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Honorary Degree Recipients to be Honored at OU Commencement

Honorary Degree Recipients to be Honored at OU Commencement

The University of Oklahoma will present honorary degrees to James T. Bialac, Carol Jean Robinson Burr, Chun Chia Lin and Reggie N. Whitten.

Four outstanding individuals will join University of Oklahoma Commencement speaker Elizabeth Garrett, the president-elect of Cornell University and a distinguished legal scholar, in being awarded honorary degrees at OU’s 2015 Commencement Ceremony, scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, May 8, at The Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, 180 W. Brooks St.

In addition to Garrett, the following will be awarded honorary degrees:

- James T. Bialac, Scottsdale, Arizona, one of the most important private collectors of Native American Art in the country, who has helped provide new insight into Native American culture

- Carol Jean Robinson Burr, Norman, an OU alumna who has chronicled the life of OU for decades, providing a rich historic, archive of the people and events that shaped the institution

- Chun Chia Lin, Madison, Wisconsin, research physicist and distinguished faculty member who has led one of the world’s foremost groups of physicists studying atomic collisions

- Reggie N. Whitten, Edmond, founder and leader of several national and international nonprofit organizations that have improved and enriched the lives of thousands of young people, including at-risk youth, both nationally and internationally

“The university is proud to honor these outstanding individuals who have made a great contribution to the university, state and nation,” said OU President David L. Boren.

James T. Bialac

Through the gift of his collections to OU, Bialac has helped provide new insight into Native American culture.  His collections provide as an important academic resource for art history students, including graduate students in OU’s Ph.D. program in Native American art.

As an attorney, he has built strong relationships with many prominent artists through his legal practice and served as a juror for many of the more important exhibitions of contemporary Native art, including the Santa Fe Indian Market.  His collection encompasses more than 4,000 works that represents indigenous cultures across North America, especially the Pueblos of the Southwest, the Navajo, the Hopi, many tribes of the Northern and Southern Plains and the Southeastern tribes.  It also includes approximately 2,600 paintings and works on paper, 1,000 kachinas and 100 pieces of jewelry representing major Native artists.  Selections from his almost 50-year collection are displayed at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, the Donald E. Pray Law Library and other OU campus locations, where they serve as a major educational tool. 

Burr’s distinguished career has centered on OU and Sooner Magazine as well as OU historical publications. Prior to graduating from OU in 1959 with a journalism degree with special distinction, Burr worked part-time at the magazine as assistant editor during her senior year. Upon graduation, she was named editor of the magazine, which at the time, was the official magazine of the alumni association.

During the mid-‘60s and ‘70s, Burr took a “sabbatical” from OU and raised three children, returning to OU in 1980 to edit the institution’s 90th anniversary history, The Sooner Story: Ninety Years at the University of Oklahoma 1890-1980. Since 1980, she has served as director of publications for the OU Foundation and once again took on the title of editor of Sooner Magazine in its new incarnation as a general interest magazine for alumni and donors. She also served as author and editor of Centennial: A Portrait of the University of Oklahoma. She has long been an active member of the Norman community, serving on boards for numerous nonprofit and social organizations.

Chun Chia Lin

Lin, a research physicist and distinguished faculty member first at the University of Oklahoma and now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has lead one of the world’s foremost groups of physicists studying atomic collisions, thereby furthering the world’s understanding of the basic nature of the atomic and molecular process in ionized gases. 

A consummate professor, Lin has provided educational supervision for over 48 Ph.D. candidates, many of whom went on to achieve prominent positions within the field, including Neal Lane, former Science Advisor to the President of the United States; Donald Johnson, Director of the National Technical Information Service; and Jeff Chilton, Center for Naval Analyses. Lin earned his undergraduate degree at the University of California-Berkley and his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1955, the same year he joined OU as an assistant professor in physics.  While at OU, he initiated a seminal program on electron excitation of atoms in collaboration with Robert M. St John.  He has served as the chairman of the Gaseous Electronics Conference and chair of the Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics of the American Physical Society.  In 1996, the American Physical Society honored Lin with the Will Allis Prize for his contributions to the study of ionized gases.  He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and a former Alfred P. Sloane Foundation Fellow. He serves as The John and Abigail Van Vleck Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Reggie Whitten

Whitten, the first member of his family to graduate college, has established and lead for establishing several non-profit organizations that have improved and enriched the lives of thousands of young people, including at-risk youth, both nationally and internationally.  In honor of his son, who died tragically, Whitten created the organization, F.A.T.E. (Fighting Addiction Through Education), to warn of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse while providing resources for those who already suffer from addiction. 

He also co-founded Pros for Africa, a nonprofit relief organization that has partnered with sports professionals, physicians and engineers to provide food, water, clothing and medicine to at-risk children in northern Uganda and southern Sudan. Additionally, together with his wife, Rachelle, and brother-in-law, Robert Newman, he created the Whitten-Newman Foundation to enhance the lives of young people.  The Whitten-Newman Foundation in collaboration with the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History created ExplorOlogy, a science education program that engages and benefits countless Oklahoma youth through authentic and exciting science experiences.

Whitten earned a degree in political science from OU in 1977 and completed his Juris Doctor from the OU College of Law in 1980.  He has been honored with the Jasmine Moran Children's Museum Benefactor award, the Journal Record Leadership in Law Award and the Jefferson Society Award from the Oklahoma Association for Justice. 

Further information on Commencement and a complete schedule of college convocations are available on the university’s Commencement website at

For additional information on Commencement, please contact the Graduation Office at (405) 325-0841 or visit