News Release

REF NO.: 27

SUBJECT: Journalist, biologist get convocation honours at Memorial University

DATE: September 29, 2009

A veteran journalist and a world-renowned molecular biologist will receive honorary degrees during Memorial University fall convocation next month.

Former Sunday Express editor Michael Harris and Elizabeth Blackburn, the Morris Herzstein Professor of Biology and Physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, will be awarded Memorial’s highest honours at convocation ceremonies in St. John’s on Friday, Oct. 23.

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.

Sir Wilfred Grenfell College will celebrate convocation Friday, Oct. 9, in Corner Brook.

About 900 undergraduate and graduate degrees will be awarded at convocation in St. John’s and Corner Brook.                                                                                                   

Mr. 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 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 most noted for her discovery of the enzyme telomerase, which has major implications for cancer research and treatment. Her work has been published in major scientific journals and she has received all the major accolades of science with the exception of the Nobel Prize. A member of Britain’s Royal Society since 1992, she was elected the following year as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States.

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.

For more on convocation, see www.mun.ca/convocation/.

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