Laureation address: Professor Nannerl O Keohane

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Nannerl Keohane

Laureation by Professor Katherine Hawley
School of Philosophical, Anthropological & Film Studies

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Nannerl O Keohane for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

Nan Keohane is a distinguished political philosopher, who has turned her theoretical knowledge and practical wisdom to the public good, as a leader of major American universities.

Professor Keohane holds degrees from Wellesley College, from Oxford, and from Yale, where she earned her PhD in 1967. She taught for several years at Swarthmore College, in Pennsylvania, then headed west to Stanford. There, she received the university’s highest award for excellence in teaching and published her major study Philosophy and the State in France, situating abstract ideas about politics in their very concrete historical contexts. She also co-edited a significant volume on feminist theory; thirty-five years later, both books are still in heavy use at the univeristy library.

In 1981, Nan was invited to look beyond the philosopher’s classroom, becoming eleventh President of her alma mater Wellesley, a liberal arts college reputed worldwide as a centre for excellence in women’s education. Under her leadership, Wellesley flourished, both in its academic reputation and in its infrastructure: the college’s sports facilities were vastly improved, the Davis Museum and Cultural Center were built, and she even oversaw the launch of Wellesley’s very first website.

Unsurprisingly, in 1993 Professor Keohane was poached away to Durham, North Carolina, to become the first female President of Duke University, one of the US’s leading institutions for both research and teaching, where she served until 2004. Amongst her many achievements at Duke, Nan championed closer collaboration both with the neighbouring University of North Carolina and with the local community of Durham and she promoted the Women’s Initiative to provide support and mentoring to female students.

She later drew on that vast storehouse of experience to write two books about ethics, leadership and higher education; she is currently a member of the Harvard Corporation, a Director of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a visitor at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton. And, of course, we welcome her today to yet another distinguished – and even older – institution, the University of St Andrews.

It is especially appropriate that we honour Nan Keohane as we celebrate the achievements of all our new graduates, for she, more than most of us, has thought deeply about what a university education is for. And she has set the bar high for those of us on the stage, and behind the scenes, who collaborate with our students to make that education possible. In her book Higher Ground, she writes: ‘I am convinced that it is part of our moral purpose to educate people who will, as citizens and as professionals in various fields, carry out their responsibilities with integrity, breadth of understanding, and compassion, as well as skill and commitment.’ As she adds, ‘This is a tall order’1 , but it is one we must not lose sight of.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of her major contribution to scholarship and to leadership in higher education, I invite you to confer on Nannerl O Keohane the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

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