BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Vartan Gregorian, when did you get an idea that an autobiography would work?
VARTAN GREGORIAN, AUTHOR, "THE ROAD TO HOME: MY LIFE AND TIMES": I was in the hospital 1999, was separated from my left kidney. And at that time, I realized, as I faced my mortality, that my sons, my friends, don`t know about private Gregorian, they only know a public persona. So I said, I`m going to write about my life, my career, my childhood, my education. Initially, it was writing about the concept of an educated person, how it has changed from Renaissance to now. But it got so big, my editor said, Why don`t you write about your own education? So without hospital, I would not have been writing about it.
LAMB:Four or five of your biggest jobs -- right now, you`re president, Carnegie Corporation.
GREGORIAN: Yes. Prior to that, I was president of Brown University for nine years. Prior to that, president of the New York Public Library for eight years. Prior to that, provost, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences of University of Pennsylvania for eight years.
LAMB:Born in what city?
GREGORIAN: Born in Tabriz, Iran, northern Iran, of Armenian parents, and left Iran when I was 14 then at 15, went to Lebanon, French Armenian where I was educated.
LAMB:What does it mean to be an Armenian?
GREGORIAN: It`s almost to be part of Job`s family, the Book of Job. I compare in my book Jews and Armenians as being part of the Book of Job, always being tested, always suffering, never giving up, part of it a defiance, part of it perseverance, part of it is fate, part of it is hope, part of it just struggling to be and become.
LAMB:Where is Armenia?
GREGORIAN: Well, that`s one of the things I had a hard time finding. There is an Armenia which was one of 16 Soviet republics, now independent Armenian republic, but also big diaspora from 11 century on all over Eastern Europe and then Western Europe, then Far East to Singapore, Indonesia, all over the world. Other than Jews and Chinese, maybe Armenians are one of the most dispersed people around the world.
LAMB:Why are they dispersed?
GREGORIAN: Why? Well, 11th century start -- until 11th century, Armenians put up with any person who came to occupy them, power. 11th century, they exchanged their properties with Byzantine emperor to move into inside hinterlands of Byzantine empire in order not to fight. And that`s hence started the migration of Armenians, first to Ukraine and then to Crimea, then Ukraine, Poland and even Hungary and elsewhere. So some of the nobility of -- Polish nobility …Armenians, then became assimilated as Catholics, became Catholic and become assimilated. And then during 1890s, because of Sultan Abdel Hamid (ph) and his policies of massacres and so forth, part of Armenians fled, migrated to United States and France and elsewhere. And 1915, after Armenian genocide, most of remnants went to Middle Eastern countries and some to Soviet Russia, and some of them were held and kept by American missionaries and American relief, headed by President Hoover before he became president. Even under the Soviet rule, 1921 to `23, after 300,000 -- 200,000 or 300,000 Armenian orphans were fed by Americans, one of the biggest relief histories in the modern world. Almost $100 million was collected for not only Armenians but for Kurds, Turks and all the people who -- Assyrians (ph) -- who suffered during World War I.
LAMB:On the cover of this book are two pictures.
LAMB:One is obvious. It`s a picture of you today. Where was that taken, by the way?
GREGORIAN: That was by Aaron Shickler (ph), New York Public Library, when I retired as president of the New York Public Library. The other one, I`m 3-and-a-half, 4 years old, in Teheran. And garters holding my socks, which I had not noticed until somebody pointed out.
LAMB:So you were born in Tabriz (ph), Iran.
LAMB:How did your parents get there? And why did they leave Armenia to go there?
GREGORIAN: Well, actually, my parents did not. As I write in the book, because Armenians have been in Iran some 2,500 years. Part of Iranian kingdom during Sais (ph) and Arias (ph) and so forth had Armenian dynasty, which part of Iranian dynasty. Armenian language is Indo-European language with many basic words from Iranian language. So they have been always there. But they have been displaced from where they had been several times, sometime by Seljuks (ph), sometime by Uzbeks, sometime by Turkomans, sometime by Tatars. But always there has been an Armenian community in Iran, some thousand years.
So my family, I could not determine whether they were old-timers or 16th century or 15th century imports or 19th century because they were mostly from peasant villages that migrated to Tabriz. So I have no way of reconstructing their history, but it`s old.
