Former University president William Bowen *58 and sportswriter Frank Deford ’61 are among the 12 men and women slated to receive the 2012 National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama this afternoon. Natalie Zemon Davis, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, emeritus, also will be honored. 


William Bowen *58 (Photo: Courtesy David Lubarsky)

Bowen, Princeton’s 17th president, was selected in recognition of “his contributions to the study of economics and his probing research on higher education in America,” according to the National Endowment for the Humanities. He earned his Ph.D. in economics in 1958 and joined the faculty soon after graduation. After serving as provost under then-President Robert Goheen ’40 *48, Bowen became president from 1972 to 1988. But beyond the campus, he is best known for his research on issues in higher education, including affirmative action (covered by Bowen and former Harvard president Derek Bok in the 2000 book The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions), and intercollegiate athletics (the topic of 2001’s The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values, written with James Shulman). 

More recently, Bowen reflected on his years as Princeton’s president in Lessons Learned: Reflections of a University President (2010), which used personal experiences to explore larger themes. “I was concerned that the book would be too Princeton-centric, since many of the examples and most of my experiences were at Princeton,” Bowen told PAW contributor Merrell Noden ’78. “But I must also say that people from a wide range of very different institutions said many of these principles and propositions are really universal. They apply at my community college as well as at a big land-grant university, as well as a liberal-arts college.” 

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Frank Deford '61 (Photo: Courtesy Overlook Press)

Deford, a longtime writer for Sports Illustrated and regular contributor to NPR’s Morning Edition and HBO’s Real Sports, will be honored “for transforming how we think about sports.” In an interview for a 2009 profile, Deford told PAW that he’d wanted to be a writer since grade school, and Princeton proved to be a good place to practice his craft. He was a prolific contributor to The Daily Princetonian, PAW, and The Princeton Tiger. He joined SI soon after leaving the University, covering basketball and tennis as well as several sports outside the mainstream, such as roller derby. 

Deford’s thoughtful reporting and engaging voice differentiated him from his peers in the profession. He was selected as Sportswriter of the Year six times and won a National Magazine Award in 1999. But in spite of the honors, his humility has remained intact. In his 2012 autobiography, Over Time, Deford pointed out that in Baltimore, his hometown, a middling racehorse named in his honor seemed to get more respect than the writer. “Not once was [the horse] Frank Deford’s name spelled Frank DeFord … And when the race was run, on those few occasions when the track announcer mentioned Frank Deford’s name, he pronounced it Di-FORD and not Deaf-ird,” he wrote. “I shoulda been a horse.”

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