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 81)
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.

Gregorian 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 of several American universities. He 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. From 1981 to 1989, Gregorian served as president of The New York Public Library, an eight-year tenure which would prove to be one of his lasting legacies.

In 1988, he was chosen to become president of Brown University, where he served for the next nine years. In 1997, he was appointed president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, the philanthropic foundation created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911. He currently serves as a trustee of the Aga Khan Museum, the Library of Alexandria, The Hunter Foundation, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center, The American Academy in Berlin, and the Patti and Everett B. Biurch Foundation.

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 George W. Bush awarded him the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civil award. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him to serve on the President's Commission on White House Fellowships. In addition, Gregorian has received the Council on Foundations Distinguished Service Award, 2013; the Aspen Institute’s Henry Crown Leadership Award, 2010; the Africa-America Institute Award for Leadership in Higher Education Philanthropy, 2009; and has been honored by various other cultural and professional associations, including the Armenian Cultural Foundation, the Urban League, the League of Women Voters, the Players Club, PEN-American Center, Literacy Volunteers of New York, the American Institute of Architects, the Charles A. Dana Foundation, and the Elysium Between Two Continents. 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 and was named a Living Landmark of the City of New York, where he currently resides.

Gregorian is on the advisory board of the Genesis Prize Foundation; the Qatar Foundation; the International Advisory Board of the European University of St. Petersburg; the World Bank Advisory Council of Global Foundation Leaders; the Advisory Board of the Dilijan International School of Armenia, the University of Tokyo President’s Council; the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, International Academic Advisory Committee; the Neustadt and Schelling Awards Selection Committee (Chairman), Harvard Kennedy School of Government; the Culture and Sports Glasgow Advisory Committee;; Advisory Council, Global Philanthropy Forum; the Phi Beta Kappa Society Board, The Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies at the City College of New York; International Advisory Council, Kofi Annan Fellowship in Global Governance; Science and Technology in Society (STS) Forum[ja], Kyoto, Japan; and the University of Southern California, Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School, Advisory Board. In addition, he served as Chair and Juror of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation World Trade Center Site Memorial Competition, 2003 – 2004. Previously, he was a member of the editorial board of the Encyclopædia Britannica and served on a number of other editorial boards. A Phi Beta Kappa and a Ford Foundation Foreign Area Training Fellow, he is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences , the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, the Armenian Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the New York Academy of Medicine, and the New York Institute for the Humanities. He is a recipient of fellowships from, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Social Science Research Council. Gregorian is also a member of the Association of Colleges and Research Libraries and the International Federation of Library Associations, among other groups, and is an honorary member of the American Library Association, the organization’s highest distinction.. Gregorian has received honorary degrees from scores of American and foreign institutions. He documented much of his life and career in academia, at The New York Public Library, and in philanthropy, in his 2003 autobiography, The Road to Home: My Life and Times.

Early life[edit]

Gregorian was born in an Armenian-Christian community in Tabriz, Iran, to Samuel Gregorian and Shooshanik Mirzaian. 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.[1]

Elementary and secondary education[edit]

Gregorian attended elementary school in Iran. In his autobiography, in discussing the events that led to his attending high school in Lebanon, Gregorian refers to several "generous strangers" who helped to make this transformative change in his life possible along with his subsequent move to the United States. First, in 1948, Edgar Maloyan, the French Armenian 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:[2] one to the head of the Lebanese Internal Security Agency, one to the Collège Arménien, the lycée that admitted him as a student, and one to a hotel where he could stay.[3] 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:

What Gregorian and his benefactors had not thoroughly planned for was his daily expenses, so after arriving in Beirut, he was confronted with the problem of how to provide for his meals and long-term housing. Once again, he received help: the Armenian Red Cross arranged to provide Gregorian with some of his meals for a monthly cost of U.S. $6.15 and another helpful patron arranged for his lodging. With his circumstances eased somewhat, Gregorian learned French and completed his secondary education at the Collège Arménien in Beirut, where, while a student, he became the assistant to. Simon Vratzian, the last prime minister of the pre-Soviet Republic of Armenia and then director of the Collège. Vratzian served as Gregorian’s mentor and protector, providing him with the advice and assistance that helped Gregorian make arrangements to attend a university in the United States. In 1955, Gregorian, with the assistance of his English teacher, 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.[4]


