William Bowen


Honorary Degree (2011)
May Commencement
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: Michael McRobbie


As president of both the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (1988-2006) and Princeton University (1972-1988), William G. Bowen has had a unique vantage point from which to study questions central to higher education, including the role of doctoral studies, affirmative action, sports and information technology.

Since stepping down as president of the Mellon Foundation in 2006, he has continued to be involved in the national discussion on these questions and wrote the latest of his more than 20 books, Lessons Learned: Reflections of a University President (Princeton University Press, 2010). The book, which draws upon his tenure as president of Princeton, was been described by Library Journal as "an essential manual for university presidents." It is the latest in an extensive body of work examining higher education that began with the publication of the 1992 book (with Neil Rudenstine), In Pursuit of the Ph.D.

A 1955 graduate of Denison University, he earned his doctorate at Princeton in 1958 and joined its faculty that year as a specialist in labor economics. He became the university's provost in 1967 and served in that position until 1972. Bowen's tenure at the Mellon Foundation was marked by increases in the scale of its activities, with annual appropriations reaching $220 million in 2000. To ensure that Mellon's grant-making activities would be better informed and more effective while also following his interest in issues central to higher education and philanthropy, he created an in-house research program to investigate doctoral education, college admissions, independent research libraries and charitable nonprofits.

Bowen's personal scholarship on higher education included one of the most comprehensive studies of affirmative action in higher education, the Grawemeyer Award-winning 1998 book The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions (with Derek Bok). His other books as author or co-author include Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America's Public Universities (2009), The Board Book: An Insider's Guide for Trustees and Directors (2008), Equity and Excellence in American Higher Education (2005), Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values (2003), and The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values (2001).