies of the stigmatization of people with mental illness.
Pescosolido’s honors include the American Sociological Association’s Leo G. Reeder Award for a career of distinguished scholarship in medical sociology, the Wilbert Hites Mentoring Award from Indiana University, and the inaugural Carla B. Howery Award for Developing Teacher-Scholars from the American Sociological Association (ASA). Her professional leadership positions include vice president of the ASA and chair of its sections on the Sociology of Mental Health and on Medical Sociology.
In her lecture, Pescosolido discussed ways that sociologists, medical doctors, and life scientists might collaborate in projects related to the study and delivery of mental health services. She spoke of these issues from the perspectives of social networking and medical sociology, which, she recalled, were strengths of the Sociology department when she was a doctoral student.
Huntington F. Willard
Huntington F. Willard, the Nanaline H. Duke Professor of Genome Sciences at Duke University and founding director of Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, has been a leader in genetics since writing his doctoral dissertation on the biochemical genetics of human metabolic diseases, which resulted in 15 peer-reviewed papers in distinguished journals. In the years since, he has written or co-written over 300 scientific publications and is co-author of Genetics in Medicine, a widely used textbook now in its seventh edition.
Willard’s research explores the structure and function of human chromosomes and the mechanism for X chromosome inactivation. With colleagues, he identified a previously unknown transcript called XIST, which coats the chromosome from which it is expressed without encoding any protein. His discovery of a mutation in the XIST promoter confirmed the role of this RNA gene in silencing one of the two X chromosomes in all mammalian females. His current work explores why some genes are curiously able to be expressed on this otherwise inactive chromosome. A dedicated citizen-scientist, Willard has been president of the American Society of Human Genetics, chair of the review panel of Genome Canada, a member of the Genetics Review Board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, co-founder of the journal Human Molecular Genetics, and a member of the Health and Human Services Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetics, Health and Society. His honors include the American Society of Human Genetics’ William Allan Award, the Faculty Excellence award from Duke University, and election to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
In his Wilbur Cross talk, Willard recalled his mentor Leon Rosenberg and said his Yale days had been vital to his development as a career scientist. He spoke about his research, which has been focused since the mid-1970s on the regulation of expression at the gene and chromosomal levels, in particular the XIST transcript, and his research on the functional significance of differences in the length and pattern of repeat sequences of centromeres across chromosomes. Every normal human chromosome has a single centromere, which appears as a constriction when viewed under the microscope.