LAMB:In your life, who were you closest to as a child?
GREGORIAN: My mother died when I was 6-and-a-half years old. She was 26. And my maternal grandmother brought me up. She was a peasant woman, illiterate but one of the wisest persons. She had tremendous role and bringing me up, and my sister. And she was extraordinary person. She had seven children. She had lost all of them to various -- not plague as much as typhus and …all kinds of other diseases during World War I and some during World War II. Always lack of medicine, lack of doctors, and so forth, resulted in their demise. But she had us only as her sole survivors, my sister and I, so she devoted herself to bring us up the right way. As a matter of fact, I write in the book that I was allergic to all authority except hers. She tamed me through love and also punishment.
LAMB:What was your relationship with your father?
GREGORIAN: My father was an absentee father because in an extended family, which my family was, we called my maternal grandmother "Mother," my paternal grandfather "Father." I never called my father "Father," and my mother, when she was alive, as "Mother." The one we called called Shushek (ph) my mother and my father Samuel (ph). And he was a graduate of American high school in Lebanon, Memorial (ph) High School in -- not Lebanon, in Tabriz, Iran. And he work for Anglo-Iranian oil company away. So my grandmother brought us up practically until my father got remarried about 11 or 12, and we had a stepmother.
LAMB:I know you write about moving for school to Lebanon.
LAMB:Was that the first time you`d ever left the country?
GREGORIAN: First time anybody my family left country, left Iran -- I mean, voluntarily, let`s say this way. First one to leave the country and first one to leave for so far. Usually, go into Caucasus, but all the way to Mediterranean, never. And was first time.
GREGORIAN: When I was 13-and-a-half -- as a matter of fact, I could sum up my life has been a collection of strangers who have helped me. People -- complete strangers. When I was 13-and-a-half, a French vice consul, Gaullist, belonging to Gaullist party, Charles de Gaulle`s party, had come to Tabriz to open a French consulate. And he became ill, and I visited my friend with whom he was staying. He jokingly said, You`re a smart kid. What are you doing here? Why don`t you go to "Petite Paris" -- namely Beirut, Lebanon. I said, I have no money. How could I go? I`ll take care of it, he said.
So I believed him. Whether he was joking or not, it didn`t matter. I believed him. And suddenly there I am, he had written three letters, one to French security chief, Lebanese security chief, Colin Lahoud (ph), one to a hotel, Hotel Luxe (ph), and one to a French army …And then somehow, my father was shocked that I`m ready to leave. He said, If you can get your own passport, you can leave. So I spent a year -- and it`s a long story, but I got my own passport. And then came the final scene (ph), where my father said, There`s one other hurdle. Your grandmother. You need her permission -- knowing fully well, I`m sure, that she`ll never let me go because I was sole male survivor in her family. And there was a big family gathering, where my father and others made passionate speeches why I should not leave. And then my grandmother at the moment, great moment, said, Go and become a man.
So I arrived in Beirut with $50, with three letters, without knowing French, English or Arabic. I only knew some Russian, Persian, Turkish and Armenian -- eastern dialect of -- so I went to see the high school principal, a perfectly German-style professor, with a monocle, goatee and impeccably dressed. And he asked me three devastating questions. Do you know French? No. Do you know English? No. Do you know Arabic? No. Do you have money? No. What are you doing here? I said, I don`t know. I was sent here.
So I was given one year probationary time to learn French. And two again strangers, one the copy editor of "Lorean (ph)," the great French newspaper of Lebanon, was paraplegic a little bit, and the urban planner, took upon themselves to teach me French. Saturdays and Sundays, the copy editor, and Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays the urban planner, who was playing poker and bridge in some club. So you come to the club. During intermission or my spare time, I`ll teach you.
So within a year, with great struggle, I learned French, so I was accepted at the lycee, and the rest is history.
LAMB:You talk in your book, if I remember correctly, that there were weekends where you didn`t have any food.
LAMB:How long did that go on? And why didn`t you have food?
