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Alfred University to confer two honorary degrees this spring
2/24/17

Warren Sutton, pictured above, and George Beal will receive honorary degrees from Alfred University

Warren Sutton, pictured above, and George Beal will receive honorary degrees from Alfred University

Alfred University will award two honorary degrees this spring. One, to a former African-American student, Warren Sutton, rights an institutional wrong that occurred over a half century ago. The other, to George Beall, honors more than 50 years of exemplary scientific achievement.

“Awarding an honorary degree to Warren Sutton helps heal a wound suffered in 1959 by one of its greatest all-time student athletes” said Alfred University President Mark Zupan.

Sutton arrived in Alfred from Chester, PA, in 1957. He enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and excelled not only in the classroom, but also as an All-American player on the basketball court. Under Alfred University coach Peter Smith, he became one of the country’s leading rebounders, once scoring 39 points and 34 rebounds in a memorable game against Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey.

But Alfred University honors him in 2017 not for his extraordinary basketball skills, but for his character and his history. 

In the fall of his junior year, Sutton became romantically involved with a woman whose father was a university official. Although most university students and faculty accepted an interracial relationship—Sutton is African American and she was Caucasian—some administrators were less tolerant. Faced with mounting pressure from the administration and the Athletics Department to break off the relationship and fearing expulsion if he did not, Warren withdrew from the University, a move that allowed him to transfer his records to another university.  

The story soon became a national sensation after he and his girlfriend disappeared in New York City. Her parents filed a missing person’s alert. New York City police eventually discovered the couple in a downtown movie theater, but not before the press, including the New York Times, Time Magazine, and even the International Herald Tribune, made a private affair hugely public.

Sutton transferred to Acadia University in Canada and became the first player from a Canadian university ever drafted into the National Basketball Association. Following his basketball career, Sutton became a computer systems analyst for the City of Kitchener, Ontario. He also coached women’s university junior varsity and varsity teams.

Alfred University inducted Sutton into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986.

Alfred University History Professor Gary Ostrower, a former classmate of Sutton, recounted the story to Zupan shortly before Zupan became the University’s 14th president in July 2016. Because the tale was so at odds with Alfred University’s history–Alfred University had been the first college in the nation to admit women on a fully equal basis with men, and among the first to admit African-Americans and Native Americans–Zupan wrote an apology to Sutton on behalf of the university.

Sutton’s reply “brought tears to my eyes,” Zupan admits. Sutton noted that “this simple and sincere gesture is appreciated and only further enhances my love and appreciation of my experiences at Alfred.”   

From the perspective of nearly 60 years, said President Zupan, “we judge our university’s role in this affair to be inexcusable and something that cannot be swept under the proverbial rug.” Upon the recommendation of its chair, Les Gelber ‘77, the Alfred University’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to confer upon Sutton an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the University’s annual Commencement ceremony on May 13. 

The university is also awarding a second well-deserved honorary degree. “It is so fitting for Alfred University to award an honorary degree to George Beall,” said Zupan. “As a glass scientist at Corning, Inc., Dr. Beall has had an extraordinary impact on the field of glass science. He was a protégé of the renowned Don Stookey, and has gone on to become a legend himself at Corning where he is a Corporate Fellow.”

The bond between Alfred University, which offers the nation’s only Ph.D. in glass science, and Corning, Incorporated, is strong and deep, said Zupan, noting that Corning employs more than 300 Alfred University alumni.

Beall was nominated for an honorary degree by distinguished glass scientist Dr. L. David Pye, who had served as dean at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. 

 Beall, said Pye, “achieved what industrial scientists covet most: successful experimental programs leading to valuable commercialization.” 

Since joining Corning, Incorporated, 54 years ago, Beall has been granted more than 100 U.S. patents, the first Corning employee to reach that milestone.

A native of Montreal, Canada, Beall received an undergraduate degree in geology from McGill University in 1956 and earned a Ph.D. in geology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1962. His future wife, Janet, an employee at Corning’s Central Falls (RI) plant, introduced him to the plant manager who offered Dr. Beall a job as a research geologist/mineralogist working under Dr. Stookey. Combining his background in geology and guidance from Stookey, Beall produced a transparent and colorless glass ceramic in 1963, the first of many such innovations resulting in new Corning products.

Officially retired since 2002, Beall still works on a number of projects with Corning’s glass research group. He has been a mentor to generations of Corning scientists.

Beall recently wrote to Zupan: “It is indeed a great honor both to be considered and unanimously voted by Alfred University’s Board of Trustees for an Honorary Doctorate. I am delighted to accept this honor, and certainly want to especially thank David Pye, a good friend for many years, for the nomination. It is very humbling to see myself in the impressive group of Alfred Honorary Degree recipients, including Dr. Stookey who received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Alfred University in 1984.”

The conferral of Beall’s degree will take place at Corning, Incorporated, later this spring.