Prof. William G. Bowen

José Vasconcelos World Award of Education 2008
Field of Work: Higher education
Date: 11 November 2008
Place of Ceremony: Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall
Host Institution: Princeton University
Host Country: Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Prof. William G. Bowen, President Emeritus of Princeton University and President Emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation received the 2008 José Vasconcelos World Award of Education from Professor Edmond H. Fischer, President of the World Cultural Council and Professor Shirley M. Tilghman, President Princeton University.

This recognition is awarded to Prof. Bowen for his lifetime’s work creating educational opportunities for those historically denied them, either because of their color, gender or socioeconomic circumstances, ensuring that American colleges incorporate the concept of equal opportunity into their selection criteria. It acknowledges his relentless efforts to achieve, as Robert Venturi put it, “the difficult unity of inclusion rather than the easy unity of exclusion” in the field of education.

Prof. Bowen has also greatly contributed to American higher education, and global knowledge as a whole, by promoting the use of technology to broaden access to mankind’s intellectual and cultural inheritance.

Prof. William G. Bowen is an influential labor economist and teacher; he became Princeton’s provost in 1967, and served as its president from 1972 to 1988. His achievements at the University include overseeing the transition to coeducation, establishing residential colleges, promoting increased diversity, and invigorating the biological sciences as a major institutional commitment. He was also a driving force behind American higher education’s opposition to the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Prof. Bowen served as President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation from 1988 to 2006, during which time he exercised a level of intellectual and organizational leadership that has made him one of the most influential educators of our time.

One measure of Mellon’s impact on American society, and indeed the world, during Prof. Bowen’s tenure is the sheer size of its disbursements. Between 1988 and 2004, it awarded $2.2 billion in grants to a wide array of institutions ranging from Harvard University (for Middle Eastern studies) to the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa (for ecological studies), the New York City Opera (for artistic initiatives), and the National Library of Latvia (for library automation). The academic and social dividends of this philanthropy cannot easily be quantified, other than to say that, under Prof. Bowen, Mellon significantly enhanced the ability of American higher education and the global educational community to fulfill their scholarly and pedagogical missions.

One of the most important legacies of the Bowen years was the creation of a number of entities designed to place information technology at the service of scholars, teachers and students, both at home and abroad. JSTOR, a digital archive of hundreds of scholarly journals, which within a decade of its launch was serving more than 2,300 libraries in 85 countries, has greatly increased access to the world’s scholarly literature, while ARTstor, a digital archive of some 550,000 works of art and other forms of visual and material culture, has brought these artifacts within instant reach of a global audience.

Prof. Bowen was born in Cincinnati, OH, USA. He graduated from Denison University in 1955, and Princeton University, where he earned a PhD, in 1958. He joined the Princeton faculty in 1958, specializing in labor economics. He has been professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, and was founding chairman of the board of Ithaka, as well as a trustee on the board that oversees the Rockefeller family trusts. He is a former board member of American Express, Merck & Co. Inc., and the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development. He furthermore continues to serve on the following boards: JSTOR, ARTstor, Ithaka, and the Overseers of Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association and College Retirement Equities Fund.

Among the honors that Prof. Bowen has received are the Phi Beta Kappa, Woodrow Wilson Fellow, Ford Foundation Fellow, Social Science Research Council Faculty Research Fellow, Ford Foundation Faculty Research Fellow, the James Madison Medal (Princeton University), the Joseph Henry Medal (Smithsonian Institution), and the Grawemeyer Award in Education.

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