GREGORIAN: Well, when I arrived in Beirut, I had assumed that the hotel I was staying will be for free. I was that naive. And after two weeks, I was given my bill. I did not have money to pay, so I took whatever belongings I had to sell in the market. And one of the teachers of the College Armenian (ph) saw me and was scandalized. So he contacted Armenian relief, the Red Cross, and they found a restaurant that for $5.50 or $6 a month would feed me morning, lunch and dinner, but not over the weekends. Over weekends were very troublesome period because I used to get angry at my stomach for being unfaithful to me, drank lots of water and went to church, hoping that some of my classmates will be in church and parents will invite me for luncheon, and so forth. I read a lot, fantasized a lot and slept a lot in order to kill the hunger.
But that ended after the same new principal of high school came, College Armenian, was last prime minister of independent of Armenia in the Armenia 1920. And he became director of the school, and his eyesight was not good. So he made me his second pair of eyeglasses, so I became his secretary, assistant. And then there was a boarding school. Then I moved in boarding school and then survived after a year.
LAMB:And his name again was?
GREGORIAN: Simon Ratyan (ph).
LAMB:And you -- if I remember, you dedicate the book to him, I think.
LAMB:What was it like working for him? And how old were you?
GREGORIAN: I was by then 19 -- yes, that`s it, 1921 picture (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I was 21. I work for him between ages of 19 to 21. No, actually, it was 18 to 21. Three, four years I work for him. And he was a brilliant man, socialist, nationalist-socialist Russian tradition, Kadet Party (ph), constitutional democrats and socialist revolutionaries, and so forth, who knew Karensky very well, was close. So I received private tutorials from him, on the one hand, on history of Russia, Armenia, international socialism ….and all the figures which were fascinating. At the same time, I did all his correspondence, private correspondence. He was the one who, in a sense, was instrumental in sending me to United States.
LAMB:So if I figure right, you`re born in 1935. This would have been about 1956, `57.
GREGORIAN: In `56.
LAMB:You`re speaking what languages, at this point?
GREGORIAN: Armenian at home, Turkish in the province, Persian at school, Russian at school, then Arabic colloquial in Beirut, French and English.
LAMB:How many of those languages can you still speak?
GREGORIAN: Only three or four -- Armenian, French, English. I understand Russian. I understand Arabic, I mentioned, and Persian I understand. But in terms of writing, now it`s very hard to write.
LAMB:So you`re -- you mention it quite often, and you were head of the New York Public Library, that you love books, you love reading. When did you start that?
GREGORIAN: When I was at home, it astonished me that my father was graduate of American Memorial High School, and he`d even written a tract on feminists. We had no books at home, and I was choir boy, altar boy, but then I was suddenly recruited to be a page in Armenian library. And that saved me because the books became kind of my instruments of liberation. And when I was 11, 12 years old, I start reading already novels, anything I could lay my hands on, including the only book we had at home -- two books, actually, we had at home. One was -- I could not read English. It was a second -- secondary high school world history book in English. And the other one was the Bible in vernacular Armenian. And I read the Bible many times. I didn`t understand many of it, except a war is somebody killed, and there`s somebody else killed, and so forth. The New Testament had no appeal to me because there was no action. But Old Testament I read several times.
But then I found the world of literature, Armenian literature, French literature in translation, English literature in translation, including, by the way, 1912 work translated into Armenian in Moscow, "Self-Made Men," which included Andrew Carnegie. It`s ironic that I read about Andrew Carnegie, Fulton and this, all self-made men in modern history, in Armenian in Tabriz, Iran.
And the books just provide me solace, isolation but also great joy, create a whole new world for me, open my horizons. I called it a kind of helicopter that took me out of the village, gave me a new life, new perspective.
LAMB:And you did it on your own. You didn`t...
GREGORIAN: I did it on my own.
LAMB:Nobody said, in your family, you should read.
GREGORIAN: No. My -- only one who encouraged me to go to school was my illiterate grandmother because she knew the value of education. Her family name was Mirzion (ph), …a family of scribes, so she always took great pride that she was coming from a literate part of family tradition, even though she was illiterate. And she insisted that all her children have to be educated and, certainly, grandchildren had to be educated.
But also one or two teachers of mine in elementary school, just their tales, their -- they just fascinated me. As a matter of fact, I always remember the smell of the new book, new textbook, when it came every year, eagerly, reading the whole book rather than waiting for first lesson. The first lesson I read, which made me -- still I remember until now, was about the illiterate who goes to a pharmacy to buy eyeglasses. I said, What kind of eyeglass you did? Reading times. First you have to know how to read, remember, before you get eyeglasses. It started that time, and then teachers read books, and then I found in the library wonderful books. Some I understood, some I did not.
