Vartan Gregorian

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Vartan_Gregorian&chld=H_100&junk=junk.png Vartan Gregorian Mars symbol.svg
Birthplace Tabriz
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Birth date 8 April 1934
Lived in Tabriz, Beirut, New York
Education Stanford
Ethnicities Armenian
Dialects Western Armenian, Persian Armenian
Ancestral villages Tabriz
Spouses Clare Gregorian
Children Dareh Gregorian, Raffi Gregorian, Vahe Gregorian

Vartan Gregorian is the twelfth president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, a grant-making institution founded by Andrew Carnegie in 1911. Prior to his current position, which he assumed in June 1997, Gregorian served for nine years as the sixteenth president of Brown University.

He was born in Tabriz, Iran, of Armenian parents, receiving his elementary education in Iran and his secondary education in Lebanon. In 1956 he entered Stanford University, where he majored in history and the humanities, graduating with honors in 1958. He was awarded a Ph.D. in history and humanities from Stanford in 1964.

Gregorian has 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.

For eight years (1981-1989), Gregorian served as a president of the New York Public Library, an institution with a network of four research libraries and eighty-three circulating libraries. In 1989 he was appointed president of Brown University.

Gregorian is the author of The Road To Home: My Life And Times, Islam: A Mosaic, Not A Monolith, and The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan, 1880-1946. A Phi Beta Kappa and a Ford Foundation Foreign Area Training Fellow, he is a recipient of numerous fellowships, including those from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Social Science Research Council and the American Philosophical Society. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. In 1969, he received the Danforth Foundation’s E.H. Harbison Distinguished Teaching Award.

He serves on the boards of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Human Rights Watch, The World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, and the Museum of Modern Art. He served on the boards of the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Aga Khan University, The McGraw-Hill Companies, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He has been decorated by the French, Italian, Austrian and Portuguese governments. His numerous civic and academic honors include some fifty-six honorary degrees, including those from Brown, Dartmouth, Drew, Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, the Jewish Theological Seminary, the City University of New York, Rutgers, Tufts, New York University, University of Aberdeen, The Juilliard School, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Fordham University, The Pennsylvania State University and San Francisco State University.

In 1986, Gregorian was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and in 1989 the American Academy of the Institute of Arts and Letters’ Gold Medal for Service to the Arts. In 1998, President Clinton awarded him the National Humanities Medal. In 2004, President Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civil award. 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 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.

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The Making of An Educator
By Barbara Hall

The Washington Post

Sunday, April 5, 1998; Page R08

By Barbara Hall, a freelance writer.

"Quite simply, I know of no one who is more brilliant and able. This gentleman, whom I have had the pleasure of working with since his days at the University of Pennsylvania, is easily the most unique individual I have ever known," says Walter Annenberg, a philanthropist and supporter of U.S. education reform.

"He's terrific, one of our most sparkling minds and souls," submits Andrew Heiskell, chairman emeritus of the New York Public Library and former chairman of Time, Inc.

And Thomas Kean, former governor of New Jersey and now president of Drew University, says, "In a good way, he has almost a child-like enthusiasm for things. A belief -- a very old-fashioned belief, I think -- that if enough good, bright people work together on a cause, you can get a tremendous amount accomplished. There's no cynicism to the man at all. We've got a society that's so full of cynicism. I find it often these days in political people. In him, I just don't find it. Some people might take it as naivete, but it is not, obviously. It's just his faith that good people, working together, can get a lot done."

The subject of these tributes is a man once described in the New Yorker as "the phenomenon of Vartan Gregorian." After leading Brown University for nearly nine years, Gregorian stepped down last June to assume the presidency of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The new post is just the latest in a series of professional challenges.

Two decades ago, as the first dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, he consolidated a number of departments and managed, by most accounts, to re-energize the spirit of learning at Penn. From 1981 to 1989, he served as president and CEO of the New York Public Library. At the time, regard for libraries across the country, and in New York specifically, was desperately wanting. Through what he calls "a confluence of forces," Gregorian and company changed the climate, raising a lofty $400 million for the library and, by the power of example, helping to restore the stature of public libraries throughout the United States.

