Vartan Gregorian

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Vartan Gregorian
Vartan Gregorian.jpg
16th President of Brown University
In office
Preceded by Howard Swearer
Succeeded by Gordon Gee
Personal details
Born (1934-04-08) April 8, 1934 (age 80)
Tabriz, Iran
Nationality Armenian American
Spouse(s) Clare R. Gregorian
Children Dareh A. Gregorian, Raffi Gregorian, Vahé Gregorian
Alma mater Stanford University
Religion Armenian Apostolic Church

Vartan Gregorian (Armenian: Վարդան Գրիգորեան; Persian: وارتان گرگوریان‎, born April 8, 1934) is an Iranian-born Armenian-American academic, serving as the president of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

He 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 at several American universities before joining the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania in 1972 as Tarzian Professor of Armenian and Caucasian History and Professor of South Asian history. In 1974, he was appointed founding dean of U. of Pennsylvania's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and became Provost in 1978. From 1981 to 1989, Gregorian served as president of the New York Public Library, an eight-year tenure which would prove one of his most lasting legacies.[1]

In 1988, he was chosen to become president of Brown University, where he served for the next nine years. In 1997, he was selected as president of philanthropic Carnegie Corporation of New York. He is also a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art, the American Academy in Berlin, the Institute for Advanced Study, and Brandeis University, among other institutions.

He has received the National Humanities Medal. In 2004, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. Gregorian is on the advisory board of the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, the Brookings Doha Center and is a member of the editorial board of the Encyclopædia Britannica.[2] President Barack Obama appointed him to serve on the President's Commission on White House Fellowships.

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 also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He has also received honorary degrees from nearly 70 institutions. He documented much of his private life in his 2003 autobiography The Road to Home: My Life and Times. Since 2013, he had served on the board of trustees of the Dilijan International School, in Dilijan, Armenia.

Early life[edit]

Gregorian was born in Tabriz, Persia (modern day Iran), to Samuel B. Gregorian and Shushanik G. Mirzaian. His family were Christian Armenian Iranians. When Gregorian was 6 years old, his mother, then 26, died of pneumonia. His father, who worked for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in Abadan, was away from home much of the time, and hence Gregorian and his younger sister Ojik were raised by Voski Mirzaian, his maternal grandmother.[3]

Elementary and secondary education[edit]

Gregorian attended elementary school in Iran. In his autobiography, in discussing the events that led to his secondary education, Gregorian refers to several "strangers" who allowed this transition in his life to take place (and eventually move him to the United States). First, in 1948, Edgar Maloyan, the Gaullist French vice-consul in Tabriz at the time, suggested to Gregorian that he ought to go to Beirut, Lebanon to continue his education and provided him with three letters of introduction:[4] one to the head of the Lebanese Internal Security Agency, one to the Collège Arménien, and one to a hotel where he could stay.[5] Gregorian also did chores for another individual in Tabriz, an optometrist named Hrayr Stepanian, who eventually helped Gregorian obtain his passport to get to Lebanon:

The head of the Armenian Relief Society of Lebanon arranged to provide Gregorian with meals for a monthly cost of US$6.15 as well as lodging. He learned French and completed his secondary education at the Collège Arménien in Beirut. Simon Vratzian, former prime minister of the pre-Soviet Democratic Republic of Armenia and then director of the college, provided Gregorian with the advice and assistance that helped him make arrangements to attend a university in the United States. In 1956, Gregorian applied to only two universities (the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University) and was admitted by both. Stanford's acceptance arrived by airmail months before Berkeley's did by surface mail, at which point Gregorian had already enrolled at Stanford.[6]


Gregorian was twenty-two when he began his undergraduate education at Stanford in 1956. He developed an affinity for European history due to his relationship with his freshman mentor Wayne S. Vucinich, a historian of Eastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire. He completed his B.A. in history and humanities with honors in 1958; the topic of his thesis was "Toynbee and Islam."[6]

