Honorary Degree Recipients

The University of Chicago traditionally confers the honorary doctor of divinity, doctor of humane letters, doctor of laws, doctor of music, and doctor of science degrees.

The University’s approach to awarding honorary degrees, however, is unique in that the University does not honor actors, ambassadors, presidents or monarchs unless they meet stringent requirements for scholarship. The University traditionally awards honorary degrees to individuals who have made significant contributions to their fields of study or in service to the University, in the case of those who have served as presidents of the University or chairmen of the Board of Trustees.

University faculty nominate candidates at the level of degree-granting units. Departmental honorary degree committees collect letters of recommendation from outside scholars as well as complete bibliographies of the candidates. They make their recommendations to the divisional committees, which then make their recommendations to the deans.

Arup Chakraborty

Institute Professor of Chemical Engineering, Physics, and Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Arup K. Chakraborty, one of the 12 Institute Professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science. Chakraborty is also a Professor of Chemical Engineering, Physics and Chemistry.

A distinguished scientist and engineer, Chakraborty is described as one of the most gifted and creative contemporary thinkers working at the confluence of molecular engineering, theoretical immunology, biophysics and statistical mechanics. His work has changed the direction of immunology research. 

Chakraborty revolutionized the field of computational immunology by helping establish principles that underlie basic immunological phenomena and expanding the computational immunology toolbox. His work has been especially impactful because of his collaborations with basic and clinical immunologists. Over the last 23 years, his work has focused on bringing together immunology and the physical and engineering sciences and applying the principles and tools of statistical mechanics to the behavior of the adaptive immune system and viral infection. His research has explored immunological synapses and cell signaling, development of the immune cell repertoire, immune responses, especially with respect to HIV, and formation of biological condensates and how they play an important role in transcription.

James Comer

Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine

James P. Comer, the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at the Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

One of the world’s leading child psychiatrists, Comer is a groundbreaking scholar who transformed the fields of education and child development. He is also a renowned clinician and educator whose innovative programs have improved the lives of countless children and families. His seminal contributions have profoundly shaped the field of educational research and practice.

He is known for his creation of the Comer School Development Program, a model that grew from his research with children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and also for his theoretical innovation in relating educational processes to interpersonal relationships at many scales. His work has given rise to powerful ideas that are now common currency in the field of education, including the concept of social and emotional learning, the importance of “soft skills” for children’s learning and the significance of family and community engagement in supporting academic success in disadvantaged children. In 2014, President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Hélène Esnault

Einstein Professor at the Freie Universität Berlin

Hélène Esnault, the Einstein Professor at the Freie Universität Berlin, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

Esnault is a world-renowned mathematician who is noted for her contributions to algebraic geometry, particularly its connection to number theory, and has achieved other successes in a wide breadth of areas. The area in which she works centers on solving systems of polynomial equations, the shapes that these solution sets have and how the shape interacts with the types of solutions that exist. Her work has major intellectual ties to the study of mathematics at the University of Chicago. 

Esnault has been praised for her energy and productivity, support for junior mathematicians and significant work on editorial and advisory boards. She has been a leader in the field of mathematics for 40 years and is at the pinnacle of her discipline. Taken as a whole, her work represents a vision of algebraic geometry that touches upon most of the active branches of that vast field but is nevertheless recognizably her own.

Callum Roberts

Professor of Marine Conservation at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter

Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of Exeter in the U.K., will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

His research focuses on threats to marine life and on finding the means to protect them. For decades he has used his science background to make the case for stronger protections for marine life at national and international levels. His team provided the scientific underpinning for a new ocean protection target — 30% by 2030, which was adopted as a global goal at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in 2022.

Roberts leads the Convex Seascape Survey research program into ocean carbon sequestration and is the author of three books: The Unnatural History of the Sea (Island Press 2007), Ocean of Life: How Our Seas Are Changing (Penguin 2013) and Reef Life: An Underwater Memoir (Profile Books 2019). He is the chief scientific advisor to the Maldives Coral Institute and BLUE Marine Foundation and was lead science advisor for the BBC series Blue Planet II.

James A. Wells

Harry W. and Diana V. Hind Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco

James A. Wells, the Harry W. and Diana V. Hind Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science.

Wells is widely considered to be a pioneer in the exponentially growing field of protein engineering and has been instrumental in establishing its foundational principles and their application to basic research and biomedical goals. His ability to combine protein engineering with chemical biology has had an enormous impact across diverse areas of biology and chemistry.

Wells has been recognized for his seminal contributions to protein science as well as in the field of chemical sciences. His work has made essential contributions to shaping the growth and scope of protein engineering, and he has become a principal thought leader among scientists in this field.

Joseph Neubauer

Chair, The University of Chicago Board of Trustees, 2015–2022

Joseph Neubauer, former chairman of the University of Chicago, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws.

Joseph Neubauer is the former CEO and Chairman of Aramark Corporation, a leading global provider of a broad range of professional services. Prior to this position, Joe served as Executive Vice President of Finance and Development, CFO and a member of the Board of Directors. He is currently the Chairman of the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders. He is the former Chairman of the University of Chicago’s Board of Trustees and the Barnes Foundation, and served as a Director of Mondelez International, Verizon Communications, Macy’s, Inc., and Tufts University. In 2015 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Joe has been a Trustee of the University of Chicago since 1992. He received a BS from Tufts University in 1963 and an MBA from the University of Chicago in 1965.

Robert J. Zimmer

Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Mathematics and the College

Robert J. Zimmer, chancellor emeritus and president emeritus of the University of Chicago, will receive the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Zimmer had an immense impact on UChicago and higher education during his tenure as the University’s 13th president from 2006-2021. His commitment to free expression resulted in the creation of a report known as the Chicago Principles, which have now been adopted by more than 70 institutions across the country. Among his accomplishments, Zimmer led the expansion of educational access and financial support for students through the Odyssey Scholarship Program; established ambitious programs and initiatives, including the University’s first engineering program; expanded the University’s global presence through new centers in Beijing, Delhi and Hong Kong; and strengthened partnerships with the city of Chicago and local organizations on the South Side.

A pioneering mathematician, Zimmer has been a UChicago faculty member and administrator for nearly four decades. He currently as the Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Mathematics and the College. Additionally, he served as Provost for Brown University from 2002 to 2006, and as the University of Chicago’s Vice President for Research and Argonne National Laboratory from 2000 to 2002, and as Deputy Provost and Deputy Provost for Research from 1998 to 2001. He first came to the University as an L.E. Dickson Instructor of Mathematics in 1975.

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