UMass Amherst to Award Seven Honorary Degrees at Commencement Exercises May 20-21

AMHERST, Mass. - Seven individuals will receive honorary degrees from the University of Massachusetts at Commencement ceremonies May 20-21.

The honorary degree recipients are:

* Jeffrey A. Davidow, University alumnus and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico; doctor of laws;

* Evan S. Dobelle, University alumnus and president of Trinity College, Hartford, Conn.; doctor of public service;

* Eugene M. Isenberg, University alumnus and chairman and chief executive officer of Nabors Industries Inc., Houston, Texas; doctor of public service;

* Ahmed M. Kathrada, South African freedom-fighter and former member of the South African Parliament; doctor of laws;

* Billie Jean King, tennis champion and advocate for equal rights; doctor of humane letters;

* Bruce M. Penniman, University alumnus and 1999 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year; doctor of humane letters;

* Edgar E. Smith, former vice president for academic affairs for the University system; doctor of science.

Dobelle, Kathrada, and Penniman will receive their honorary degrees during the graduate Commencement Sat. May 20 at 10:30 a.m. in the William D. Mullins Memorial Center. Honorary degrees will be conferred on King, Smith, Isenberg, and Davidow during undergraduate ceremonies Sun. May 21 at 10:30 a.m. in Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium. King will deliver the main address at that event.


Jeffrey Davidow received a bachelor''s degree in history from the University in 1965. After additional study at the University of Minnesota and in India, he joined the U.S. State Department in 1969, entering the foreign service. During his 31-year-career in foreign affairs, Davidow has received four presidential appointments, each confirmed by the U.S. Senate: as assistant secretary of state for Latin America, and as ambassador to Zambia, Venezuela, and Mexico. He has also held various positions within the State Department and in U.S. embassies in Guatemala, Chile, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

Evan S. Dobelle was named 18th president of Trinity College in 1994. Under his leadership, the college has launched a series of new academic initiatives, successfully completed a $100-million capital campaign ahead of schedule, and spearheaded a $250-million neighborhood revitalization effort. Dobelle received his bachelor''s, master''s, and doctoral degrees in education from the University, and also holds a master''s in public administration from Harvard University. At Trinity, he teaches courses in public policy, drawing from his experience as mayor of Pittsfield, as commissioner of environmental management and natural resources for Massachusetts, and as U.S. chief of protocol for the White House and assistant secretary of state with the rank of ambassador during the Carter administration. Prior to assuming his current position at Trinity, Dobelle served as chancellor and president of City College of San Francisco and before that as president of Middlesex (Mass.) Community College.

Eugene Isenberg and his wife, Ronnie, have donated $6 million to Campaign UMass in support of the Isenberg School of Management, which bears his name. Isenberg received a bachelor''s degree from UMass in 1950, and also hold a master''s degree from Princeton University. He is currently chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer of Nabors Industries Inc., of Houston, the world''s largest land and offshore platform drilling company. Isenberg previously was chairman and principal shareholder of Genimar Inc., a steel trading and building products manufacturing company, and he also served in various management positions with Exxon Corp. A longtime supporter of UMass, Isenberg was named the School of Management''s 1997 Alumnus of the Year. His past support of the Amherst campus has included funding for 10 annual two-year scholarships for outstanding students who demonstrate talent in combining business disciplines with the sciences and engineering.

A South African freedom-fighter and friend and ally of Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada spent 26 years imprisoned on the notorious Robben Island with Mandela and Walter Sisulu and others for their political activities with the African National Congress (ANC). Soon after his release in 1989, Kathrada was elected to the National Executive Committee of the ANC, and in 1994 he went on to win a place in South Africa''s first freely elected parliament and was appointed, while a member of Parliament, to be Parliamentary Counsellor in the Office of the President from 1994-99. He is currently chairman of the Ex-Political Prisoners Committee and of the Robben Island Museum Council. His book, "Letters from Robben Island: A Selection of Ahmed Kathrada''s Prison Correspondence, 1964-1989," was published in 1999.

Billie Jean King was ranked the No. 1 tennis player in the world five times and was named among the top 10 players for a total of 17 years, beginning in 1960. She won a record 20 Wimbledon titles (six of them in singles play), and was a four-time winner of the U.S. Open. She defeated Bobby Riggs in the celebrated "Battle of the Sexes" in 1973. King is widely recognized for spearheading the women''s movement in tennis and as a champion of equal rights in society. In 1990, Life magazine named her one of the "100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century," and she ranked No. 5 on Sports Illustrated''s "Top 40 Athletes" list in 1994 for her contribution to sports.

Bruce Penniman has been a member of the English department at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School for 29 years, and in addition to numerous other awards for teaching, he was chosen 1999 Teacher of the Year by the Massachusetts Department of Education. Penniman began a second term as English department head in 1997, having already served in that capacity from 1973-82. Since 1986 he has been faculty adviser to "The Graphic," the school''s student newspaper, which has won many awards locally and throughout New England. He is a co-director of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and has made presentations and authored numerous articles in his field. Penniman received all his degrees, including a bachelor''s, master''s, and Ed.D., from the University.

Edgar Smith has served the University in several key faculty and administrative roles: at the medical school as associate professor of biochemistry (1974-91), associate dean for academic affairs (1974-77), and provost (1975-83), and as vice president for academic affairs for the University of Massachusetts system (1983-91). In 1991, Smith joined the New England Education Loan Marketing Corporation (Nellie Mae), serving for three years as vice president, academic and community programs. In 1995, he became interim president of Tougaloo College. He is currently program director for the area health education center program of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he is also a clinical professor of family medicine. Smith is a graduate of Tougaloo College, and received his master''s and doctoral degrees from Purdue University.