But also, I found an elderly lady who had bound books on French literature, all in Armenian, by the way, and Persian -- I read both languages -- because in 17th century, there were two Armenian monasteries were created, Catholic monasteries, one in Venice and the other in Vienna, and they translated practically entire classical Greek, Latin and French and Italian and German literature into Armenian, including American missionaries who translated many works from English into Armenian. So the whole tradition of European and Russian literature available to me in Armenian, some very complicated, "War and Peace." "Anna Karenina" I did not understand what the fuss was about. Others, of course, very fascinating -- Maxim Gorky`s "Mother" (ph) and others.
LAMB:So when did you even think about coming to the United States, and why?
GREGORIAN: I was -- when I was desperate for funds in Lebanon, Armenian Relief Society of Brazil, Sao Paolo, came to my help. First time I got a fellowship that would allow me to buy clothes and books, and so forth, with the hope that when I finished high school, advanced -- on the top of it, advanced Armenian studies, I`ll go to Sao Paolo to become director of Armenian high school in Sao Paolo, Brazil. As a matter of fact, I took two weeks of Portuguese. But then Ratyan decided that College Armenian should have an English-American also orientation, so he sent three, four students abroad, and I was one of them. And my high school teacher, whom we called Sir (ph), he filled my applications, one to Stanford, one to Berkeley, only in California because Mr. Ratyan knew about Karensky and Hoover Institution. He wanted me to be in California.
And then Stanford accepted, sent its admission air mail. California sent its admission surface mail. So I ended up at Stanford. And private university, rather than public, even though I did not know the difference, total tuition and room and board. And so it was $750 in 1956.
LAMB:Where`d you get it?
GREGORIAN: College Armenian gave the fellowship for two years.
LAMB:For two years.
GREGORIAN: Two years.
LAMB:To do what...
GREGORIAN: Two-and-a-half years.
LAMB:... at Stanford?
GREGORIAN: To study English. Instead, I studied history. So four years I finished in two years, BA, and then I finished my Ph.D. exams in history and humanities also in two years. So I caught up with my age because when I came to Stanford as a freshman, I was 21, 22 years old. I used to wear a necktie, sit in the back of the room so he would think I`m a graduate student rather than a freshman. I was so proud that I was assigned to take speech and drama 101 rather than English 1, which all freshman had to do it.
So I wrote home that, unlike others, I`m taking Speech and Drama 101. Whoever had devised that number was very smart because one day I realized that everybody in the classroom were foreign students, and the instructor was Lieutenant Maxwell (ph) -- I still remember his name -- from Hamilton Air Force Base, whose specialty was speech therapy. So I did not even know I had an accent till I heard myself 1956 demonstrating on occasion of Hungarian revolution against Soviets, when they interviewed me. I thought there was something wrong with the radio. I tried to tune it. I did not realize that I had an accent at the time. But that`s ….
LAMB:So about this time, you`re 20?
GREGORIAN: Graduated from Stanford by time 1958 -- 26 -- no, 24.
LAMB:And language, American society -- there`s a marriage in there somewhere.
GREGORIAN: Yes. At Stanford, I met my future wife, current wife. There was 100 anniversary of translation of Rubayat of Omar Kayyam, and translated by Fitzgerald (ph). And it was a huge, major cultural event Iran mounted in San Francisco, Legion of Honor (ph). And I took the only -- or most serious girl I knew. Since I was head of student body international, I did not want to be -- humiliate myself before my countrymen in Iranian -- Iranian. So I took her to this great event. Daresh Milo (ph) had composed a piece on the occasion. Stephen Spender (ph) was there from London to discuss the life of Fitzgerald. Edward Teller gave a brilliant speech on atomic theory Omar Kayyam (ph). There were plenty of champagne, dancing, and so forth.
