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May 20, 1992
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University To Confer Seven Honorary Degrees at Commencement

Brown University President Vartan Gregorian will confer seven honorary degrees at the University’s 224th Commencement Monday, May 25, 1992. The recipients are Johnnetta B. Cole, president of Spelman College in Atlanta; Dr. James P. Comer of Yale University’s Child Study Center; Kathryn S. Fuller, president of the World Wildlife Fund; Marie J. Langlois, Brown University trustee and treasurer of the Brown Corporation; Joan W. Scott, professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.; Rosemary Pierrel Sorrentino, dean emerita of Pembroke College and Brown professor emerita of psychology; and the Hon. Joseph R. Weisberger, Rhode Island Supreme Court justice.

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Continuing its centennial celebration of the admission of women, Brown University has chosen four women with close ties to Brown to be among seven recipients of honorary degrees. The honorary doctorates will be conferred by Brown President Vartan Gregorian at the University’s 224th Commencement on Monday, May 25.

This year’s recipients are Johnnetta B. Cole, president of Spelman College in Atlanta; Dr. James P. Comer of Yale University’s Child Study Center; Kathryn S. Fuller, president of the World Wildlife Fund; Marie J. Langlois, Brown University trustee and treasurer of the Brown Corporation; Joan W. Scott, professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.; Rosemary Pierrel Sorrentino, dean emerita of Pembroke College and Brown professor emerita of psychology; and the Hon. Joseph R. Weisberger, Rhode Island Supreme Court justice.

Johnnetta B. Cole

Known to many of Spelman College’s extended family as Sister President, Johnnetta Cole is the first black woman to lead the nation’s oldest college for black women.

Cole’s presidency began in 1987. Under her guidance, the school has reenforced its reputation for academic excellence, strengthened its partnerships with the business and corporate community, and integrated volunteer work into the Spelman experience. In the wake of a $20-million gift in 1988 from entertainer Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, contributions to Spelman have increased. Earlier this month, $37 million, the largest donation ever made to a historically black college, was given through a fund created for Spelman by DeWitt Wallace of Reader’s Digest.

Before arriving at Spelman, Cole taught cultural anthropology, Afro-American studies and women’s studies at the University of California–Los Angeles; Washington State University; University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and Hunter College-CUNY. At CUNY, she also directed the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program. Two of her books, All American Women: Lines That Divide, Ties That Bind (1986) and Anthropology for the Nineties (1988), are used in college classrooms nationwide.

“I have consciously lived and studied, taught and written, as an African American woman,” she has said. “The issues of race and gender have been central in my life, in my work as an anthropologist, and in my community activities. There is a fundamental question at the base of the work that I do: How can women of color, poor people, and women become full, productive and equal members of the society in which they live?”

Cole serves on numerous community and national boards, and her leadership in higher education and community service have earned her several awards, among them The American Woman Award from the Women’s Research and Education Institute (1990), The Clarol Mentor Award in Education (1990), and the Essence Award in Education (1989). In 1991 Working Woman magazine listed her as one of 10 important women to watch in the Nineties.

Born in Jacksonville, Fla., Cole was educated at Fisk University, Oberlin College (A.B. in sociology, 1957), and Northwestern University (M.A. in anthropology, 1959; Ph.D. in anthropology, 1967). She will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

James P. Comer, M.D.

Acclaimed child psychiatrist Dr. James Comer long has championed the idea that children from low-income and minority families can perform in school as well as their more affluent counterparts when their parents become involved in their education and when educators learn how to address key emotional and psychological problems common to such children: lack of self-esteem and ignorance of mainstream social values.

While at the Yale Child Study Center, he incorporated this concept into the Comer Method, which refocuses teacher training, provides mental-health guidance and implements parent-school partnerships—all to build children’s confidence and competence. By the late 1980s, the Comer Method had turned New Haven’s troubled schools around, and in 1990, the Rockefeller Foundation announced its plan to launch a five-year $15 million project to implement his method in schools nationwide. In honor of his work, he was named one of three recipients of the $25,000 McGraw Prize in Education in 1990.

“I really drew much of my understanding of the nature of learning problems and teaching problems from my own experience,” Comer has said. The second of five children, Comer wrote in his memoir, Maggie’s American Dream: The Life and Times of a Black Family, that his mother, Maggie, often phoned the teachers of her five children to discuss their progress in school. Maggie herself never completed more than a year of schooling of any kind. She and her husband, Hugh, worked hard to instill in the children a strong sense of self-worth. Comer is convinced that because of his parents’ involvement in their children’s education, he and his siblings succeeded academically and professionally.

