The Carnegie Corporation of New York has announced the passing of its longtime president, Vartan Gregorian, at the age of 87.
A distinguished historian and humanities scholar, Gregorian taught European and Middle Eastern history at San Francisco State University, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Pennsylvania and served as president and CEO of the New York Public Library and president of Brown University before joining Carnegie in 1997. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.
As he made clear over decades of speaking and writing, Gregorian viewed foundations as stewards of a public trust and stressed the need for philanthropies to be open and transparent. At Carnegie, he led an in-depth review of the scope and effectiveness of the foundation's grantmaking that resulted in a new focus on partnering with other foundations and a greater emphasis on the evaluation and dissemination of its programmatic work. Under his leadership, the foundation also joined with the Institute for Advanced Study to create a commission to determine how best to enhance the capacity of schools and universities to generate strategies that would increase access to high-quality education for every student in every classroom; launched a program to strengthen higher education in the former Soviet Union, concentrating on the humanities and the social sciences; and partnered with the Ford, MacArthur, Rockefeller, Hewlett, Packard, and Kresge foundations to form the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa.
The foundation's Strengthening U.S. Democracy program also grew during his tenure, adding a mandate to develop programs in the areas of immigrant naturalization and civic engagement, and he instituted the Carnegie Scholars program, an initiative aimed at supporting innovative and pathbreaking public scholarship that came to focus exclusively on Islam and the modern world. Through the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education, he brought the corporation's work across the areas of education, civics, and journalism together with that of many of its peer foundations, and in 2001 he launched the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy program, an initiative aimed at inspiring a culture of giving in the tradition of Andrew Carnegie.
Often described as "a citizen of the world," Gregorian was born in Tabriz, Iran, to Armenian parents, received his secondary education in Beirut, Lebanon, and attended Stanford University, where he also earned his doctorate. While teaching at Penn, he became a U.S. citizen and was asked to deliver remarks for the occasion, saying: "Like many other immigrant forefathers of ours, we have come not only to enjoy the benefits of America but to contribute to its development, to its growth, and to its welfare. We have come to contribute to the achievement of what is left undone or unfinished in the agenda of American democracy. We have come to contribute to that perfect union."
"We will always salute Vartan Gregorian for his generosity of spirit, keen and probing intellect, and tireless dedication to making this world a better place — as a scholar, educator, mentor, colleague, and above all as an unstinting advocate for the causes he held most dear: education, democracy, and world peace," said board vice chair Janet L. Robinson. "Like Andrew Carnegie, Vartan was a proud immigrant to this great nation — and he led a truly remarkable life, one epitomizing the American Dream. We are all inspired by his example. His impact was and will remain global. I mourn the loss of a great friend — and a great man."