Three NYU professors were elected as American Academy of Arts and Sciences fellows — one of the most prestigious scholarly honors — on Thursday, April 23.
The new fellows are English Professor Emerita Mary Carruthers, Psychology Professor Gregory Murphy, Psychology Professor emeritus and Anthropology Professor Susan Antón. They are three of 276 members elected in 2020.
“It’s more like the Nobel Prize than anything else in Humanities,” Carruthers told WSN in an email. “I just got an email out of the blue one morning last week saying that I’d been elected to the Fellowship.”
In addition to the professors, the AAAS also inducted Vice-Chairman of NYU’s Board of Trustees Chandrika Tandon, although this was not stated in NYU’s initial press release. Following a 2015 donation of $100 million to the Tandon School of Engineering, the school was renamed after her and her husband. Tandon is the founder and chair of Tandon Capital Associates and chair of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering’s Board of Overseers.
The award is multidisciplinary, encompassing fields such as education, democracy and justice, energy and environment, the arts and science and technology, the AAAS website states. Former recipients include Martin Luther King Jr., Georgia O’Keeffe, Toni Morrison, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein.
The academy has elected more than 13,500 members since its conception in 1780. The election process begins with a nomination from two already-existing members — each from a different institution — and then prospective inductees are placed on a ballot.
Members vote on these ballots in sections and then place 12 members from each section to advance to a further round. In the next round, six out of the 12 members are chosen and forwarded to The Academy’s Council and Board of Directors, who then officially elect the members, according to the AAAS website.
“The primary criteria for election are excellence in the field and a record of continued accomplishment,” the website reads.
While inductees are generally chosen because they excel in their fields, the exact selection criteria remain unclear. Inductees are generally not told why they are selected, Carruthers said.
“Since the whole process is secret, I don’t know why I was selected,” Carruthers said. “I would guess it has to do with the range of other people’s research which my work has influenced over thirty years, in ways great and small.”
Though Carruthers is categorized as an English language professor, she believes that the category doesn’t reflect the interdisciplinary nature of her work, which includes research on art history and aesthetics. When her book “The Book of Memory” was published in 1990, she received correspondence from scholars in fields ranging from anthropology and sociology to computer science.
“I still regularly get questions from doctors who treat geriatric patients, and from people who work in secondary education,” Carruthers said. “I like having such a multidisciplinary audience.”
Susan Antón — who was recognized for her work in the study of early human evolution — also shared her surprise at being elected.
“The AAAS President’s office emailed me about noon on the day the awards were announced to welcome me as a newly elected member,” Antón told WSN in an email. “I already knew about the organization, of course, but I almost missed the email because I wasn’t expecting it and it looked like something I didn’t need to read right away!”
Antón also shared what the recognition meant to her personally.
“I’m pretty excited about having been elected, and quite humbled to have been included,” she said. “At the same time, there are so many deserving folks who could be in my position, that I am simply feeling very lucky to be recognized. I’m also a little sad, because my mom died this Fall and I would have loved to have been able to share this with her.”
Gregory Murphy — who is now retired — declined to comment. His research focuses primarily on the psychology of language acquisition.
Other 2020 AAAS fellows include former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, singer-songwriter Joan Baez and filmmaker Richard Linklater. It is currently unknown whether there will be the usual in-person induction ceremony for new fellows this October.
Antón hopes to meet the other inductees if it is deemed safe to hold the event.
“I am betting there will be some exciting conversations around new ideas and perspectives,” she said. “I have no idea what those will be. But even more than that, I hope that my recognition provides a little bit of possibility to some aspiring kid somewhere that anything is possible.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, May 4th, 2020 e-print edition. Email Nick Mead at [email protected]