Gregorian was twenty-two when he began his undergraduate education at Stanford in 1956. There, Wayne S. Vucinich, who taught the history of the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire, became his mentor and advised Gregorian to study history. He completed his B.A. with honors in two years and finished the Humanities Honors program with distinction. His senior thesis for the Humanities Honors Program was on “Toynbee and Islam.” In 1958 he was accepted as a Ph.D. candidate in history as well as in the graduate Humanities Program and became a research and teaching assistant to Professor Vucinich. The department awarded him its Wilbur Fellowship. While a student at Stanford, he again received hospitality from members of the Armenian community 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."[2] The topic of his dissertation was related to an ongoing research project that he began in 1961, after receiving a Ford Foundation Foreign Area Training Fellowship, which took him to England, France, Lebanon, Pakistan, Afghanistan and India. These experiences and his related research refocused his thesis on Afghanistan and formed the basis for his first book, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1840–1946 (1969, 2013, Stanford University Press).[4]


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.[4] 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 was promoted to full professorship in the Department of History, and was given the title of Professor of History at UT Austin, and also served as the Director, Special Programs, College of Arts and Sciences, 1969-1971 (Plan II B.A., Independent Studies, Junior Fellows Programs).[5]

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.[2]

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.[4] 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. While there was no commitment on the part of the university to appoint him president, he was told he was a finalist and received 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. However, he was not given the opportunity to with draw his candidacy. In 1981, Gregorian resigned as Provost, and Sheldon Hackney was named President of the University of Pennsylvania that year. There was considerable speculation as to why he was not appointed president, in spite of his high approval on campus. "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."[4] Three years later, the Penn Board of Trustees endowed a professorship and several fellowships in Gregorian’s name, and also awarded him an honorary degree in recognition of his roles as the university’s founding Dean of Arts and Sciences and Provost.

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.”[4]

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.”[4]

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 senior seminars. His last seminar centered on Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America. Each year, he also served as the adviser for nine students. Gregorian led a five-year capital campaign called the Campaign for the Rising Generation, which at the time was the most ambitious capital campaign, not only in Brown’s history, but of the state of Rhode Island, as well. The campaign raised some $534 million. By the end of his presidency, Brown's endowment had grown by about 260 percent, passing the $1 billion mark from just under $400 million. Also during his tenure, some 250 general studies courses were established. He received the Graduate Student Council’s first endowed Wilson-Deblois Award and the faculty’s Rosenberger Medal.

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.

Carnegie Corporation of New York[edit]

Vartan Gregorian became the twelfth president of Carnegie Corporation of New York in 1997. Notably, Gregorian is the only naturalized American to head the Corporation and the first chief executive since 1923 to be appointed from outside. When he joined the Corporation, taking on the challenge of heading a philanthropic institution, Gregorian said, “As I had led institutions that were dependent on philanthropy, it was intriguing to enter the field ‘from the other side,’ especially at a time when interest in philanthropy was blossoming. The challenge of philanthropy is how to contribute to the public good while at the same time assist both the American public and policymakers in understanding the power of philanthropy to effect positive change both in our nation and abroad.”[6]

Carnegie Corporation is a grantmaking foundation, created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 with a mandate to support efforts dedicated to “the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.” Towards that end, in over a century of work, Carnegie Corporation of New York has made grants totaling over $2 billion—more than $1 billion alone in the ten years ended September 30, 2013. Today, under Gregorian’s leadership, the foundation’s work incorporates Andrew Carnegie’s mandate through an affirmation of its historic role as an education foundation but also honors Andrew Carnegie's passion for international peace and the health of American democracy. While Mr. Carnegie’s primary aim was to benefit the people of the United States, he later determined to use a portion of the funds for members of the British overseas Commonwealth. Currently, this area of Corporation grantmaking focuses on selected countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Personal life[edit]

Gregorian has three sons, Vahé, Raffi, and Dareh. He has been married to Clare Russell Gregorian since 1960.

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.[7] 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. Further, Gregorian has received the Council on Foundations Distinguished Service Award, 2013 and the Africa-America Institute Award for Leadership in Higher Education Philanthropy, 2009. 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, and in 1971 received the University of Texas’ Cactus Teaching Excellence 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 Foundation.[8]

Honoris Causa degrees[edit]

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


  1. ^ "Book Review: The Road to Home by Vartan Gregorian". Armenian News Network. Retrieved June 10, 2006. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "A Conversation with Vartan Gregorian". National Endowment for the Humanities. Retrieved June 22, 2006. 
  3. ^ Yvonne French. "Vartan Gregorian Speaks at Library". Library of Congress. Retrieved June 22, 2006. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "The Lionheart". Stanford Magazine (retrieved June 22, 2006).
  5. ^ Rhode Island House Resolution 386: Recognizing [Gregorian's] Distinguished Academic and Administrative Career. June 24, 1997 (retrieved September 5, 2006).
  6. ^ [9] Vartan Gregorian, "Reflections on Encounters With Three Cultures," p. 73
  7. ^ President Obama Announces Appointments to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships The White House, June 17, 2009.
  8. ^

External links[edit]

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