Vartan GregorianMonday, April 8, 2019
Gregorian came to the United States in 1956 as a freshman, attending Stanford University, where he completed his B.A., with honors, in two years. After receiving his dual doctorates in history and humanities from Stanford in 1964, Gregorian served on the faculties of several American universities. He taught European and Middle Eastern history at San Francisco State College, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of Texas at Austin. In 1972 he joined the University of Pennsylvania faculty and was appointed Tarzian Professor of History and professor of South Asian history. He was founding dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania in 1974 and four years later became its twenty-third provost until 1981. From 1981 to 1989, Gregorian served as president of The New York Public Library, a post he would hold for eight years.
In 1988, he was chosen to become president of Brown University, where he served for the next nine years. In 1997, he was appointed president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, the philanthropic foundation created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911. He currently serves as a trustee of the Aga Khan Museum, the Library of Alexandria, The Hunter Foundation, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center, The American Academy in Berlin, and the Patti and Everett B. Biurch Foundation.
In 1986, Gregorian was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and in 1989 the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts. In 1998, President Clinton awarded him the National Humanities Medal. In 2004, President George W. Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil award. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him to serve on the President's Commission on White House Fellowships. In addition, Gregorian has received the Council on Foundations Distinguished Service Award, 2013; the Aspen Institute's Henry Crown Leadership Award, 2010; the Africa-America Institute Award for Leadership in Higher Education Philanthropy, 2009; and has been honored by various other cultural and professional associations, including the Armenian Cultural Foundation, the Urban League, the League of Women Voters, the Players Club, PEN-American Center, Literacy Volunteers of New York, the American Institute of Architects, the Charles A. Dana Foundation, and the Elysium Between Two Continents. He has been honored by the city and state of New York, the states of Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, and the cities of Fresno, Austin, Providence and San Francisco and was named a Living Landmark of the City of New York, where he currently resides.
In March 2015, Vartan Gregorian, together with two other philanthropists of Armenian descent, Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan, launched a new humanitarian effort called 100 Lives.
The initiative is rooted in next year's centennial of the Armenian Genocide, in which 1.5 million people died at the hands of the Ottoman government between 1915–1923, and one project will be to uncover stories of survivors and people who saved lives during that period.— Excerpt from an article by Don Seifert in the Boston Business Journal, March 11, 2015
Gregorian was twenty-two when he began his undergraduate education at Stanford in 1956. There, Wayne S. Vucinich, who taught the history of the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire, became his mentor and advised Gregorian to study history. He completed his B.A. with honors in two years and finished the Humanities Honors program with distinction. His senior thesis for the Humanities Honors Program was on "Toynbee and Islam." In 1958 he was accepted as a Ph.D. candidate in history as well as in the graduate Humanities Program and became a research and teaching assistant to Professor Vucinich. The department awarded him its Wilbur Fellowship. While a student at Stanford, he again received hospitality from members of the Armenian community who were strangers to him. He explains how this consistent benevolence reaffirmed his faith in the Armenian diaspora community and diaspora communities in general:
In Palo Alto, an Armenian family adopted me for all Sunday meals and holidays. All of this reinforced my conviction that diasporas are not ghettos—rather they are connecting bridges to larger communities, be it Jewish, be it Irish, be it Chinese, Armenian, Indian, and so forth. I never realized that until then.— Vartan Gregorian, in an interview with former NEH Chairman Bruce Cole
He received his PhD in history and humanities from Stanford in 1964, writing a dissertation entitled "Traditionalism and Modernism in Islam." The topic of his dissertation was related to an ongoing research project that he began in 1961, after receiving a Ford FoundationForeign Area Training Fellowship, which took him to England, France, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. These experiences and his related research refocused his thesis on Afghanistan and formed the basis for his first book, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1840–1946 (1969, 2013, Stanford University Press).
In 1962, Gregorian began teaching European and Middle Eastern history at San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University). He left San Francisco State in 1968 and for a brief stint served as an associate professor at UCLA. That same year he joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin, where he remained until 1972. He was promoted to full professorship in the Department of History and served as the Director of Special Programs in the College of Arts and Sciences from 1969 to 1971. Gregorian resigned in protest of the Board of Trustees' decision to increase student enrollment and expand the university.
In 1972, he accepted the position of Tarzian Professor of Armenian and Caucasian History and Professor of South Asian history at the University of Pennsylvania, an endowed professorship that allowed him to teach Armenian, South Asian, and European intellectual history. In 1974, Gregorian was named Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, the first person to hold this position. In 1978, he became Provost, chief academic officer of the university.
In 1980, Gregorian was offered the chancellorship at UC Berkeley, but declined because he had been Provost at Penn for only two years and did not feel it was an appropriate time to leave his post. In 1981, Gregorian resigned as Provost. Three years later, the Penn Board of Trustees endowed a professorship and several fellowships in Gregorian's name and awarded him an honorary degree in recognition of his roles as the university's founding Dean of Arts and Sciences and Provost.
New York Public Library
Following his stay at Penn, Gregorian found work outside the university walls. The New York Public Library had suffered budget cuts in the 1970s and, facing a vacancy in its presidency, needed a candidate who could raise money and revitalize the library. After a period of unsuccessful searching, Gregorian was approached. Then library board chairman Andrew Heiskell said of Gregorian: "Out of nowhere, a new candidate appeared. Instinctively I knew he was it."
