Marketing & Communications: Chancellor Walter Massey Receives Honorary Degree From Harvard University

CHICAGO–School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) Chancellor Walter Massey was presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by Harvard University during its 366th Commencement exercises today. Massey was recognized for his contributions to the fields of higher education and science. This is Massey’s 41st honorary degree.

Harvard first awarded an honorary degree to George Washington in 1776 and has since bestowed similar awards upon luminaries in all areas of human endeavor.

“At the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, we know first-hand how much Walter deserves this distinction because we know how his leadership has profoundly influenced our school and communities over the last seven years,” said Elissa Tenny, SAIC’s president. “We applaud Walter on his achievements, and we are proud that he is receiving the same distinction bestowed on such diverse and accomplished luminaries as John Fitzgerald Kennedy, acclaimed painter and educator Jacob Lawrence, and writer and activist Susan Sontag.”

Massey joined nine other honorary degree recipients on the commencement stage, including Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg; actors James Earl Jones and Dame Judi Dench; composer John Williams; Somali human rights activist Hawa Abdi Dhiblawe; former chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Lockheed Martin Norman R. Augustine; leading feminist literary critic and author Sandra M. Gilbert; pioneering theoretical computer scientist Michael Rabin and physician, medical researcher and founding director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital Huda Y. Zoghbi.

Prior to serving as Chancellor, Massey was SAIC’s president from 2010 to 2016 and was succeeded by Elissa Tenny. As president, along with then-provost Tenny, he led efforts to increase student scholarships and further diversify SAIC’s student body; to modernize the campus; to broaden outreach to new institutional partners across the arts, higher education and business communities; and to improve the school’s financial position. His tenure as president culminated with SAIC’s 150th Anniversary celebrations and with the launch of Beautiful/Work: The Campaign for SAIC, a historic fundraising campaign. Massey was recently named chair of the Board of Directors of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, which oversees the construction and operation of the largest optical telescope in the world.

Massey previously served as president of Morehouse College, his alma mater, for more than a decade. He was instrumental in bringing the papers of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the college, where they are now stored. A theoretical physicist, Massey began his career at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before joining Brown University, where he rose to professor of physics and dean of the college. In later roles, he served as director of Argonne National Laboratory, with joint appointments as professor of physics and, later, vice president of research at the University of Chicago. From 1991 to 1993, he served as director of the National Science Foundation under President George H. W. Bush. He then joined the University of California system as provost and senior vice president of academic affairs.

Massey joins an esteemed group of individuals who have received the Doctor of Laws honorary degree from Harvard, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg (2011), Kofi Annan (2004), Toni Morrison (1989), John F. Kennedy (1956) and George Washington (1776).

About the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

For 150 years, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has been a leader in educating the world’s most influential artists, designers and scholars. Located in downtown Chicago with a fine arts graduate program consistently ranking among the top three graduate fine arts programs in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, SAIC provides an interdisciplinary approach to art and design as well as world-class resources, including the Art Institute of Chicago museum, on-campus galleries and state-of-the-art facilities. SAIC’s undergraduate, graduate and post-baccalaureate students have the freedom to take risks and create the bold ideas that transform Chicago and the world—as seen through notable alumni and faculty such as Michelle Grabner, David Sedaris, Elizabeth Murray, Richard Hunt, Georgia O’Keeffe, Cynthia Rowley, Nick Cave, Jeff Koons and LeRoy Neiman. For more information, please visit

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