He assumed the presidency of Brown in 1989 and immediately worked to raise standards in the selection of students and faculty, conducted yeoman fundraising for the college, and set in motion a number of education reform programs that he believes will yield positive change in American classrooms for years to come. Gregorian describes his move to the Carnegie Corporation as a crucial leap from "supplicant" to "benefactor": He is now custodian of some $60 million in annual grant-making.

Recently, from his customary corner at Istana, a mid-Manhattan restaurant, he talked about life in general and American education in particular. He began at the beginning: "As a very young boy, I was an energetic, restless, haughty, academically very good student."

The place was Tabriz, Iran. The boy's mother died when he was 7 years old, his father left to fight in World War II, and his beloved grandmother, Vosty -- an illiterate storyteller extraordinaire -- assumed responsibility for him.

From the outset, books loomed large. "I loved the smell of textbooks," he says, "and for me, from childhood, the library occupied a major role in my life."

Amid political upheaval in Tabriz, a succession of multiethnic schools followed. Meanwhile, his father had returned from the war and remarried.

"I couldn't stand my stepmother," Gregorian said, "so, at age 15, I left home -- ran away and arrived in Lebanon with $50 and a few of my possessions. It was crazy, what I did."

In Beirut, he studied at the College Armenien. There he met the college principal, Simon Vratzian, a fellow Armenian, who would become a mentor for the young man. "He was my surrogate father. He rescued me," Gregorian recalled. He became Vratzian's secretary and, under his influence, set his sights on scholarship.

Various opportunities abroad eventually opened to him, in Brazil, Britain, and in the United States. He decided to attend Stanford University, where in 1958 he earned a bachelor's degree in history. A PhD followed in 1964.

In between degrees he'd encountered Clare Russell, whom Andrew Heiskell describes as "a blonde, Nordic beauty." She eventually became his wife and mother of their three children.

Throughout, Gregorian's focus was on education. "From high school on," he said, "whenever I raised my hand to answer a question, my teachers called me 'Professor.' I always thought I would be a teacher, but not a professor. I went to Stanford to get my BA, and intended to go back to teach high school in Lebanon. But, since I got my BA in two years, I rationalized that since I was sent to the United States for four years, I might as well go for a Ph.D.

"One thing led to another. I taught history at San Francisco State, the University of California at Los Angeles, and then Pennsylvania."

Penn had its disappointments. Although he fared well as a dean and provost there, he was ultimately passed over for the presidency of the university. His friends say he was crestfallen. But just ahead was a greater challenge still: the New York Public Library, an endangered cultural institution that he succeeded in restoring to grandeur.

"In coming to the library, in a sense I had changed my purpose but not my vocation," he explains. "I addressed the librarians as 'my fellow educators.' They were surprised and pleased that I considered them connectors, initiators of knowledge, and that therefore, I had great respect for them.

"As an outsider, I appreciated the role of the library as a democratic institution, as a symbol of freedom. An institution that allows acculturation and the chance for self-improvement. A place were individuals can find some kind of solace.

"The library also symbolizes a unity of knowledge for me. Most important was to eliminate the public notion that democracy and excellence are not mutually compatible, that whatever is public has to be dirty, neglected, appealing to the lowest common denominator. . . . In the 1970s, the first things that every city cut, with rare exceptions like Cleveland, were their public libraries. Schools lost their libraries. Hours of service were cut. Branch libraries were closed. The New York Public Library was the first to dare to clean itself -- shine its chandeliers, its brass. I called it 'the people's palace.' I have no apologies that it should be beautiful, luxurious, because the people deserve it."

Lack of support for libraries, Gregorian says, was "not negotiable. It was unthinkable. Through my brashness, I reminded New Yorkers, and Americans, that [they] were dealing with an institution that embodies 5,000 years of human history."

It was a high-profile charge, and after eight years, it was too much: "I became a kind of 24-hour witness for a cause, not leaving enough privacy or time for introspection, reflection, my own scholarship," Gregorian reflected between bites of bagel and sips of tea.

"I have a rule that I must never stay with a job more than eight to 10 years maximum, because you become complacent, self-satisfied. You start looking to the past rather than the future. You start making short cuts. You lose your energy and imagination on behalf of the cause. And, worst of all, hubris sets in. You start believing your mail, nice articles, and so forth. So, I said, 'The time has come.' "

There were several alternatives on the horizon. "I was offered the presidency of Brown, of Michigan, and a foundation. I chose Brown, for one thing, because it was in New England where my wife's family lives. Also, we had friends in the [Northeast] triangle."