Gregorian arrived in 1981, facing deficits and a deteriorating architecture. Eight years later, the operation budget had doubled, four hundred new employees were hired, the buildings were cleaned and restored, and $327 million had been raised, including some $70 million in gifts-in-kind from individual collectors and benefactors. Local philanthropists and city leaders agreed that Gregorian restored the NYPL into a cultural landmark. He left the library in 1989, "eager to return to the academic world."
Vartan Gregorian became president of Brown in 1989, turning down offers to lead the University of Michigan and the MacArthur Foundation. During his tenure, he instituted the President's Lecture Series, which brought prominent scholars, leaders, and authors to campus. He presided over the building of a residence quadrangle that now bears his name, and taught senior seminars. His last seminar centered on Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Each year, he also served as the adviser for nine students. Gregorian led a five-year capital campaign called the Campaign for the Rising Generation, which at the time was the most ambitious capital campaign, not only in Brown's history, but of the state of Rhode Island, as well. The campaign raised some $534 million. By the end of his presidency, Brown's endowment had grown by about 260 percent, passing the $1 billion mark from just under $400 million. Also during his tenure, some 250 general studies courses were established. He received the Graduate Student Council's first endowed Wilson-Deblois Award and the faculty's Rosenberger Medal.
President Gregorian's tenure was marked by increased international prominence for Brown and a significant rise in demand for admission. Equally, the student body grew more diverse than ever. Gregorian informed the Brown community of his resignation on January 7, 1997, and he left Brown in September of that year to assume leadership of Carnegie Corporation of New York. He made and kept a promise to attend the commencement ceremony and shake hands with all undergraduate students who had matriculated during his presidency.
Carnegie Corporation of New York
Vartan Gregorian became the twelfth president of Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1997. Notably, Gregorian is the only naturalized American to head the Corporation and the first chief executive since 1923 to be appointed from outside. When he joined the Corporation, taking on the challenge of heading a philanthropic institution, Gregorian said, "As I had led institutions that were dependent on philanthropy, it was intriguing to enter the field 'from the other side,' especially at a time when interest in philanthropy was blossoming. The challenge of philanthropy is how to contribute to the public good while at the same time assist both the American public and policymakers in understanding the power of philanthropy to effect positive change both in our nation and abroad."
Carnegie Corporation is a grantmaking foundation, created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 with a mandate to support efforts dedicated to "the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding." Towards that end, in over a century of work, Carnegie Corporation of New York has made grants totaling over $2 billion—more than $1 billion alone in the ten years ended September 30, 2013. Today, under Gregorian's leadership, the foundation's work incorporates Andrew Carnegie's mandate through an affirmation of its historic role as an education foundation but also honors Andrew Carnegie's passion for international peace and the health of American democracy. While Mr. Carnegie's primary aim was to benefit the people of the United States, he later determined to use a portion of the funds for members of the British overseas Commonwealth. Currently, this area of Corporation grantmaking focuses on selected countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
- American Academy in Berlin, Member of the Board of Trustees
- Armenia Fund, Member of the Board of Trustees
- Aurora Prize, Member of the Selection Committee (since 2015)
- Brandeis University, Member of the Board of Trustees
- Mary Robinson Foundation, Member of the International Advisory Council
- Museum of Modern Art, Trustee
- Calouste Gulbenkian Prize for Human Rights, Member of the Jury (2012-2016)
- Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), former Member of the Board of Trustees
- World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition, Chairman of the Jury (2004)
- J. Paul Getty Trust, former Member of the Board of Trustees (1988–2000)
Awards and honors
President George H. W. Bush appointed Gregorian to the Fulbright Commission. President Bill Clinton awarded Dr. Gregorian the National Humanities Medal. President George W. Bush later awarded Dr. Gregorian the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On June 17, 2009, The White House announced that President Barack Obama had appointed Gregorian to the President's Commission on White House Fellowships. Gregorian has also been decorated by the French, Italian, Austrian and Portuguese governments.
Gregorian is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and ,in 1989. the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts. In 2010, he received the Aspen Institute's Henry Crown Leadership Award. Further, Gregorian has received the Council on Foundations Distinguished Service Award, 2013 and the Africa-America Institute Award for Leadership in Higher Education Philanthropy, 2009. He has been honored by various cultural and professional associations, including the Urban League, the League of Women Voters, the Players Club, PEN-American Center, Literacy Volunteers of New York, the American Institute of Architects and the Charles A. Dana Foundation. He has been honored by the states of New York, Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, and the cities of Fresno, Austin, New York, Providence and San Francisco.
He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. In 1969, he received the Danforth Foundation's E.H. Harbison Distinguished Teaching Award, and in 1971 received the University of Texas' Cactus Teaching Excellence Award.
In 2005, Gregorian received the S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards Foundation.
The Vartan Gregorian Elementary School in the Fox Point neighborhood of Providence, Rhode Island, is named for Gregorian.
In 2018 Children of Armenia Fund (COAF) Humanitarian Award was granted to Vartan Gregorian and Clare Gregorian (posthumously) for their support to students from Armenian rural villages.