This weekend, Amherst College President Biddy Martin—joining a diverse group of academics, politicians and international celebrities—was inducted into one of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Martin joined over 200 other leaders in academia (including her predecessor, former Amherst President Anthony W. Marx), business, public affairs and the arts and humanities at an induction gala held this past weekend in Cambridge, Mass.
Among Martin’s favorite parts of the gala were “the unabashed celebration of curiosity, knowledge, collaboration and achievement; talks by Margaret McFall-Ngai, David Blight and Maureen Mahoney; the reading of Lincoln’s letters by Daniel Day-Lewis; Thomas Hampson’s performance of American songs; and Bill Cosby's riff on his experience of the Saturday morning panels.”
“Other highlights,” she added, “included conversations with Karl Eikenberry, Judy Woodruff, Laura Engelstein, Reynold Levy and Alan Alda; the beauty of [Harvard’s] Sanders Auditorium; lunch with [1958 Amherst graduate, life trustee and former chair of the college’s Board of Trustees] Amos and Barbara Hostetter; and the company of my friends who traveled to Cambridge to celebrate with me. I also learned a lot from the panels on ‘The Global Nuclear Future.’”
Martin now belongs to a group that counts more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners among its members. Since its founding in 1780, the Academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the 19th and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the 20th.
Members of the Academy with Amherst connections include Hostetter; William H. Pritchard ’53, the Henry Clay Folger Professor of English; Harold Varmus ’61, director of the National Cancer Institute; David Kessler ’73, professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine; and trustees Danielle S. Allen and Howard Gardner, to name just a few. In addition to lunching with the Hostetters, Martin said she met a number of Academy inductees whose children or nieces and nephews went to Amherst.
One of the nation’s most prestigious honorary societies, the Academy is a leading center for independent policy research. Members contribute to publications and studies of science and technology policy, energy and global security, social policy and American institutions, the humanities and culture and education.
Martin will continue her involvement with the Academy’s Commission on the Future of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which meets again in January in Chicago.
This year’s new Academy members are winners of the National Medal of Science, Lasker Award, Pulitzer Prize, Shaw Prizes, Avery Fisher Prize and Fields Medal; recipients of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships; Kennedy Center honorees; Grammy, Emmy, Academy and Tony Award winners; and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. Martin joined a field of new members that includes U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, historian David W. Blight, volcanologist Katharine V. Cashman, mathematician Ngô Bao Châu, actor and director Clint Eastwood, musician Sir Paul McCartney, playwright Neil Simon and mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade. Also inducted were Amazon.com founder Jeffrey Bezos; businesswoman and philanthropist Melinda Gates; oncologist Brian Druker, whose research dramatically improved survival rates for leukemia patients; and George F. Bass, a pioneer in underwater archeology. (An alphabetical list of the 220 new members can be found at www.amacad.org/news/alphalist2012.pdf, and they are listed by discipline at www.amacad.org/news/classlist2012.pdf.)
Elected the 19th president of Amherst in June 2011, Martin previously served as chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 2008 and as Cornell University’s provost from 2000 to 2008. A distinguished scholar of German studies and the author of numerous articles and two books—one on a literary and cultural figure in the Freud circle, Lou Andreas-Salomé, and a second on gender theory—Martin served on the faculty of Cornell for more than two decades. She began as an assistant professor of German studies and women’s studies, earned tenure in 1991 and eventually served as chair of the German studies department, senior associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and provost from 2000 to 2008. As chancellor at UW-Madison, she led successful initiatives to increase need-based financial aid, improve undergraduate education and enhance research. She also spearheaded an effort to gain greater operating flexibility and increased autonomy for Wisconsin’s flagship campus.