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Alumnus to Receive Honorary Doctorate

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Alan Mulally, KU School of Engineering alumnus and president and CEO of Ford Motor Co., will receive an honorary doctorate for his contributions, at the All University Commencement in May 2012
A former Senate leader, the current Ford Motor Company CEO, a former FDIC chairwoman and a noted choral composer are the University of Kansas’ first four honorary degree recipients.

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little today recommended to the Kansas Board of Regents that Robert J. Dole, Alan Mulally, Sheila Bair and Kirke L. Mechem be awarded honorary doctorates. The Board unanimously approved the degrees, which will be presented at KU’s Commencement on May 13, 2012.

“These four individuals are truly worthy of being the inaugural recipients of this honor. Their contributions to our world embody the mission of the University of Kansas, and they serve as outstanding role models for the leaders we’re educating at KU,” said Gray-Little.

Nominations were sought from members of the KU community and beyond. These nominations were reviewed by a committee chaired by Susan Kemper, the Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor of Psychology.

“We had a strong pool of more than 100 nominees, but these four exceptional individuals stood out for their contributions and achievements. We hope that their examples will inspire all our graduates to use the skills and knowledge they acquired at KU to aim for the stars,” said Kemper.

2012 University of Kansas honorary degree recipients:

  • For the degree of Doctor of Laws: Robert J. Dole for notable contributions as a statesman and advocate for the rights of all

  • For the degree of Doctor of Science: Alan Mulally for notable contributions to engineering and the transportation industry

  • For the degree of Doctor of Laws: Sheila Bair for notable contributions to financial policy

  • For the degree of Doctor of Arts: Kirke L. Mechem for notable contributions to choral music and opera


About Alan Mulally

After 37 years at Boeing, Alan Mulally became a “car guy,” taking over the titles of chief executive and president of Ford Motor Company in 2006. At Boeing, he was responsible for the company’s commercial airplane programs, having made significant technical contributions to the design, safety and competitiveness of Boeing’s lineup planes. By 2006 he was executive vice president and president and chief executive officer of the Commercial Airplane division. He restructured Boeing’s line of aircraft, redesigned its supplier base and production lines, and led Boeing into the digital age of aircraft design.

At Ford, he was faced with falling sales, slumping profits and the loss of market share to rival companies. Within five years, he rebuilt Ford, engineering a global comeback. His foresight led to restructuring Ford’s financial situation in 2006 by borrowing $24 bilion. That “home improvement loan” enabled Ford to weather the 2008 economic downturn without the need of a bailout from the federal government. Under Mulally, Ford has repaid $20 billion of that debt by transforming its manufacturing, design and lineup of vehicles, turning out cars that “looked better, drove better and went further on a gallon of gas.” He also saved the jobs of the 46,000 Ford employees in North America and 200,000 employees worldwide.

Mulally’s contributions to the transportation industry have not gone unnoticed. He’s been named “Businessperson of the Year” by the readers of Fortune magazine, “Industry Leader of the Year” by Automotive News, one of “The World’s Most Influential People” by Time magazine, one of the “30 Most Respected CEOs” by Barron’s, and “Person of the Year” by both the Financial Times and Aviation Week. He serves on the President’s Export Council, advising President Obama on ways to encourage companies to increase exports and develop new markets, and he has served on the advisory boards to many organizations, including NASA, MIT, the U.S. Air Force and KU. He is the past president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the past chairman of the Board of Governors of the Aerospace Industries Association. He is a fellow of the National Academy of Engineering and the Royal Academy of Engineering. He received the 2011 Edison Achievement Award in recognition of “the boldness of vision and leadership” he brought to Ford. A native of Lawrence, Kan., he received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from KU and a master’s in management from MIT.

About the Honorary Doctorate

In 2011, the Board of Regents changed its policy in order to allow honorary degrees to be awarded.

KU awards its degrees based on nominees’ outstanding scholarship, research, creative activity, service to humanity or other achievements consistent with the academic endeavors of the university. Recipients do not need to be KU alumni, and philanthropic contributions to the university are not considered during the process.

Members of the nominating committee were Professor Gerald de Sousa, English; Professor Steve Hawley, physics and astronomy; Professor Chet Johnson, pediatrics; Emily Pabst, student representative; Fred Six, alumni representative; and Professor Lisa Stehno-Bittel, physical therapy and rehabilitation sciences.

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