At the end of the evening, consul general of Iran, who later became minister of culture of Iran, Majid Radama (ph), asked me in Persian, Who is this beautiful blonde? And I told him in Persian, She`s wonderful. One of these days, who knows, I may even marry her. And then she turned -- he turned to her, said, Congratulations. When are you getting married? I almost died. I sobered up. She was graduating in 10 days. This was May 28, 1959 -- `58. She was -- no, `59. She was graduating in 10 days, and so we drove silently back to Stanford, both of us sobered up. And said, What was that talk about marriage? Said, One of these days, when I finish my Ph.D., when I find a job, who knows, I may even ask you to marry me, and so forth, trying to change the subject or -- and said, If you ask, the answer is yes. And I said, Already did. So we got engaged that night. And then a year later, we got married, 43 years ago.
LAMB:Claire (ph) is her first name. What was her last name?
GREGORIAN: Russell (ph).
LAMB:Where was she from?
GREGORIAN: Tenafly, New Jersey.
LAMB:What did the family think when you showed up on the doorstep?
GREGORIAN: Family had not heard of me. She called her mother, said, Mother, I`m engaged. Jail (ph), dear? No, engaged. To whom? An Armenian. An Indian? No, an Armenian. Is he a Christian? Yes. And then a week later, I met their family in Oakland. And thank God, I drove them the wrong way uphill in San Francisco, traffic coming and so forth. They all were so traumatized, they all bonded with me. So became very good family. They became my family in America.
LAMB:When you wrote your autobiography, how did you approach it? How long ago did you start it?
GREGORIAN: The hardest one was about -- writing about my childhood, my father, my stepmother, and so forth. You know, coming from a traditional society, you don`t write about your family affairs. As a matter of fact, in the book, I write about my grandmother saying the reason houses have four walls, in order to keep all the family affair, family news inside, not out. So that was the difficult one. But it took me two years, but I had collected everything as a rat pack, like rat pack, I have all my copy books from high school, all my copy books from Stanford, all my notes, letters, and so forth, including one or two diaries that I had kept. And therefore, it was easy, in many ways, because I did not have to go to the research because I had kept chronologically and topically many of this.
LAMB:And you had written before. What were your other books?
GREGORIAN: I`d written history of modernization -- modern Afghanistan, politics of modernization 1880 to 1946. I`d written chapters in other things on Armenian history. And I`ve been working on, which is out also this week, "Islam: A Mosaic, Not a Monolith." And lots of articles, hundreds of articles and chapters.
LAMB:How long did you teach at San Francisco State?
GREGORIAN: San Francisco State I taught six years, `62 to `68, even though I had taught there in `60 also. I succeeded, ironically -- David Hogan (ph), who was the first Holocaust denier, a student of David Langer (ph) -- William Langer (ph), professor at Harvard, who wrote about forced -- enforced -- forced war, that the Nazis were not instigators of war, but Britain and Poland were responsible for the war. He had nervous breakdown, and I succeeded him at San Francisco State. So from `62 to `68, I taught at San Francisco State.
LAMB:In 1960, you wrote this in your book, "It was a huge relief when Kennedy won."
LAMB:It`s one of the few political statements I saw in your book.
GREGORIAN: Yes. Well, it was fascinating. When I came `56, I wore Eisenhower button because I heard of Eisenhower, but I had never heard of Adlai Stevenson. Later, 1960 -- `58 -- `59, `60, I heard Eugene McCarthy nominating Stevenson. So I collected signatures for Adlai Stevenson. Later, Kennedy. And we were in London, we waited all night to see who`s going to won. And I was just enchanted and transformed by his rhetoric and his vision and youthfulness, and so forth, about an idealistic America where everybody had to chip in. So you`re right, I`ve tried to be as apolitical as possible because I want to be like my French historian …present the facts rather than try to camouflage opinions as facts.
LAMB:But at San Francisco State, you find yourself right in the middle of politics.
GREGORIAN: Absolutely. San Francisco State, when I returned from Soviet Armenia in 1966, where I had a one-year fellowship, I was faculty adviser to Progressive Labor Party, the Maoists. And I got caught between student movement between -- there were many -- this was one of those electrifying periods. You had -- to be called communist was to be like an insult. You had to be Trotskyite, which was very respectable. You had to be SDS, was respectable. Progressive Labor Party was -- Young Democrats. But then, in addition, you had Young Republicans and others. But it was an exciting time, and I was caught in between struggle between SDS and Progressive Labor Party.