The Brown years, though demanding, were clearly good. "Brown, I have always said, is the ballerina of the Ivy League . . . the university must always be on its toes. It cannot be complacent. They still have a Brown crisis, a Rhode Island crisis. If anything great happens, they think maybe it's accidental.

"Also, being an old extension of England, they feel they cannot brag about their institution. They cannot state their case. And they were dazzled by the wealth of Harvard, Princeton and Yale. I've never been dazzled by wealth. I've always been dazzled by who you are rather than what you have. And that attitude, it is my hope, will set the tone for Brown in the next decade."

Asked about gratifying developments at Brown during his administration, Gregorian cited an upswing of student applicants ("The last four years alone, 67,000 students applied to Brown for 5,700 places"), an increase in interdisciplinary studies, and substantial community outreach, including Brown's participation in the "Campus Compact," a nationwide student volunteer program. In addition, while at Brown Gregorian had a key role in the Annenberg Challenge, a $500-million grant program launched in 1993.

Public education reform will be paramount in his new role at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Gregorian says. For instance, he says, he plans to help increase regard for the teaching profession. He and his staff are also examining all of the corporation's programs -- "not in order to institute change as such, but to be sure we're doing the right things."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

Gregorian to leave Brown for Carnegie
UPN 1/7/97 11:43 AM

Copyright 1997 United Press International. All rights reserved. The following news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of United Press International.

NEW YORK, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Brown University President Vartan Gregorian will step down at the end of the academic year to head a large non- profit foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Gregorian has been at the helm of the Ivy League school in Providence, R.I., for eight years. Before that, he was the president of the New York Public Library.

An Armenian who was born in Iran and educated in Lebanon, Gregorian came to the United States in 1956. He got his bachelor's degree and doctorate at Stanford and launched a career as a university teacher and administrator.

Carnegie Chairman Newton Minow says Gregorian was selected because of his "abiding concern for the protection and extension of equality of opportunity, in this country and abroad, and for addressing the problems of urban communities."

At Brown, Gregorian is credited with hiring 270 new faculty members, expanding its library, and establishing 11 new departments.

He's also considered a tireless fund-raiser. The foundation notes that since Gregorian's arrival at Brown, the university's endowment has swelled from $373 million to more than $800 million. He also added $400 million to the library's coffers during his tenure.

The Carnegie Corporation has assets of $1.4 billion and is the nation's 16th largest foundation. Educational programs and public television are the biggest beneficiaries of its grants.

The Board of Trustees is expected to approve Gregorian's appointment Thursday. Gregorian will replace David Hamburg as Carnegie president. --- Copyright 1997 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

January 7, 1997

Carnegie Corp. Picks a Chief in Gregorian

The Carnegie Corporation has chosen Vartan Gregorian, the exuberant scholar who revitalized the New York Public Library and led Brown University for the last eight years, as its new president.

Mr. Gregorian will replace David A. Hamburg, a 71-year-old educator and scientist, as head of the foundation, based in midtown Manhattan. Last year, it gave away $59 million to more than 335 organizations in the United States and abroad for projects aimed at promoting education and peace.

Spokesmen for the 86-year-old Carnegie Corporation, the nation's 16th largest foundation, said the board was expected to approve the choice of Mr. Gregorian at its annual meeting on Thursday.

During the 14-year-tenure of Dr. Hamburg, Carnegie's assets quadrupled, thanks largely to the soaring value of its investments, and now total $1.4 billion.

In an interview, Mr. Gregorian said he needed time to learn Carnegie's culture before deciding what his priorities would be, but he spoke of the need for foundations to cooperate more in carrying out social goals.

At its meeting on Thursday, the Carnegie board is also expected to elect Thomas H. Kean as its new chairman. Mr. Kean is the president of Drew University and a former Governor of New Jersey. Mr. Kean has been a Carnegie board member since 1991. He would succeed Newton N. Minow, a member of the Sidley & Austin law firm.

Mr. Kean said Mr. Gregorian's expertise in both education and the promotion of peace and conflict resolution "are a perfect fit" with Carnegie's mandate.

