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Washington and Lee Awards Three Honorary Degrees


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Jeffery G. Hanna
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Washington and Lee University bestowed three honorary degrees during its commencement exercises on Thursday, June 4, 2009.

• Charles Johnson, award-winning author and the S. Wilson and Grace M. Pollock Professor for Excellence in English at the University of Washington, received an honorary doctor of letters;

• Alex Jones, a 1968 graduate of Washington and Lee, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, received an honorary doctor of humane letters;

• Susan Tifft, co-author with Alex Jones of critically acclaimed books about the newspaper families behind the New York Times and the Louisville Courier Journal, and the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy Studies at Duke University, received the honorary doctor of humane letters.

On May 9, during the law school commencement, the University conferred upon Lord Nicholas Addison Phillips, president of the newly formed Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, an honorary doctor of laws degree..


From left, Alex Jones, Susan Tifft and Charles Johnson

Charles Johnson is the author of 16 books, more than 20 screenplays and numerous essays, articles, short stories and literary reviews. He has also worked as an editor, cartoonist and journalist and has published more than 1,000 drawings in national publications.

His novel “Middle Passage” won the 1990 National Book Award in fiction in 1990, making him the first African-American male to win this prize since Ralph Ellison in 1953. Johnson has received NEA and Guggenheim fellowships, a Writers Guild Award for his PBS drama “Booker,” and numerous other prizes, honorary degrees and awards, including a MacArthur genius grant.

In recognizing Johnson, W&L noted in the honorary degree citation how he “challenges the assumptions and beliefs of his readers and refuses all simplifications of the complexity of American reality, whether in terms of race, gender, history, politics or religion."

Jones, a member of a Tennessee newspaper family, moved from a newspaper in his home state to the New York Times, where he covered the press from 1983 to 1992 and won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the collapse of the Bingham family’s newspaper dynasty in Louisville, Ky.

With his wife, Susan Tifft, Jones co-authored “The Patriarch: The Rise and Fall of the Bingham Dynasty” and “The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times.” From 1993 to 1997, Jones hosted National Public Radio’s “On the Media,” which examined all aspects of news coverage and media issues. He has also served as host and executive director of PBS’ “Media Matters.”

In 1998, he and Tifft were jointly named the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism at Duke University. In 2000, Jones joined Harvard in his current capacity as the director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

W&L recognized Jones for “his sterling career as an award-winning journalist and author.”

Tifft began a prolific career in journalism at Time magazine, where she was a national writer and associate editor from 1982 to 1991. She published hundreds of articles in such widely ranging and widely read publications as Time, the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Smithsonian Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Glamour and Working Woman.

In 1999, Tifft co-authored with her husband, Alex Jones, the best-selling and award-winning book “The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times .” She and Jones had previously co-authored “The Patriarch: The Rise and Fall of the Bingham Dynasty.”

Tifft, currently the Eugene C. Patterson Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy Studies at her alma mater, Duke University, was recently honored with the creation there of the Susan Tifft Undergraduate Teaching/Mentoring Award.

In the citation marking her degree, W&L praised Tifft for bringing to her readers “remarkable insight into print and broadcast journalism, and a profound understanding of the media, its owners and the influences that shape it.”