“As a black child,” he wrote, “I sometimes had doubts about my future opportunities for success in our predominantly white country. My parents counseled me never to let the issue of race stand in my way. ... They advised me to work hard, prepare myself, to strive to be the best or among the best in every undertaking. ... I have lived by this advice and it has served me well.”

Comer received his A.B. from Indiana University in 1956, his M.D. from Howard University in 1960, and a M.P.H. from the University of Michigan in 1964. He did his residency at Yale School of Medicine in 1964-67, and the following year became associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center and Department of Psychiatry. In 1969 he was named associate dean of the medical school, and in 1976, he was named Maurice Falk Professor of Psychiatry.

He is active in numerous education and mental health commissions in New Haven and nationally, a columnist for Parents magazine and contributor to many professional journals. In addition to his 1990 McGraw Prize, Comer has been honored by several New Haven civic and professional organizations. Other awards include the Whitney M. Young Jr. Service Award from the Boy Scouts of America (1989), Outstanding Leadership Award from the Children’s Defense Fund (1987) and the Prudential Leadership Award (1990). He will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

Kathryn S. Fuller

Kathryn Fuller’s distinguished career as a conservationist and lawyer has led her to the presidency of the World Wildlife Fund, the first woman to lead a major environmental organization.

Fuller received her A.B. from Brown in 1968, and her J.D. in 1976 from the University of Texas. She then began work with the Justice Department’s Wildlife and Marine Resources Section, where she directed wildlife trade prosecutions and other wildlife litigation. Feeling that her work there required a stronger background in science, Fuller enrolled in a master’s program in marine, estuarine and environmental science at the University of Maryland.

She went to work for WWF in 1982, becoming the organization’s vice president and general counsel in 1985 and executive vice president in 1987. When she was appointed president in 1989, her predecessor, William K. Reilly, who had been selected to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said that Fuller’s “experience in policy-making ... and wildlife law enforcement has earned her a reputation as an international conservation leader.” That same reputation has earned her a seat on the President’s Commission on Environmental Quality.

As president of the World Wildlife Fund, Fuller oversees an operating budget of $30 million. With 600,000 members, WWF is the largest private conservation group working worldwide to protect endangered species and their habitats. It is also at the forefront of complex multimillion-dollar international deals called “debt-for-nature swaps.”

“Over the past few years,” Fuller said in a 1989 interview, “WWF has gone from saving pandas and figuring out just how many lemurs there are in Madagascar to working on a much larger scale. You can’t just have these islands—these parks and reservations—isolated and surrounded by the rings of development that are constantly encroaching on them. ... You really have to demonstrate the economic value of these natural resources to the local people.”

In 1990, Fuller became the first alumna to receive the William Rogers Award from the Associated Alumni of Brown University, the highest honor AABU bestows. It is given annually in recognition of outstanding professional achievement and extraordinary service to humanity. Fuller will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Marie J. Langlois

Marie Langlois, co-founder of and partner in Phoenix Investment Management Co. of Providence, has offered Brown University outstanding service in several capacities since receiving her A.B. in economics from Brown in 1964.

Currently, Langlois is treasurer of the Brown Corporation, on the steering committee of the current capital campaign, and serving her second term on the Board of Trustees (1988-94). Her first term as trustee was from 1980-85. From 1984-86, she chaired the Brown Annual Fund, the University office which raises unrestricted current income.

Langlois received her M.B.A. from Harvard University in 1967, then went to work for Fleet National Bank (then known as Industrial National Bank), starting out as an investment analyst and rising to senior vice president and manager of personal financial services. In 1988, she and a colleague, Gerald J. Fogarty Jr., struck out on their own to establish Phoenix Investment Management Co.

Langlois currently serves as a trustee of the Providence Public Library, as a member of the board of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, and on the Diocese of Providence Investment Committee. She is past president of the Providence Society of Financial Analysts, Harvard Business School Association of Rhode Island, and Home Health Services of Rhode Island. She will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

Joan W. Scott

Joan Scott’s accomplishments as scholar and social historian brought her to the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., where she is a professor of social science. But at Brown, Scott perhaps is best known and respected for pioneering the University’s women’s studies, her work as the first tenured woman professor in Brown’s history department, and her direction of the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women.

As director of the Pembroke Center from 1981-85, Scott guided the development of scholarly and educational activities related to the status of women and men in society. Last October, at a colloquium celebrating the centennial of the admission of women to Brown, Scott recalled with great pride the 1981 founding of the center: “If women’s history at this University was ignored or forgotten before, it has become visible and alive in student theses, in deliberations of the Corporation ... and in capital campaigns. ... I have been at the Institute for Advanced Study now for six years and I have yet to attend a seminar that equals some of our best moments at the Pembroke Center. ... I’m still living off the intellectual capital I accumulated during my years here.”