Under Dr. Hamburg's tenure, Carnegie greatly expanded its programs, not only in education, adding commitments in child and adolescent development, but also its activities aimed at defusing cold war tensions and ethnic conflicts abroad, expanding Andrew Carnegie's original mandate to "promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding."

Carnegie's staff also increased to more than 100, from 10, and its grants rose to almost $60 million a year, from $10 million.

For his part, Mr. Gregorian helped strengthen Brown academically and raised its profile in the Ivy League. Brown's current freshman class of 1,482, was drawn from the largest applicant pool, 15,009, in the university's history, and was its most highly rated group of freshmen.

Brown's trustees were informed of Mr. Gregorian's departure via phone calls from Mr. Gregorian this weekend and a letter from Alva O. Way, chairman of Brown's board, circulated yesterday.

He will leave in July.

Several trustees called Mr. Gregorian's departure a loss, but not unexpected. Mr. Gregorian, 62, had pledged to stay at Brown at least 5 years, but no more than 10.

"He exceeded my expectations," said Mr. Way, who said in his letter to Brown trustees that Mr. Gregorian's departure "would not be welcome to those of us who care deeply about Brown."

Friends and colleagues said that though he had long desired to return to New York, Mr. Gregorian refused to leave Brown until the end of its capital campaign. After being extended by six months, the campaign exceeded its goal of $450 million in May 1995, reaching $534 million by last July.

"It will be wonderful to give money away rather than raise it," said Mr. Gregorian, a scholar and educator who more than doubled Brown's endowment to over $800 million, expanded its library to three million volumes, from two million, and brought 270 new faculty members to Brown after assuming the presidency in 1989. Mr. Gregorian said he was thrilled to be returning to New York, but that he would miss friends, colleagues and students in Providence.

In his letter of resignation, Mr. Gregorian referred to the enormous personal and professional toll paid by university presidents, now required to be not just institutional and community leaders but full-time fund-raisers as well.

"I believe presidents of major nonprofit institutions, especially our universities, need periodic renewals, and the institutions need new leadership," he wrote. "I have decided that nine years of service is enough."

In an interview, Mr. Gregorian spoke of his frustration at having to abandon most of his scholarly pursuits as Brown's 16th president. Though he taught a course last semester on de Tocqueville's vision of democracy in America, "I was depressed by staring at the eight filing cabinets worth of research I had collected with no time to write," he said.

Mr. Gregorian is the first Carnegie president to be chosen from outside the foundation. The post paid $450,000 last year, compared with his $225,000 salary at Brown. Mr. Gregorian said that he had not yet negotiated his salary, but that compensation was not an important priority.

"To be a university president or a foundation head requires a sense of mission," he said.

In his letter, Mr. Gregorian also noted that he had "declined many attractive opportunities" to fulfill his commitments to Brown.

Mr. Gregorian has a reputation as a visionary educator and an energetic fund-raiser. In his eight years as president and chief executive at the New York Public Library, Mr. Gregorian, with Andrew Heiskell, the library's former chairman, revitalized a neglected cultural institution whose budget had been slashed and staff was demoralized.

Together, they organized imaginative and colorful appeals to foundations, corporations and wealthy New Yorkers that raised $270 million toward a $307 million fund-raising campaign. Using a mix of badgering, guilt and charm, Mr. Gregorian persuaded Mayor Edward I. Koch and other city leaders to restore half of the funds eliminated by the city during the fiscal crisis of the 1970's.

Mr. Gregorian has been an unpaid adviser to Walter H. Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation, and is known as an architect of the Annenberg $500 million Challenge the Nation program, an initiative to finance projects that promote school reform. As a board member of the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Aaron Diamond Foundation, he has helped give away hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mr. Gregorian is also known for his commitment to human rights and interest in foreign affairs, especially conflict resolution and intellectual freedom. An Armenian born in Tabriz, Iran, Mr. Gregorian speaks seven languages and is the author of "The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan," and two other books and many articles on Middle Eastern and Armenian history.

The Carnegie Corporation gives money to another, separate foundation started by Andrew Carnegie, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington research institution that does not give grants. The corporation also helped initiate the Children's Television Workshop, which produces "Sesame Street."

