MOH recipient Sasser, computer scientist receiving honorary degrees from Texas A&M

By ALLEN REED | The Eagle, Bryan, Texas | Published: May 8, 2014

BRYAN, Texas — A renowned computer scientist and a Medal of Honor recipient will be welcomed into the Aggie family on Friday.

Texas A&M is set to award two men with honorary degrees: Judea Pearl, known internationally for his contributions to artificial intelligence, human reasoning and philosophy of science, and Clarence Sasser, a Vietnam veteran who was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The university will present degrees to both during spring commencement ceremonies in Reed Arena. There have been only 66 prior honorary degrees awarded. Nominees are selected by a department or college, voted on by the faculty senate and ultimately approved by the A&M president. The degrees were temporarily discontinued from 1956 to 1989, when an honorary degree was bestowed on former President George H. W. Bush.

"These are very high-level people that have been very successful in their life and will shine brightly on Texas A&M and Texas A&M will, we feel, add prestige to their status around the world," said Jim Woosley, A&M faculty senate speaker-elect. " ... I think it's important for A&M to recognize excellence in the fields we relate to and to give credit to people that we think have exceptional service, research or scholarly activities."

Pearl works for the University of California, Los Angeles, and in 2011 won the A.M. Turing Award, the highest distinction in computer science. He is the father of former Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who in 2002 was kidnapped and murdered by al-Qaida in Pakistan. Judea Pearl serves as president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, which sponsors journalism fellowships, organizes worldwide concerts and sponsors public dialogues between Jews and Muslims.

Pearl said Friday it will be his first trip to College Station.

"I'm very grateful to be invited and to be present at commencement," Pearl said. "I'm hoping I'm right in detecting the spark of enlightenment that can be developed into collaboration and new research on hard-to-handle policy analysis and cause-effect relationships in economics."

Sasser was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1969 by then-President Richard Nixon. Serving as an Army medic in Vietnam, he responded to a crashed U.S. helicopter and was wounded while treating soldiers on the battlefield. Sasser's legs were immobilized by a mortar, but he dragged himself through a rice paddy to save the lives of his fellow soldiers. Sasser, following his service, was recruited to A&M by legendary A&M President James Earl Rudder but never graduated. In February, Sasser was enshrined as the first black veteran and first Vietnam veteran to A&M's Hall of Honor.

"I think Mr. Sasser's service to our country is exemplary," said Christine Stanley, A&M's vice president and associate provost for diversity. "The leadership and valor he displayed represents the embodiment of an Aggie. He's most worthy of his honor and I congratulate and welcome him to this select group of highly distinguished individuals."


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