While a student at Stanford, he again received assistance from Armenians who were strangers to him. He explains how this consistent benevolence reaffirmed his faith in the Armenian diaspora community and diaspora communities in general:

He received his PhD in history and humanities from Stanford in 1964, writing a dissertation entitled "Traditionalism and Modernism in Islam."[4] The topic of his dissertation was related to an ongoing research project which he began in 1961, after receiving a Ford Foundation fellowship which took him to England, France, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. These experiences and his related research formed the basis for his first book, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1840–1946 (1969, Stanford University Press).[6]


Prior to receiving his PhD, Gregorian had already begun teaching European and Middle Eastern history at San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University) upon returning to California from Afghanistan in 1962.[6] He left San Francisco State in 1968 and for a brief stint served as Associate Professor at UCLA. That same year he joined the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin, where he remained until 1972. He received the title of Professor at UT Austin, and also served as the Director of Special Programs (Plan II Honors) there from 1970–1972.[7]

Gregorian had been recruited to UT Austin by John Silber, then Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences who was eventually fired at the urging of the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the university, Frank Erwin, over a disagreement about whether to increase the university's student population and expand the university. Gregorian himself resigned in protest of the issue, but did not follow Silber and a number of other faculty members in their exodus to Boston University. Rather, in 1972, Gregorian 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 which allowed him to teach Armenian, South Asian, and European intellectual history.[4]

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.[6] The Faculty of Arts and Sciences brought together 28 departments, 33 graduate groups, eight special programs and offices, 528 faculty members, some 5,500 undergraduates and 2,500 graduate students, making it the largest single component of the university, In 1978, Gregorian became Provost, chief academic officer of the university.

In 1980, then-president of the University of Pennsylvania Martin Meyerson announced his retirement, and there was speculation that Gregorian would succeed him. In fact, Gregorian had been offered the chancellorship at UC Berkeley, but had 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. But Gregorian was never appointed President of the University of Pennsylvania. While there was no commitment on the part of the university to appoint him president, Gregorian did receive assurances that he would be given the opportunity to withdraw his candidacy if the position was not going to be offered to him so that he would not be a liability to whoever was appointed president of the university. "The story generally accepted," writes one Stanford alumnus in a 2005 interview with Gregorian, "is that some Philadelphia mandarins on Penn's board couldn’t tolerate a foreign name and accent—someone they saw as insufficiently polished and pedigreed—as president of their Ivy League institution."[6] In 1981, Gregorian resigned as Provost, and Sheldon Hackney was named President of the University of Pennsylvania that year.

New York Public Library[edit]

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 some period of unsuccessful search, Gregorian was approached; of Gregorian, then library board chairman Andrew Heiskell said: “out of nowhere, a new candidate appeared. Instinctively I knew he was it.”[6]

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 also agreed that Gregorian restored the NYPL into a cultural landmark. He left the library in 1989, “eager to return to the academic world.”[6]

Brown University[edit]

Vartan Gregorian was formally inaugurated as president of Brown in 1989. 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 classes. He often spoke admiringly to the Brown community of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Gregorian also led a capital campaign that raised well over $500 million. By the end of his presidency, Brown's endowment had passed the $1 billion mark.

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.


Gregorian was a major financial supporter of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, and "was instrumental in securing the funding for a group led by Bill Ayers and Mike Klonsky, two sixties-era former radicals turned education reformers," as well as future President Barack Obama.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Gregorian's son Dareh writes for the New York Daily News, and is married to Maggie Haberman, a reporter for Politico and the daughter of New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman.[1]

Awards and honors[edit]

President George H.W. Bush appointed Vartan 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.[1][8] 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 the American Academy and the Institute of Arts and Letters' Gold Medal for Service to the Arts. In 2010, he received the Aspen Institute’s Henry Crown Leadership 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 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.

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.[9]

Honoris Causa degrees[edit]

Vartan Gregorian has received nearly 70 honorary degrees. Below is a partial list.


External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Howard Swearer
President of Brown University
Succeeded by
Gordon Gee