Under Dr. Hamburg, the corporation invested heavily in the special needs of young adolescents. He also founded, with former Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, on which Dr. Hamburg will continue as a co-chairman. Conflict, on which Dr. Hamburg will continue as a co-chairman.

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Karsh photo

KARSH PHOTO STILL ENTHRALLS VARTAN GREGORIAN by Tom Vartabedian Published: Friday October 21, 2011

Dr. Vartan Gregorian and a photograph of himself taken by Yousuf Karsh in 1991. Tom Vartabedian

Watertown, Mass. - By virtue of his nature and uncalculated fame, Dr. Vartan Gregorian is a man accustomed to sitting in the hot seat.

Of all the positions he's held, all the accolades he's received, all the speeches he's given and notables he's encountered throughout his academic lifetime, nothing has rattled his heart more than the time he posed for Yousuf Karsh.

The year was 1991 and Dr. Gregorian was president emeritus of New York Public Library. This would be his second encounter with the great Armenian photographer from Ottawa, whose lens immortalized some the greatest individuals on this planet.

"It proved to be a nerve-racking experience," he recalled. "It took hours before he actually took the picture, making sure every last detail was in place. He was impatient because I was growing impatient.

Although I've been photographed by several other prominent photographers, having Karsh take my picture was very special because we were both Armenian."

The setting shows Dr. Gregorian with one hand on books and another in his pocket, smiling against a backdrop of library shelves. By his name reads the inscription: "Academic, Educator, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom."

Of the 25 subjects currently on display at the newly-refurbished Bedoukian Gallery inside the Armenian Library & Museum of America (ALMA), only one individual remains alive.

Dr. Gregorian got to see his own portrait hung on the wall --- two decades later --- next to Ernest Hemingway and Eleanor Roosevelt. The privilege was undeniable.

"It was a humbling experience that day when he showed up at the library with his gear," recalled Dr. Gregorian. "He ran the picture in his 'Legends' book. Being the only Armenian included in those pages was humbling."

Few if any of the subjects, including Winston Churchill, were able to get two photo commissions out of Karsh. The first time they met was in 1981 when Dr. Gregorian was Provost at the University of Pennsylvania.

Even then, Karsh proved a taskmaster with the sitting.

"It took four, maybe five hours before he was done," Dr. Gregorian traced back. "Looking at my photo now being displayed at ALMA, it's living proof that we all age - and unfortunately decline."

At the time of the grand opening September 16, Dr. Gregorian was engaged elsewhere and couldn't attend. He picked a Sunday afternoon in early October when the museum was launching an art exhibit by impressionist Martin Barooshian. The two notables were floors apart, each greeting their own constituents, and never did get to meet that day.

Dr. Gregorian had a flight to catch and was in Geneva days later attending a conference as president of the philanthropic Carnegie Corporation of New York. At an age when most are retired, he also remains a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, the American Academy in Berlin, the Institute for Advanced Study and Brandeis University among other institutions.

Nearly 70 honorary degrees have come his way.

The Iranian-born academian served as president of Brown University for nine years before Carnegie. His New York Public Library tenure extended eight years and proved one of his most lasting legacies.

When he arrived there in 1981, the library faced deficits and a deteriorating architecture. Eight years later, the operation budget had doubled, 400 new employees had been hired, the buildings were cleaned and restored, and $327 million had been raised.

Over the years, Dr. Gregorian grew to admire Karsh's work and held him in the highest esteem. They had met on other occasions and the respect turned mutual.

"Although he was proud to be Canadian, Karsh was equally proud to be Armenian," said Dr. Gregorian. "I admired his erudition as well as his modesty. He treated everyone as if they were the only person who counted in the world. Even Churchill couldn't defy him when he took the cigar out of his mouth."

Dr. Gregorian further described Karsh as "profound and humorous."

"He had no identity crisis," Dr. Gregorian added. "He knew who he was and his mission in life. He had a rich inner life as well as a wonderful profession and he loved and admired his wife Estrellita.

They were a great couple who complemented each other. It was a joy to be with them."

The gratitude of seeing his photograph displayed with other venerable brings overwhelming pride to Dr. Gregorian. It was as if he were being immortalized next to immortals.

In a letter written to board chairman Haig Der Manuelian, he thanked ALMA for its leadership and its initiative toward keeping Armenia's legacy alive in America.

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