Former UB President Simpson to receive Norton Medal at commencement

Release Date: May 7, 2013 This content is archived.

Photo of John B. Simpson.

John B. Simpson

Photo of Edmund J. Gicewicz.

Edmund J. Gicewicz

Photo of Diane Christian.

Diane Christian

Photo of Calyampudi R. Rao.

Calyampudi R. Rao

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Former University at Buffalo President John B. Simpson will receive the Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal, the university’s highest honor, during UB’s 167th general commencement on May 12.

Edmond J. Gicewicz, emeritus member of the UB Council, and longtime UB faculty member and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Diane Christian will receive the UB President’s Medal in recognition of extraordinary service to the university.

Also during the ceremony, a SUNY honorary doctorate will be presented to Calyampudi R. Rao, a National Medal of Science winner and professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University.

A second SUNY honorary doctorate will be presented to renowned composer Charles Wuorinen on June 4 as part of the annual June in Buffalo festival.

The Chancellor Charles P. Norton Medal is presented annually in public recognition of a person who has, in Norton’s words, “performed some great thing which is identified with Buffalo…a great civic or political act, a great book, a great work of art, a great scientific achievement or any other thing which, in itself, is truly great and ennobling, and which dignifies the performer and Buffalo in the eyes of the world.”

John B. Simpson, who served as UB’s 14th president from 2004-11, led the academic community in launching UB 2020, the long-range strategic plan that focused on investing in core interdisciplinary areas of research strength, transforming institutional operations and implementing a comprehensive physical plan.

Simpson has published widely on the role of public higher education in American life and on the impact of research universities on social and economic prosperity. A leading voice on educational access and collaboration, he championed a historic partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools to improve educational outcomes and significantly expanded the university’s relationships with its broader communities regionally and globally.

Before coming to UB, Simpson was campus provost and executive vice chancellor of the University of California-Santa Cruz from 1998-2003. Prior to that, he served for 23 years on the faculty of the University of Washington, where he was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1994-98.

An accomplished research scientist who also held a faculty appointment in UB’s Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Simpson has published widely in the field of neuroendocrinology.

Among his civic and professional leadership roles, Simpson was a member of the Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, Buffalo Niagara Partnership Board of Directors and the SUNY Research Foundation board, and served on the New York State Commission on Higher Education and the American Council on Education’s Commission on International Initiatives. He was a member of the Council on Competitiveness, as well as a former commissioner of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

The UB President’s Medal, first presented in 1990, recognizes “outstanding scholarly or artistic achievements, humanitarian acts, contributions of time or treasure, exemplary leadership or any other major contribution to the development of the University at Buffalo and the quality of life in the UB community.”

For more than 60 years, Edmond J. Gicewicz has served the university community as a distinguished alumnus, accomplished faculty member and steadfast university friend. Appointed to the UB Council in 1997 by Gov. George Pataki, he became one of the longest-serving members of the council before stepping down this past winter. 

Gicewicz earned two UB degrees – a bachelor's degree in 1952 and an MD in 1956 – and held faculty appointments in the departments of Surgery and Orthopaedics while maintaining an active medical practice.

A leader and innovator in sports medicine, he was the founder and first medical director of the university’s Sports Medicine Institute and served as the UB team physician for 27 years. Gicewicz also has been the medical director and physician-in-attendance for numerous amateur athletic competitions, including the 1993 World University Games. A fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, he was named Team Physician of the Year by the New York State Medical Society in 1991.

As a UB student, Gicewicz was captain of the varsity football, basketball and baseball teams, and was named Little All American in football. A lifelong UB Bull, he is a regular attendee and loyal fan at UB sporting events. He remains active in the local sports community and is a member of the UB Athletics Hall of Fame – now known as the Dr. and Mrs. Edmond J. Gicewicz Family UB Athletics Hall of Fame – and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

Gicewicz has served as a past president of the UB Alumni Association and the UB Medical Alumni Association, as well as a past president of the Williamsville Central School District Board of Education, Erie County Medical Society and the New York State Medical Political Action Committee. He also has served on the boards of numerous state and national professional medical organizations.

A vital member of the UB academic community for more than four decades, Diane Christian is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of English and a celebrated author, scholar, poet and filmmaker.

Christian’s books, films and courses reflect the range and scope of her scholarly, creative and teaching interests. With her husband, SUNY Distinguished Professor Bruce Jackson, she has earned international renown for several books and films documenting conditions for death row inmates in America. She also has collaborated with Jackson on several acclaimed documentaries that have been supported by the American Film Institute, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and other major grants. These include “Death Row” (1979), “Creeley” (1985, on the late UB poet Robert Creeley) and the 1983 film “Out of Order,” based in part on her own experience as a former Catholic nun who took vows before embarking on her doctoral work at Johns Hopkins University.  

Her forthcoming books include “The Alleyway of the Whales,” an introduction and translation of the French ethnographer Jean Malaurie’s “L’Allée des baleines,” and “The Priesthood of Death: Essays on Death in Religion, Politics & Art.”  Christian has lectured widely in Europe and the United States, and has organized numerous conferences on documentary film, ethnography and silent film.

She directs a PhD program in folklore, mythology and film studies, and teaches several high-demand undergraduate courses on mythology, the Bible as literature and comparative religion. With Jackson, she co-founded and co-directs the Center for Studies in American Culture and the Buffalo Film Seminars, a highly successful classic film series open to the general public.

Her contributions as a university citizen include a term as co-chair of the General Education Task Force, membership on the Honors Council advising the University Honors College, service on two presidential inauguration committees and multiple senior leadership search efforts, and numerous roles advising the university on advancing its legacy of distinction in the arts, letters and humanities.

Honorary degree recipient Calyampudi R. Rao is considered a world leader in statistics whose achievements have had a profound impact on a wide range of fields over the past seven decades, among them engineering, biostatistics, economics, genetics, medicine and anthropology.

Rao is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Indian National Science Academy and the Royal Society. The honorary doctor of science degree that SUNY is awarding Rao is the 37th such degree he will have received from universities across six continents.

The author of 14 books and 475 research papers, and advisor to 50 PhD students, Rao has received numerous prestigious awards. In addition to the National Medal of Science in 2002, these honors include both a gold and silver Guy Medal presented by the Royal Statistical Society, the highest awards given to statisticians in the U.K.; the Samuel Wilks Medal of the American Statistical Association, the highest award given to a statistician in the U.S.; and the International Mahalanobis Prize for lifetime achievement in statistics.

Rao’s broad influence also is reflected by the numerous common statistical terms that bear his name, such as the “Fisher-Rao Theorem” and the terms “Cramer-Rao bound,” “Rao-Blackwellization,” “Rao distance” and “Rao’s Orthogonal Array,” each frequently found in standard statistics textbooks and current scholarly research. 

Former director of the Indian Statistical Institute and Eberly Professor Emeritus of Statistics at Penn State, Rao spends part of the year with family in Western New York and has developed a relationship with several UB faculty members. He holds a volunteer appointment at UB, interacting closely with faculty and students, and sharing his research expertise.

Media Contact Information

Christine Vidal has retired from University Communications. To contact UB's media relations staff, call 716-645-6969 or visit our list of current university media contacts. Sorry for the inconvenience.