Gregorian, Vartan 1934-
GREGORIAN, Vartan 1934-
PERSONAL: Born April 8, 1934, in Tabriz, Iran; immigrated to the United States, 1956; son of Samuel B. (a government employee) and Shushanik G. (Mirzaian) Gregorian; married Clare Russell, March 25, 1960; children: Vahe, Raffi, Dareh (sons). Education: Collège Armenien, Beirut, Lebanon, diploma (Armenian studies), 1955; Stanford University, B.A., 1958 (with honors), Ph.D., 1964. Hobbies and other interests: Movies, concerts, chess, Armenian music, travel, walking, reading.
CAREER: Worked as a reporter in Beirut, Lebanon, c. 1956; Stanford University, Stanford, CA, assistant foreign student adviser, 1959-60; University of California—Berkeley, instructor in Armenian history and culture, 1960; San Francisco State College (now University), San Francisco, CA, instructor, 1962-64, assistant professor, 1964-66, associate professor of history, 1966-68; University of California—Los Angeles, visiting associate professor of history, 1968; University of Texas—Austin, associate professor, 1968-70, professor of history, 1970-72; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, professor of history and Tarzian Professor of
Armenian and Caucasian History, 1972-80, faculty assistant to president and provost, 1973-74, dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences, 1974-78, provost, 1978-80; New York Public Library, New York, NY, president, 1981-89; New School for Social Research (now New School University), New York, NY, professor, 1984-89; New York University, New York, NY, professor of history and Near Eastern studies, 1984-89; Brown University, Providence, RI, president and professor of history, 1989-97; Carnegie Corp., New York, NY, president, 1997—. Chair of board of visitors, Graduate School and University Center, City University of New York, 1984-90; member of board of trustees, Museum of Modern Art, 1994. Member of board of directors, International League of Human Rights, 1984-97, Institute for Advanced Study, 1987, J. Paul Getty Trust, 1988, Institute for International Education, 1989-95, Aaron Diamond Foundation, 1990-97, Brookings Institutions, 1994-97, Aga Khan University, 1995, Human Rights Watch, 1996, McGraw-Hill Companies, Cell Therapeutics, Inc.; member, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; advisor, Annenberg Foundation.
MEMBER: International Federation of Library Associations (cochair of program committee, 1985), Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow), American Philosophical Society, American Antiquarian Society, American Historical Association (program chair, 1972), Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (program chair of Western Slavic Conference, 1967), Mid-East Studies Association, Council for Foreign Relations, Grolier Club, Round Table, Century Association, Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: Social Science Research Council fellowship, 1960; Ford Foundation foreign area fellowship, 1960-62; American Council of Learned Societies-Social Science Research Council fellowship, 1965-66, 1971-72; American Philosophical Society grants, 1965, 1966; E. H. Harbison Distinguished Teaching Award, Danforth Foundation, 1968; John Simon Guggenheim fellowship, 1971-72; Cactus Teaching award, 1971; American Council of Education fellowship, 1972-73; Golden Medal of Honor, City and Province of Vienna, Austria, 1976; Silver Cultural Medal, Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1977; award of distinction, Phi Lambda Theta and Phi Delta Kappa, 1980; First Distinguished Humanist award, Pennsylvania Humanities Council, 1983; National Fellowship award, Fellowship Commission (Philadelphia, PA), 1984; Gold Medal, National Institute for Social Sciences, 1985; decorated Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France), 1995, and Grand Oficial Ordem Infante D. Henrique (Portugal), 1995; Distinguished Service to the Arts award, Third St. Music School Settlement, 1997; Distinguished Service to Public Education award, New York Academy of Public Education, 1998; Friends of the Arts award, Town Hall, 1998; National Humanities Medal, United States government, 1998. Honorary degrees from Boston University, 1983, Brown University, 1984, Jewish Theological Seminary, 1984, State University of New York, 1985, Johns Hopkins University, 1987, New York University, 1987, University of Pennsylvania, 1988, Dartmouth College, 1989, Rutgers University, 1989, City University of New York, 1990, Tufts University, 1994, University of Aberdeen, University of Illinois, and the Juilliard School. Also recipient of honors from Urban League, League of Women Voters, Players Club, PEN-American Center, Literacy Volunteers of New York, American Institute of Architects, and Charles A. Dana Foundation; has received additional honors from the city and state of New York, the states of Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, and the cities of Fresno, CA; Austin, TX; Providence, RI; and San Francisco, CA.
(Editor) Simon Vratzian, Hin Tghter Nor Patmutian Hamar (title means "Old Papers for the New History"), [Beirut, Lebanon], 1962.
(Editor) Simon Vratzian, Kianki Oughinerov (memoirs), Volume 5, [Beirut, Lebanon], 1966.
The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880-1946, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1969.
Carved in Sand: A Report on the Collapse of the Rhode Island Share and Deposit Indemnity Corporation, State of Rhode Island (Providence, RI), 1991.
New York Public Library Desk Reference, Hungry Minds, 1993.
(Editor) Censorship: Five Hundred Years of Conflict, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
The Road to Home: My Life and Times (memoir), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2003.
Higher Education in an Age of Specialized Knowledge (sound recording), 2003.
Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith, Brookings Institution Press (Washington, DC), 2003.
Contributor, sometimes under pseudonym V. Herian, to encyclopedias and to journals in United States, Iran, and Lebanon.
SIDELIGHTS: Born the son of Armenian parents in a city in northern Iran, Vartan Gregorian has turned his love of books and education into a distinguished career that has included positions as a history professor, president of Brown University and the New York Public Library, and president of the prestigious Carnegie Corporation of New York, whose goal is to award grants to worthy educational and cultural causes. Those familiar with Gregorian, who speaks Persian, English, Armenian, Turkish, Arabic, and French, know him as an erudite man whose love of learning has never stopped, and he has made it his mission in life to spread his values in education to his adopted country, America. Not only has he done this in the classroom as a teacher of history and world cultures, but Gregorian has astounded many observers with his abilities in fundraising. As president of the New York Public Library during the 1980s, he was able to increase the library's budget by nearly twofold while restoring the system's main library at a cost of $42 million. As president of Brown University, he raised $537 million.
In 1997 Gregorian became president of Carnegie Corporation, switching his role from fundraiser to fundgranter. The transition turned out to be a surprising one for him. As he told Bruce Cole in an interview for Humanities, "People think that giving away money is an easy job. Actually, it's harder than raising money, as you well know, because you have so many excellent projects that compete for funding. The issue is, I tell our staff: Are we going to be an incubator or an oxygen tank? Foundations have to be in the idea business, not the need business. Everyone has needs. And finally, we have to prepare the next generation of leaders, scholars, and thinkers."
Throughout Gregorian's career, his concern for the state of education in the United States has remained a common theme. He has become increasingly worried about America's deemphasizing studies in the humanities, which has been replaced by the desire to learn marketable skills, and he is concerned by the failure of high schools to prepare students for college so that they often spend the first two years at universities trying to catch up to where they should be. As he told Cole: "I'm worried about what's happening. Consciously or unconsciously, there has emerged a perception in the United States that somehow liberal arts should be for elite institutions and that your community colleges and your big state universities and others should concentrate on careers rather than on learning, per se. The higher the tuition goes up, the more parents tend to say, 'What's the earning power of a degree going to be?' That worries me. Our democracy may have an aristocracy of talent, as Jefferson said—which is fine—but we don't want everyone else to be left out. Something like that seems to be happening, though."
Gregorian added, "Similarly, for science to become an elective rather than central would also be a great loss. As a person who cheated himself by not taking science courses, I'm very conscious of how the sciences are sometimes relegated to the periphery of the liberal arts. Furthermore, we're doing something wrong when we say, it doesn't matter how much knowledge there is, you're going to be educated in four years by hook or crook, by condensation or summary. Now, more than ever, the university has to teach you how to learn to learn, and to teach you not only what you know, but also what you don't know. As a matter of fact, at one time I thought of giving a diploma that said, 'Congratulations for knowing this much, and now we instruct you to learn for the rest of your life,' just to make the point that we are sending the graduate into the world with a map, with a compass, with a Geiger counter, with a hunting license, to go and learn."
In 2003 Gregorian published his memoirs, The Road to Home: My Life and Times. Here, he takes the time to acknowledge all the family members, friends, and others who helped him get where he is today, while relating his "rags-to-riches" story, as one Publishers Weekly, reviewer called it. The critic, while feeling that the later parts of the book, in which Gregorian describes his achievement, are somewhat overly detailed and dry, appreciated the parts in which Gregorian's love of literature "opens a doorway to history and to Persian and Armenian literature." The reviewer also enjoyed the author's "sense of wonder" as he relates stories of his early days in the United States. Peter Gay, in New York Times Book Review, praised the memoir as a "full account of a worthwhile life that has rewarded thousands of students and more thousands of readers. If the word had not been so badly debased in our time, I would call [Gregorian] a civilian hero."
Among Gregorian's other writings are books on Middle Eastern affairs, including The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880-1946 and Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith, which attempt to explain Arabic culture to western audiences.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Libraries, August, 2003, Cathleen Bourdon, "Up Close and Personal," p. 96.
Chronicle of Higher Education, March 29, 1989, Lawrence Biemiller, "The Unruly Schedule and Unpredictable Syntax of Vartan Gregorian," p. A3.
New York, January 16, 1984, Jennifer Allen, "The Library's Social Lion: On the Go with Gregorian," p. 34.
New Yorker, November, 1986, Art Plotnick, "Library Vartanization; or, the New Supra-Chiefs: If You've Got a Vartan Gregorian, It Works; Otherwise …," p. 736.
New York Times Book Review, September 21, 2003, Peter Gay, "The Lion King," p. 14.
New York Times Magazine, December 14, 1997, Claudia Dreifus, "It Is Better to Give Than to Receive," p. 52.
Publishers Weekly, May 5, 2003, review of The Road to Home: My Life and Times, p. 214.
Rolling Stone, March 21, 1991, Norman Atkins, "The Making of the President," p. 63.
Humanities, http://www.neh.fed.us/news/humanities/ (September-October, 2003), Bruce Cole, "A Conversation with Vartan Gregorian."