Cora Marrett to receive UW-Madison honorary degree

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The University of Wisconsin–Madison has selected sociologist Cora Marrett as a recipient of an honorary degree this May. Educator and philanthropist Tashia Morgridge and the late musician Clyde Stubblefield were also selected. 

The honorary degrees, as well as doctoral and some professional degrees, will be presented at the 5:30 p.m. commencement ceremony on Friday, May 12, at the Kohl Center.

Honorary degrees from UW–Madison recognize individuals with careers of extraordinary accomplishment. The Committee on Honorary Degrees looks to sustained and characteristic activity as its warrant: uncommonly meritorious activity exhibiting values that are esteemed by UW–Madison. Preference is given to those who are connected in some significant way with the state or the university.

Marrett, nominated by the Department of Sociology, grew up in Kenbridge, Virginia, as the 12th child of parents with 6th grade educations. Marrett holds a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University and a master’s degree and a doctorate from UW–Madison, all in sociology. She held faculty positions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Western Michigan University before returning to UW–Madison as a faculty member in 1974. From 1992-96, she became an assistant director at the National Science Foundation, where she led the newly formed Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences.

In 1997, Marrett moved to the University of Massachusetts Amherst as provost, senior vice chancellor of academic affairs, and professor of sociology and Afro-American studies. From 2001 to 2007, Marrett was the University of Wisconsin System’s senior vice president for academic affairs. In 2007, she was hired once again as an NSF assistant director, which led to the job of acting director in 2010 and finally, deputy director in May 2011.

While at UW–Madison, she was regarded as a stellar teacher and mentor and was recognized by the Wisconsin Alumni Association in 2012 with a Distinguished Alumni Award. Marrett had appointments in sociology and Afro-American studies and was affiliated with the Energy Analysis and Policy program and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

“She repeatedly stresses that science is a human enterprise and that people are the core of science,” wrote Pam Oliver and James Raymo, both professors of sociology, in their nomination letter for Marrett. “She is a center of calm and reason amidst political waves and a moral inspiration to all with her calls to all scientists to look outside ourselves and our careers and serve both the community of science and the larger society. She is a true leader who has made an extensive difference in science and society.”

Read more about the other honorary degree recipients at