Marsalis, Xu Bing among new Professors-at-Large

Wynton Marsalis
Bruno Latour
Theda Skocpol
David Stevenson
Xu Bing

Jazz trumpeter, composer and educator Wynton Marsalis will make extended visits to Cornell to interact with students and faculty and present programming on campus as an Andrew Dickson White Professor-at-Large.

He is one of five newly elected professors-at-large in the humanities and social and physical sciences who will come to Cornell over the next six years. The others are anthropologist Bruno Latour, political scholar Theda Skocpol, planetary scientist David Stevenson, Ph.D. ’76, and artist Xu Bing. All were elected to six-year terms – beginning July 1, 2015, and ending June 30, 2021 – by the Cornell University Board of Trustees at its March meeting.

A.D. White Professors-at-Large are considered full members of the Cornell faculty. Outstanding intellectuals from across the globe hold the title, with the mandate to enliven the intellectual and cultural life of the university. Each visits the campus for about a week while classes are in session, at least twice during his or her term.

• Latour is a French philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist known for his work in science and technology studies, and in developing new lines of inquiry about ecological crises, scientific and religious practices, materiality, modernity and numerous other subjects. Considered a central figure in contemporary discourse, Latour has a particular gift for framing complex ideas in terms that clarify them for a broad audience, and he has been involved in numerous art installations, MOOCs and digital humanities projects.

Latour’s work provokes collaborative interactions between social scientists and bench scientists, archaeologists and ecologists, and literary critics and scholars of cutting-edge technology. He is a professor at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, a Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics and an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

• Born into a talented New Orleans musical family, Marsalis has dedicated his life and career to fostering an appreciation and respect for jazz as an American art form. He is artistic director and co-founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center, a performance space and center for research, advocacy and educational programming in jazz studies and performance. Marsalis’ discography features more than 70 recordings. Many of his compositions bridge conceptual divides between jazz and classical music – from “All Rise,” written for big band, gospel choir and symphony orchestra, to music for major dance works by the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Twyla Tharp and Alvin Ailey. His oratorio “Blood on the Fields” received the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for music; other honors include nine Grammy Awards and the National Medal of the Arts in 2005.

• Skocpol is a widely respected and influential public intellectual, political scientist, historian and sociologist. The Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University, she has taken on some of the most important and controversial themes in the political landscape and made key contributions to the study of comparative politics.

As a sociologist her work has informed studies of the history of states, social welfare and gender; and she is one of the most widely cited scholars in political science literature. Her groundbreaking book “States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China” (1979) has been translated into nine languages. More recently, she co-authored “The Tea Party and the Remaking of American Conservatism” (2012) and “Health Care Reform and American Politics” (2010). She is an elected member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the National Academy of Sciences.

• Stevenson is a highly decorated astrophysicist whose creative studies of planetary chemistry and electromagnetism have opened new fields of research. He serves as lead investigator on NASA’s Juno mission to explore the interior of Jupiter.

He has conducted pioneering research in Earth science, planetary science (including the origin of the moon) and astrophysics. A curiosity-driven approach to problem solving has led him to such questions as whether free-floating planets might be habitable, or how to directly sample the Earth’s core. Stevenson studied with famed astrophysicist Edwin Salpeter at Cornell.

He is the Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Planetary Science at the California Institute of Technology and a recipient of CalTech’s highest honor for teaching. A native New Zealander, he is a fellow of the Royal Society and a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences.

• Xu Bing’s artistic and cultural work includes public and ecological art, printmaking, new media installations, drawing and sculpture, earning him international recognition and a 1999 MacArthur Fellowship. He resides in the U.S. and Beijing, where he is vice president of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts and teaches graduate students.

While studying and teaching at CAFA in the 1980s, he devoted four years to creating more than four thousand “fake” Chinese characters. The work was presented in 1988 in Beijing at the first major contemporary art exhibition in China.

He moved to the United States in 1990 and has had solo exhibitions at venues worldwide, including the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell in 2002, the 45th and 51st Venice Biennales and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He discussed his recent work in a public lecture on campus in October.

These professors-at-large “will inspire our community with their singular talents and gifts,” said A.D. White Professors-at-Large program chair Robert Raguso, professor and chair of neurobiology and behavior. “When viewed together, this slate of new professors-at-large, along with our present roster, embodies our program’s mission to present a full spectrum of inspiring intellectual and professional leaders to our faculty and students, from the natural and physical sciences to the social sciences, the humanities and the arts.”

There are currently 16 active professors-at-large at Cornell, including South African lawyer, judge and human rights activist Albie Sachs (2012-18), who will visit for a week in September; and Canadian poet Anne Carson (2010-16), also returning to campus this fall.

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Joe Schwartz