Three members of the faculty have been newly named to University Professorships, Harvard's most distinguished professorial post, President Neil L. Rudenstine has announced.
Robert C. Merton of the Business School has been appointed the first John and Natty McArthur University Professor. Cornel West, a professor of religion and philosophy based at the Divinity School, will become the first incumbent of the Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professorship. Sociologist William Julius Wilson of the Kennedy School of Government will become the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor.
First created by the President and Fellows in 1935, the University Professorships are chairs intended for "individuals of distinction . . . working on the frontiers of knowledge, and in such a way as to cross the conventional boundaries of the specialties."
These appointments will bring the current number of University Professors to 17. They will also significantly broaden the representation among University Professors of faculty from the ranks of Harvard's graduate and professional schools.
"It's a privilege to name these three outstanding scholars and teachers to these three distinguished professorships," said Rudenstine. "Bob Merton has done seminal work in enlarging our theoretical and practical understanding of financial markets and how to manage risk. Cornel West is a brilliant faculty member whose teaching and writings have ranged across several important fields. Bill Wilson stands among the nation's most searching and illuminating thinkers on issues of race and urban poverty. All three of them are deeply influential within their scholarly fields, as well as being intensively engaged with significant issues and problems facing the larger world."
Robert C. Merton, George Fisher Baker Professor of Business Administration, came to the Business School in 1988 from M.I.T., where he was the J.C. Penney Professor of Management at the Sloan School. After receiving a bachelor's degree in engineering mathematics from Columbia University in 1966, Merton continued his studies in applied mathematics at the California Institute of Technology. He then studied economics at M.I.T, receiving the Ph.D. in 1970. Upon completing his studies, he joined the M.I.T. faculty.
Merton's research is focused on developing finance theory in the areas of capital markets and financial institutions. His work on the valuation of stock options earned him the 1997 Nobel Prize in Economics. Along with fellow Nobel laureate Myron Scholes and the late Fischer Black, Merton developed a model to value stock options that generated new types of financial instruments and made risk management more efficient. His work bridges the worlds of theory and practice and is applied by thousands of traders every day. Merton's further work has made the options formula applicable to other financial instruments, such as insurance contracts.
A past president of the American Finance Association, Merton is a leading figure in the Business School's Global Financial Systems Project, and has taught intensively in the doctoral programs jointly offered by the Business School and other Faculties.
The John and Natty McArthur University Professorship was established after John H. McArthur, Dean of the Faculty of Business from 1980 to 1995, announced his decision to step down. The professorship was created with the help of the McArthurs' many friends, principally his classmates in the Business School Class of 1959, who wanted to recognize the McArthurs' contributions to Harvard during their 38 years as members of the community.
Dean Kim B. Clark of the Business School called Merton a "terrific choice" for the McArthur Professorship. "His interests have natural connections with faculty and students in different parts of Harvard," Clark said. "His research is at the forefront of his field; he joins theory and practice with unusual power; and he consistently gives of himself to his colleagues and his students. His appointment will do honor to the University."
Merton said he is honored by his selection as the first McArthur University Professor. "That the professorship bears John McArthur's name has special meaning to me. I came to Harvard Business School when he was dean, in no small part because of his confidence that the school and I were a good fit," Merton said. "Since then John has given me generous support, friendship, and at critical times, outsized help, both professional and personal.
"This wonderful honor reflects on all my colleagues at the Business School, particularly so because the University Professorships symbolize the belief that teaching and research need not be confined within departmental or disciplinary boundaries."
Cornel West has been professor of the philosophy of religion in the Divinity School since 1994. He also holds a joint appointment as professor of Afro-American studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. He has written and taught on a range of issues, including religion, philosophy, African-American intellectual history, legal ethics, and drama. He is the author of such books as The American Evasion of Philosophy in 1989 and the 1993 bestseller Race Matters. West has won numerous awards, including the American Book Award, and has received more than 20 honorary degrees.
He received, the A.B. magna cum laude from Harvard in 1973, and continued his studies at Princeton, receiving the Ph.D. in 1980. After teaching at the Union Theological Seminary and Yale, he was appointed in 1988 as professor of religion at Princeton, where he also served as director of the Afro-American Studies Program.
The Fletcher University Professorship was established in 1996 by Alphonse Fletcher Jr. '87, with the desire that it be held by a faculty member devoted to teaching and research in contemporary moral, religious, and social values, with a major focus on the United States. Preference is also given to a faculty member from one of Harvard's professional schools, whose interests include a strong commitment to undergraduate education.
Commenting on West's appointment, Dean Ronald F. Thiemann of the Divinity School described West as a significant presence in the religious and scholarly life of the academy and the nation. "Cornel West brilliantly communicates both the challenges and the rewards of serious thinking to students at all levels," said Thiemann. "He is deeply committed to the academy, to intellectual and scholarly values, and to a religious view of life that is gracious, welcoming, and inclusive."
West said the appointment honors not just himself, but those who supported him and nurtured his growth through the years: his family, particularly his wife, Elleni, and his teachers. "This is fundamentally a tribute to my family and my teachers," West said.
He noted that, in addition to his appointments in the Divinity School and the Department of Afro-American Studies, he has taught or lectured at the Law School, the Graduate School of Education, the School of Public Health, and elsewhere within Harvard. "This really gives a kind of formal recognition of the flexibility that Harvard has already given me," West said.
William Julius Wilson, the Malcolm Wiener Professor of Social Policy at the Kennedy School, came to Harvard in 1996 from the University of Chicago. He is one of the nation's preeminent sociologists and a leading authority on urban poverty and race. Past president of the American Sociological Association, Wilson has received more than 25 honorary degrees, was a MacArthur Prize Fellow from 1987 to 1992, and delivered the Godkin lectures at Harvard in 1988.
After receiving the Ph.D. from Washington State University in 1966, Wilson taught sociology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, before joining the University of Chicago in 1972. In 1990 he was appointed the Lucy Flower University Professor and director of the University of Chicago's Center for the Study of Urban Inequality.
His most recent book, When Work Disappears (1996), has been heralded as a careful, balanced, and exceptionally cogent attempt to understand the situation of poor, minority urban Americans. Among his other leading works are The Truly Disadvantaged (1987) and The Declining Significance of Race (1978).
Dean of the Kennedy School Joseph S. Nye Jr., said that Wilson "combines an impeccable scholarly reputation and wide scholarly influence with an important and vastly influential voice in the making of public policy on some of the country's most serious social problems. I am confident that he will serve in his new position with great distinction."
Wilson said he has a sense of personal satisfaction and pride at being named the Geyser University Professor. The honor, he said, recognizes the fact that his work crosses the boundaries of many different disciplines.
"It is a confirmation of the interdisciplinary impact of my scholarship," Wilson said. "I will continue to teach most of my courses in the Kennedy School of Government and the Department of Afro-American Studies, but I also anticipate offering courses in the future which are open to a wider segment of the campus population."
Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College