Memorial University will hold its fall convocation ceremonies in St. John’s on Friday, Oct. 23. Close to 900 students will receive their degrees at three sessions of convocation. In St. John’s, sessions begin at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Honorary degrees will be awarded to Nobel Prize winner and molecular biologist Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and veteran journalist and author Michael Harris. Biographical notes follow below.
Honorary degree recipients are chosen by the Senate, the university’s academic governing body, after careful examination of the grounds for their nomination.
The honorary doctorate is designed to recognize extraordinary contribution to society or exceptional intellectual or artistic achievement. The awarding of honorary doctorates, an important feature of Memorial’s convocation, serves to celebrate both the individual and the university as well as to inspire graduates, their families and guests.
Also at fall convocation, several professors will be honoured with the designation professor emeritus: Dr. Ian Bowmer, Faculty of Medicine; Dr. Clar Doyle, Faculty of Education; Dr. Ross Peters, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Research and Dr. Robert Walley, Faculty of Medicine. Memorial will also recognize its first librarian emeritus during fall convocation. Richard Ellis will receive this honour. Dr. Elizabeth Ives, Faculty of Medicine, and Dr. Hermann Brunner, Faculty of Mathematics and Statistics, will be honoured in absentia.
To be eligible for the title professor emeritus, a person must have served at least 10 years as a regular full-time faculty member at Memorial and must have held the rank of professor upon retirement. The prime criteria for nomination are sustained, outstanding scholarly work and/or service to the university.
Michael Harris is an award-winning national journalist whose career has taken him around the world and to some of the biggest stories in the country. Among his posts, Mr. Harris has served as executive director of news and anchor at NTV in St. John’s, Ottawa Sun columnist, and the national affairs columnist with Sun News Service from 1996-99. But it is for his tenure as editor and publisher of the Sunday Express in St. John’s from 1986-1990 that he is best remembered in this province.
When Mr. Harris began to publish the weekly newspaper in 1986,
St. John’s had been a one-newspaper town for two years following the demise of the Daily News. With high-quality columns and an uncompromising level of investigative journalism, the paper had a powerful effect on its competitor, the Evening Telegram, and on local politics. Mr. Harris broke and then pursued the story of child abuse at Mount Cashel orphanage.
Mr. Harris is also a published author, writing on the Mount Cashel tragedy, the Crosbie family and the collapse of the Atlantic Cod fishery, among other topics. He is currently the host of Ottawa radio shows Michael Harris Live and Stirring the Pot. He has twice received honourable mention for one of Canada's most prestigious awards, the Michener Award for Journalism, 1985 and 1989, and received the Center for Investigative Journalism Award in 1989.
His documentary film Unholy Orders (about the abuse of children at Mount Cashel orphanage) appeared on CTV and PBS networks and was awarded a Silver Medal in the Best News Documentary category at the New York Festivals in 1991.
He holds a BA in English from York University in Toronto and was the Woodrow Wilson Scholar at University College, Dublin, Ireland.
For his contributions to improving the standard of Newfoundland journalism and his unceasing pursuit of justice, Michael Harris will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree in St. John’s on Oct. 23.
Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn is the Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology at the University of California, San Francisco. In October 2009 she and colleagues Carol Greider and Jack Szostak were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for their discoveries. The Karolinska Institute in Sweden, the steward of the Nobel Prize, says the trio was honoured for solving a major problem in biology: showing how chromosomes can be copied in a complete way during cell divisions and how they are protected against degradation. The Nobel Laureates have shown that the solution is to be found in the ends of the chromosomes – the telomeres – and in an enzyme that forms them – telomerase.
“These discoveries had a major impact within the scientific community,” the Nobel citation said. “The discoveries by Blackburn, Greider and Szostak have added a new dimension to our understanding of the cell, shed light on disease mechanisms, and stimulated the development of potential new therapies.”
A member of Britain’s Royal Society since 1992, Dr. Blackburn was elected the following year as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States. Her lengthy list of honours and awards include American Cancer Society Medal of Honor (2000), and honorary degrees from
Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, Bard College, Brandeis University,
University of Chicago, Harvard University, Princeton University and Cambridge University.
She is also an ethical role model in the wider academic community. In 2002 she accepted appointment to U.S. President George Bush’s Council on Bioethics, the group that examined the issue of stem-cell research. Two years later, she and another member of the council were fired by the White House for their objections to the report issued by the council. She said the report misrepresented the research. Her principled stand led to an international controversy that served to point out the importance of scientific independence and academic freedom.
Dr. Blackburn earned a B.Sc. and M.Sc. at the University of Melbourne, and a PhD at Cambridge, and did her postdoctoral work at Yale University.
For her contributions as an ethical role model and a distinguished scientist, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn will receive an honorary doctor of science degree at the Oct. 23 convocation in St. John’s.