UI senate nominates two for honorary degrees

UI senate nominates two for honorary degrees

URBANA — A renowned mathematician and a businessman who has used his millions to improve life for India and its poor have been nominated to receive honorary degrees next May at the University of Illinois.

The campus senate approved two nominees on a voice vote Monday: Professor George Andrews, math professor at Penn State University and an internationally recognized number theorist; and Narayana Murthy, executive chairman of Infosys Ltd., one of the largest information technology companies in India.

The senate's Committee on Honorary Degrees presented the nominees publicly, and they were approved by the full senate with no discussion and only one "nay" vote, for Murthy. The nominees will be forwarded to the UI Board of Trustees for final approval.

The senate — a quasi-legislative body of faculty, students and academic professionals — for decades had discussed the awarding of honorary degrees behind closed doors until The News-Gazette last spring raised questions about the group's practice, which does not comply with the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The state law outlines specific reasons for when public bodies can meet in closed session; discussion of honorary degrees is not among those listed.

The senate consulted with UI attorneys and agreed with that interpretation and decided it would no longer hold closed meetings to discuss honorary degrees.

The senate had met in a closed session in early March to discuss a possible honorary doctorate degree for billionaire alumnus Shahid Khan, a Pakistani native and UI alumnus. No vote was taken that day, but senators sent the recommendation back to a commtitee, and ultimately Khan's name was withdrawn from consideration.

Several faculty members questioned giving Khan an honorary doctorate because of unresolved concerns about alleged safety violations and anti-union activity at his Urbana-based company Flex-N-Gate, The News-Gazette learned. Khan, who is also president of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, was chosen to deliver the 2013 commencement address. He received a bachelor's degree in engineering from the university in 1971.

Andrews is an internationally recognized number theorist and "the preeminent authority on the mathematical theories of partitions and q-series as well as their application to statistical physics," according to his nomination papers. Andrews has advanced the visibility of his subject by clarifying the pioneering work of Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

"Through expository writing, public lectures, and as a consultant for a PBS documentary on Ramanujan, he has helped to put a human face on an often esoteric subject," the nomination said.

UI math Professor Bruce Berndt, who nominated Andrews, said it has been suggested that Andrews' 1976 discovery of Ramanujan's "Lost Notebook" in the Trinity College library would be comparable, in the music world, to finding Beethoven's 10th symphony.

"Andrews has been a tireless servant to mathematical endeavors at all levels with a longstanding interest in elementary and high school education," Berndt wrote.

Andrews received his bachelor's and master's degrees at Oregon State University and his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

Murthy was nominated by Narendra Ahuja and Janak Patel, both emeritus professors of engineering at the UI.

The nomination called Murthy "one of the world's most visionary entrepreneurs and distinguished business leaders." His leadership at Infosys has transformed the country's economy and put India on the world stage, it said.

"Murthy is a humanitarian who believes that the real power of success is in generosity. He has established the Infosys Science Foundation to recognize scientific research and the Infosys Foundation to address the basic needs of the poorest of the poor," the nomination stated.

In 1981, Murthy founded Infosys Limited along with six younger colleagues in Bangalore, India, Ahuja and Patel said. The founders had to borrow the initial seed capital of about $250 from their wives, as no bank was willing to fund them. Under Murthy's leadership, Infosys emerged as a leading provider of information technology services globally, and has grown into an organization with revenue of $6.35 billion, more than 600 clients and 133,000 employees, according to the nomination.

He also created one of the world's largest stock-option plans for the employees of Infosys by giving away as much as 35 percent of the total equity. The Infosys Foundation has created libraries for poor children in 15,000 villages in India; provided scholarships to thousands of poor children; built hospitals; supported cultural activities; and supported Akshaya Patra, the largest free-lunch program in the world.

He received his engineering/technology degrees in India.

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