Bouchet Medalists stress importance of diversity in science, universities

A portrait of Edward Bouchet

Physicist and educator Joseph A. Johnson III ’61 M.S., ’65 Ph.D., who has worked to increase the representation of minorities in the sciences, and Julio Frenk, the first Hispanic president of the University of Miami were honored with Bouchet Leadership Award Medals during the Bouchet Conference on Diversity and Graduate Education held on campus in early April.

The annual conference honors Edward Bouchet, who received a B.A. from Yale in 1874 and who in 1876 became the first African American to earn a Ph.D. (in experimental physics), also from Yale.

“Because of the confirmation of General Relativity and Bouchet earning his Ph.D. at Yale, I define this as the Bouchet epoch,” said Johnson in accepting his award. “Today because of new measurements we rejoice in new physics, maybe even in a new cosmology. However this new physics requires new mathematics with a new view of reality. … We have just confirmed gravitational waves and colliding black holes.  From this, we can now have a theory of everything. But we don’t have the mathematics for it. …”

“Furthermore,” he said, “this reconciliation of the newest insights on space and time provides new industries for the new Bouchet epoch. … [T]hese new industries require all of us and allow new opportunities to celebrate and rejoice in our common humanity — each and every one of us. Our strength is in our diversity.”

Universities’ “defining moment”

This year’s Bouchet Conference focused on how best to diversity institutions of higher education, and Frenk spoke took up that theme in his remarks.

“At different moments in history, universities have served as crucial models or examples to the larger world.”

— Julio Frenk, president of the University of Miami

“At different moments in history, universities have served as crucial models or examples to the larger world,” he said. “Today we are again in a defining moment when universities must themselves embrace the values and behaviors that we would hope to see reflected in the society of which we are a part. At a time when many voices question the value universities add, I would submit that we must trace our value to our values. Integrity, respect, diversity, tolerance, resilience — such qualities are at the heart of what universities are and what we want them to be. …

“While striving together for a more perfect union of respect and tolerance, universities cannot seek to create an antiseptic environment that avoids conflict or discomfort …,” he continued. “And yet, if we are to enter together into the work of inclusively learning together, we must.” (Read the full text of Frenk’s speech.)

The Bouchet Leadership Award Medal is given to leaders in academia who have played a critical role in diversifying higher education, who are outstanding in their own fields of study, and who serve as role models to students of all ages. Brief bios of the Bouchet Leadership Award Medal recipients follow:

Joseph A. Johnson (center) with his son and granddaughter at the award ceremony.

Joseph A. Johnson III 

Johnson held faculty appointments at Yale, Southern University, Rutgers University, The City College (where he was named Herbert Kayser Professor of Science and Engineering) and at Floria A&M University (where he was Distinguished Professor of Science and Engineering and professor of physics until he retired). As a researcher, he investigated a wide variety of fundamental fluid and plasma phenomena, developing new diagnostic tools for high-speed flow, new insights in fundamental turbulent systems, and new approaches for hastening the evolution toward alternative sources of energy from high-temperature turbulent plasmas. Throughout his career, both as an educator and an administrator, Johnson worked to promote the development of minority scientists. His many honors include election as a charter fellow of the National Society of Black Physicists, which cited his contributions to scientific research and to physics education, as well as “contributions of the most noteworthy sort to the general goals of NSBP.”

President Peter Salovey (right) presents the Bouchet Leadership Award Medal to Julio Frenk.

Julio Frenk

A noted leader in global health, Frenk became president of the University in Miami in August 2015; he also holds an academic appointment there as professor of public health sciences at the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. Previously he served as dean of the faculty at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the T&G Angelopous Professor of Public Health and International Development, a joint appointment with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. From 2000 to 2006, he was Mexico’s minister of health; there he worked to reform the nation’s health system, introducing a program of comprehensive university coverage, which expanded access to health care for more than 55 million uninsured Mexicans. His numerous other achievements include serving as executive director of the Program for Evidence and Information for Policy, the World Health Organization’s first unit explicitly charged with developing a scientific foundation for health policy to achieve better health outcomes. His numerous honors include the Clinton Global Citizen Award for changing “the way practitioners and policymakers across the world think of health.”