Scott graduated from Brandeis in 1962 with a degree in history, and received her MA (1964) and Ph.D. (1969) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Between 1970-1980, she taught history at the University of Illinois, Chicago; Northwestern University in Evanston; and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. In 1980, she arrived at Brown. She was named the Nancy Duke Lewis Professor and Professor of History and director of the Pembroke Center.

“I always realized that my accomplishments had to be used to benefit other women,” Scott said in 1985. “As an individual I could benefit, but if I didn’t do more, nothing would be accomplished for other women. ‘More’ means making women’s studies research a legitimate enterprise, and working in universities and professional institutions to improve the status of women.”

In 1985, the Institute for Advanced Study, devoted to encouraging and supporting scholars and home to some of the century’s greatest thinkers (Albert Einstein was one of its founders), invited Scott to its School of Social Science. She was only the second woman invited to join the faculty. The people there, Scott has said, “are in fact most open to considering the intellectual questions connected to women and gender.”

Scott is the author of “The Glassworkers of Carmaux,” for which she won the American Historical Association’s Herbert Baxter Adams Prize; “Women, Work and Family” (with Louise Tilly; and “Gender and the Politics of History.” She is a member of the American Historical Association.

She will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Rosemary Pierrel Sorrentino

Rosemary Pierrel Sorrentino’s research and numerous papers on auditory discrimination and experimental psychology are widely known, but when she arrived at Brown University in 1961, it was to become the sixth—and ultimately, last—dean of Pembroke College.

Sorrentino received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Boston University (1945 and 1946, respectively), and her Ph.D. from Brown in 1953. She was an instructor at Wheelock College in Boston (1946-49) and at Brown (1953-55) before heading to Columbia University to teach experimental psychology. When she became dean of Pembroke, Sorrentino also received a faculty appointment as associate professor of psychology. While fulfilling her role as dean, she continued her dedication to research and scholarship, teaching an introductory course in psychology. Indeed, in December 1970, when Sorrentino announced her resignation as Pembroke’s dean (effective June 30, 1971), it was not in protest over Pembroke’s proposed merger with Brown, but because of her desire to return full time to teaching and research.

Sorrentino has said that one of her goals in becoming dean was to “emphasize the academic side of Pembroke.” She hoped to show women that to go on to graduate work, a woman didn’t have to be rich, only qualified, and, ever the scientist, she encouraged women to pursue fields that weren’t traditional for them at the time. And, in fact, the number of female science concentrators during her decade as dean rose.

Sorrentino continues to do research on auditory sensitivity and loudness perception in rats and chinchillas.She is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Psychological Association.

She will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Joseph R. Weisberger

Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Joseph Weisberger’s outstanding career as a jurist began in 1956, when he was appointed a justice of the Superior Court, the youngest appointee in the history of Rhode Island.

Following his graduation from Brown in 1942, Weisberger served as a lieutenant commander in the Pacific during World War II. From there, he proceed to Harvard University, where he received his JD in 1949 and went into practice in a Providence law firm. His political career spanned 1953-56, when he served as town solicitor for Glocester, R.I., and was elected to the Rhode Island Senate, where he was minority leader from 1955-56.

Weisberger’s peers have recognized his work in a series of national judicial offices, including membership on the faculty of the National Judicial College, election as the American Bar Association House of Delegates representative of the National Conference of State Trial Judges, and election as chair of the National Conference of State Trial Judges. As presiding justice in charge of the Rhode Island trial court from 1972-78, he added the demonstration of administrative skill to his intellectual exposition of law and skillful trial resolutions.

In 1978, Weisberger was promoted to the RI Supreme Court. There, he has continued activity on a national level as a member of the Board of Governors of the American Judges Association, a director of the National Center for State Courts, a director of the American Judicature Society, and a member of the Executive Committee and chairman of the Appellate Judges Conference of the American Bar Association. He has lectured and conducted judicial seminars worldwide on American constitutional law and the administration of criminal justice. In 1989 he received the National Judicial College’s Erwin N. Griswold Award for Teaching Excellence.

Judge Weisberger’s public service has extended beyond the bench. His community involvement includes serving on the Board of Trustees of Rhode Island Hospital and the Rhode Island Health Planning Council, and as vice chairman of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island.

“I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet ever changing challenges and to attempt to solve a myriad of problems,” Weisberger has written. “These opportunities have been rewarding and absorbing. I consider judicial work to be a great privilege.”

He will receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.