Yale Awards Wilbur Cross Medals to Four Alumni

Four distinguished Yale alumni were recently awarded Wilbur Lucius Cross Medals, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ highest honor.

This year’s honorees were Carol T. Christ, president of Smith College; Paul Friedrich, professor emeritus of anthropology, linguistics, and Slavic languages and literatures at the University of Chicago; Anne Walters Robertson, the Claire Dux Swift Distinguished Service Professor in Music at the University of Chicago; and John Suppe, the Blair Professor of Geology at Princeton.

Christ (PhD 1970, English) has been president of Smith College since 2002. She is author of two books on 19th-century and modernist poetry, “The Finer Optic: The Aesthetic of Particularity in Victorian Poetry” and “Victorian and Modern Poetics,” and edited the “Norton Anthology of English Literature,” which sets the standard for the study of British literature. Immediately after graduation from Yale, she joined the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, where she remained for over 30 years, rising through the ranks to become a full professor, Dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, Provost, and eventually Executive Vice Chancellor—Berkeley’s highest academic officer. She is credited with sharpening the university’s intellectual focus and building top-rated departments in the humanities and sciences. Christ was—and remains—a champion of women’s issues and diversity, noted Linda Peterson, the Niel Gray, Jr. Professor of English, in her letter nominating Christ for the Medal.

During her five years at Smith, Christ has supervised a thorough curriculum review and launched an energetic program of outreach to alumnae, as well as congressional and corporate leaders. She has overseen major renovations to the campus, including additions to the fine arts center and botanical conservatory and construction of a new fitness center and student center. She has also set long-term plans for new science and engineering facilities.

Friedrich (PhD 1957, Anthropology), professor emeritus of anthropology, linguistics, and Slavic languages and literatures at the University of Chicago, has made major contributions to an extraordinarily broad range of fields, including anthropology, linguistics, classics, and humanist thought in general. His work in ethno-poetics is considered groundbreaking. His 11 books include four volumes of original poetry as well as “The ‘Gita’ within ‘Walden,’” “Music in Russian Poetry,” “The Princes of Naranja: An Essay in Anthrohistorical Method,” “The Language of Parallax: Linguistic Relativism and Poetic Indeterminacy” and others that range from studies of formal linguistics and Homeric Greek to political anthropology and 20th-century philology. As a token of highest academic honor, 30 of his former students dedicated a festschrift to him: “Language, Culture and the Individual: A Tribute to Paul Friedrich.”

Robertson (PhD 1984, Music) has been on the faculty of the University of Chicago since she graduated from Yale. A classical pianist as well as a specialist in medieval and Renaissance music, she is author of two award-winning books, “The Service Books of the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis: Images of Ritual and Music in the Middle Ages” and “Guillaume de Machaut and Reims: Context and Meaning in his Musical Works.”  Both are considered major interdisciplinary studies of the music and liturgy at the basilica where French royalty were buried and at the cathedral where they were crowned. After earning tenure, she chaired the Music Department for six years, was appointed to an endowed professorship, and more recently has been the associate, and then deputy provost for research and education. She has been on the Board of Directors of the American Musicological Society and served on committees for the NEH and the American Council of Learned Societies.

Suppe (PhD 1969, Geology) has conducted research that uncovered the fundamental forces that cause the upper portion of the Earth’s crust to be altered, causing earthquakes. Plate tectonics and structural geology are his focus, and he explores how rocks deform in the zones where plates subduct and collide. Practical outcomes of his findings include the location of petroleum resources and the assessment of earthquake hazards. Suppe’s innovative method of imaging active faults has allowed him to test theories in real, rather than geologic, time, advancing human understanding of the planet’s physical evolution. He was the first to recognize the large-scale structure of the modern collision zone on the island of Taiwan—one of the most rapidly changing landscapes in the world. Taiwan was largely ignored by geologists until Suppe started publishing on the tectonic evolution of the area in the 1980s. Because of his pioneering work, that region is now one of the most intensely studied mountain belts in the world. Suppe is author or editor of five books, including the widely used textbook, “Principles of Structural Geology.” A member of the faculty at Princeton since 1971, Suppe was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995.  He has been a visiting professor at the National Taiwan University, California Institute of Technology, the Universitat de Barcelona, and Nanjing University, and was a guest investigator for the NASA Magellan Mission to Venus.

The medals are named for Wilbur Lucius Cross (1862–1948), who was dean of the Graduate School from 1916 to 1930. An alumnus of Yale College and the Graduate School (PhD 1889, English), Cross was a scholar of distinction and author of “The Life and Times of Laurence Sterne” (1909), “The History of Henry Fielding” (1918), and other books on the English novel. He was a distinguished literary critic, rejuvenating and editing the Yale Review. Following his retirement from academia, Cross was governor of Connecticut for four terms.

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Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325