And as a matter of fact, my home was almost bombed at one time. We had to go for several days spend in Berkeley in order to avert a disaster. The head of political party told me that, We`re afraid innocent people will die. They were not -- were not worried about me, others …He advised me to call the police, which I thought maybe they were testing me, setting me up, and so forth. But it was a fascinating period. So for two years, I was involved. Then I went to UCLA and then to Texas.
LAMB:How long were you at the University of Texas?
GREGORIAN: Four years.
LAMB:In your book, you have a quote from Rodney Dugger.
LAMB:Of the "Texas Monthly," the editor. I want to read it and ask you about some of this. "Although he is Dickensian, Dickens could have known no such man, a wild Persian, escapee from some anonymous Armenian mortality, laughing all the time, and full of genius, enjoying all the lies and foibles of the American powerful, but caring mightily for the human beings whose endeavors he became part of." Ronnie Dugger writes: "He was one of the most hypnotic tipsters of my journalistic career." What does he mean by that?
GREGORIAN: In Texas, when I went there, I became the head of …the… honors college, and that`s the time that chairman of the board of regents of University of Texas, Frank Erwin (ph), wanted Texas -- the University of Texas proposed (ph) to expand the size of its student body, from 30,000 to 35,000, 40,000.
The faculty opposed it, and the person who was the dean of faculty of arts and sciences, John Silber, who is now president of Boston University, opposed it. And so, the chairman decided to divide the arts and sciences into four schools. That way nobody can say we cannot manage all these students. So I became, along with three, four other people, faculty opposition against the trustees. Ronnie Dugger at that time was in charge of "Texas Monthly," editor, and there was Al Diamo (ph), who was in charge of "Daily Texan," and a few others. So, all the views that came to them they would meet periodically, what`s going on, and I would tell them this. So, he was saying part of it was correct, part of it is not, part of it was speculation. But he`d never seen such elaborate tipster as me.
LAMB:He also writes, he says, "In a play, Gregorian would be the one who releases everyone`s worst suspicions by saying them out loud. Since everyone`s worst suspicions more or less materialized, he was in general right, talking fast, laughing heavily. He had a faith in the country, in the freedom of the mind, qualified by a devilishly penetrating and mainly accurate knowledge of the workings of selfish power."
GREGORIAN: Yes. Well -- I had read my Machiavelli, I read Thomas Hobbs, I also read lots of history. So I never underestimated ego, self-centeredness, selfishness and so forth.
In Texas, I always tried to see what the power is. Follow the money. That`s one way. Follow ambition. That was the other way. And not having ambition at that time myself, I could easily analyze without being involved. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons I left Texas when I came to find out that I had power, that I enjoyed manipulating or opposing trustees, devising this strategy, that strategy, that strategy, and then that`s when I decided that I was not immune to enjoying power or ambition. That`s one of the reasons I left.
But I organized the faculty there, student body and so forth. So that`s one of the reasons that I came to distrust the kind of fever that catch -- that just because you can deny people their ambition does not mean you don`t have power. You have power, negative power, you can deny it or you don`t deliver it. Yet you still pretend that you don`t have power.
LAMB What year did you leave the University of Texas?
LAMB:And you went to the University of Pennsylvania.
GREGORIAN: Well, I wanted to teach. At Texas -- as a matter of fact, one of the great things always has been the job I have loved most has been teaching. And as a matter of fact, had I not received one of the nation`s top 10 teaching awards, the E.H Harbison Distinguished Teaching Award, I would not have gone to Texas, or from Texas to Pennsylvania. Because teaching has been always my forte.
So one of the reasons I left for Texas -- from Texas for Pennsylvania was to go teach. It was a prestigious place, Ivy League university. They were giving me what I wanted. I could teach history of caucuses, history of Armenia, European intellectual history, and South Asian history, all my interests, because I had joint Ph.D. degrees in history and humanities.
After three years, I was in Pennsylvania, then I was thrust upon an administrative position by President Meyerson (ph), became founding dean of faculty of arts and sciences, and later provost. But I always taught, always corrected my own exams. As a matter of fact, today at the Library of Congress, one of my students came, from Penn, …reminded me who he was. And I knew not only who he was, I knew his grade, which was fascinating to me. I correct my exam, I wrote recommendations and so forth.
