This year, four accomplished Swarthmore alumni were elected to the Academy of Arts and Sciences. Founded in 1780, the Academy includes over 4,000 American Fellows and 600 Foreign Honorary Members members who have been nominated by their peers. This year's class includes 198 new members who are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.
The 2013 Academy inductees are T. Alexander Aleinikoff '74, the United Nations deputy high commissioner for refugees and dean of the Georgetown Law Center, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot '66, a sociologist and Harvard University Professor of Education, Jed Rakoff '64, a ground-breaking judge, and Phyllis Wise '67, a scientist and Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This year, notable people, ranging from the musician Bruce Springsteen to the writer Julian P. Barnes, also joined the Academy. The Academy aims both "to elect men and women of exceptional achievement, drawn from science, scholarship, business, public affairs, and the arts" and "to conduct a varied program of projects and studies responsive to the needs and problems of society." Joining such a long-established organization indicates extraordinary achievement and service.
T. Alexander Aleinikoff went on to earn a J.D. from Yale University Law School. After serving as a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School, he began teaching at the Georgetown University Law Center in 1997, specializing in civil rights and discrimination, constitutional law, and immigration law. Before coming to Georgetown, Aleinikoff served as general counsel and then Executive Associate Commissioner for Programmes for the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), where he participated in instituting important reforms, including that of the U.S. asylum process.
Since 2005, Aleinikoff has worked as both the Dean of the Georgetown Law Center and the Executive Vice President of Georgetown University. He has also worked for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Migration Policy Institute. His many published works include several books on immigration, citizenship, and nationality laws. Aleinikoff took his knowledge and expertise to the White House when he co-chaired the immigration policy review team for President Barack Obama's transition into office in 2008.
Aleinikoff's most recent occupation is his role as the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees. He is responsible for working to uphold the rights of over 34 million refugees and internally displaced people worldwide, making good use of his background and experience with civil rights work and immigration law.
Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot graduated Swarthmore with a degree in Psychology, going on to earn a Ph.D. in Sociology of Education from Harvard University. She has dedicated her professional life to studying the complex and essential issues relating to classroom life, socialization in communities, and cultural-based differences in learning styles. Of the 198 new members elected to the Academy in 2013, only five are involved in the field of education, granting the honor even more significance.
A "sociologist as storyteller" according to the New York Times, Lawrence-Lightfoot has focused much of her work on the idea of "human archeology," the use of in-depth interviews to arrive at a deeper understanding of people and their motivations. She has deviated from more standard research practices in order to create more meaningful portraits of her subjects, including the six that she profiles in one of her books, "I've Known Rivers: Lives of Loss and Liberation."
In addition to a 1984 MacArthur Prize Fellowship, an endowed professorship in her name from Swarthmore in 1992, and a recent election to the American Philosophical Society, Lawrence-Lightfoot was granted the Emily Hargroves Fisher endowed chair at Harvard in 1998. At the time of her retirement, the chair will be named in her honor and she will become the first African-American woman in Harvard's history to receive an endowed professorship in her name.
After Swarthmore, Jed Rakoff continued his education at Balliol College at Oxford University. There, he earned a M.Phil (Master of Philosophy), followed by a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He also has honorary degrees from St. Francis University and Swarthmore, where he gave a commencement address in 2003 about one of Swarthmore's less-discussed graduates, A. Mitchell Palmer.
After serving as a federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, followed by several years in private practice, Rakoff was nominated to become a Judge on the district court by then-President Bill Clinton in 1995. Some of his most well known decisions involve lessening the power of large institutions, such as the Securities and Exchange Commission and Bank of America. In 2002, Rakoff declared the federal death penalty unconstitutional in a decision that was overturned in an appeal. His refusal to accept convention marks him, decidedly, as a Swarthmore alumnus. As he said in the conclusion to his 2003 commencement address at Swarthmore, "Pretty soon, you'll be part of [a] world of social pressures, and as those pressures mount, you will be able to find a hundred good reasons to remain silent. But if freedom means anything to you, please don't be silent. After you reach a considered judgment, please speak your mind, whatever the cost. In so doing, you will fulfill your alma mater's ideals and win the gratitude of all of us who believe that liberty is this great nation's most precious, and most vulnerable, treasure."
Widely acknowledged as an expert on copyright law, securities, and constitutional rights, Rakoff also serves as an adjunct Professor at Columbia University Law School. He is also a member of the Board of Managers at Swarthmore.
Along with her fellow new Academy members, Phyllis Wise is also accustomed to trail blazing when a previous path simply did not exist. After receiving a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Maryland, Wise served as a professor at the University of Maryland, a professor and chair at the Department of Physiology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and the Dean of the College of Biological Science at the University of California-Davis. She went on to teach biology, obstetrics, gynecology, physiology, and biophysics at the University of Washington, soon becoming Executive Vice President and Provost, and finally, its President in 2010.
Wise was the first Asian-American President of the university as well as the first Asian-American woman to lead a major research university. Following her time at the University of Washington, Wise became the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Vice President of the University of Illinois, while simultaneously continuing collaborative research with students and colleagues.
Wise has devoted much of her research to women's health and gender-based biology. She has a special interest in the role of hormones and their affects on both male and female brains, especially in relation to the process of aging.
In her commencement address at Swarthmore in 2008, Wise spoke about the people who have inspired her to reach her professional goals. Individuals, both at Swarthmore and beyond, "have deeply influenced me, shaped my values, given the contours to my life," she said. "What they all share in common is the spirit of generosity." She then urged students to "give generously of your time, give generously of your experience and your ideas, give generously of your intellect, give generously of your heart [...] Give generously with dedication, with conviction, with energy, with grace, with panache, with humility."
Past Swarthmore alumni to be inducted to this group of esteemed thinkers and doers includes the astronomer Sandra Moore Faber '66 and the Princeton Professor of Molecular Biology, John J. Hopfield '54.