So that`s one of the reasons I went to Penn. Not anticipating that I`ll be ending up as an administrator, because...
LAMB:On your way to Penn, there`s a quote in here from John Silber, who, as you say, is now president of Boston University - University of Boston - Boston University. He was at the University of Texas.
LAMB:"Vartan Gregorian is one of the most imaginative and learned men I know. Although he is a superb teacher and a renowned historian, his most revealing quality is his unpredictable and compelling sense of humor, a magic carpet that carries his ideas and purposes to fruition, with remarkable frequency and minimal opposition. He has the innocence of a baby, the integrity and dedication of a saint, and the political skills of a Talleyrand." What does that mean?
GREGORIAN: Well, it means all of them contradict each other. Talleyrand does not have innocence of baby. But it means Silber, that I knew how to deal with political power, faculty power, and managed situations by organizing, by deflecting.
For example, and it`s there in the text, when Silber was fired as dean at the University of Texas by the chairman of the board and acting president, there were 800 faculty shouting at each other. They all -- I compared them, I said - there`s an Albanian saying, where the cow falls, all the butchers come. But as faculty was shouting, I got up, asked for a word, and said, "ich bin ein Berliner." Now, nobody would say "Ich bin ein Berliner" in the middle of faculty stormy debate. So they were all stunned, and all stopped. And that was my intention, stop them in their tracks.
Or people will come and ask me am I writing the book, the dean of veterinary medicine came to ask me for $1 million when I became provost. I read his proposal. It`s wonderful, one of the best things I have read. But you`re not asking for enough. How much should I ask? $2 million, I said. So now, I said, he asked me for $2 million. Now I am turning you down for $2 million, I said, not $1 million. You should be very proud that the sum is big enough and so forth. But a sense of humor, how to use humor in a sense not to offend people, to allow face saving, and at the same time to bring them to your level that you don`t have money, so they should not be outrageous by asking you a million cash right away when they know you don`t have it. And you know they know you don`t have it, but you want to make them feel good. That`s what he`s referring to.
LAMB:We learn in the book that you were offered a lot of presidencies of a lot of different schools, University of California at Berkeley.
LAMB:What year was that?
LAMB:You said no.
GREGORIAN: I said no.
GREGORIAN: I had been president, provost of University of Pennsylvania for only 18 months. If I had left, the president already was lame duck or announced his retirement. My predecessor provost had resigned. The dean of engineering had gone to Lehigh, the dean of medicine had gone to Harvard. And all the deans, 13 deans of the university, 12 deans, unanimously had supported me, faculty had supported me, in view of the fact that I`ll provide some stability and continuity.
The argument that persuaded me to turn it down was that it`s not good to accept something for 18 months and leave for better things. That weighed very heavily, especially when they say in this country, which means you as a foreign born may not realize, but this is etiquette, so I turned it down, without any conditions. I stayed at Penn.
LAMB:You were offered New York University presidency.
GREGORIAN: No. I was one of the candidates. I was offered University of Miami presidency.
GREGORIAN: In Florida. I was offered University of Massachusetts presidency. As a matter of fact, chairman of the board then was Steve Briar (ph), one of our classmates at Stanford, was chairman. But I always had been brought up, and the book deals with this, with a sense of duty and obligation outweighing your ambitions. In 1995, I was offered the presidency of Columbia, but I had not finished campaign for Brown. Had they waited one more year, I would have gone, but it`s unseemly to leave in the middle of campaign. One Ivy for another Ivy because of ambition. And that`s where my grandmother`s teaching and others came close (ph) without my realizing it.
LAMB:Things got kind of nasty at the University of Pennsylvania.
GREGORIAN: Oh, unnecessarily. I mean...
LAMB:You were provost.
GREGORIAN: I was provost.
LAMB:Which means what?
GREGORIAN: Chief academic officer.
LAMB:Number two at the school?
GREGORIAN: Number two.
LAMB:How long were you that?
GREGORIAN: Three years. About three years.
LAMB:And the year again was then when?
GREGORIAN: 1978 to `80.
LAMB:So what happened? How did it get nasty?
GREGORIAN: It got nasty because when I turned Berkeley down everybody thought I had an agreement to be president of the University of Pennsylvania. There was no such agreement. But I had one condition that for whatever reason you don`t want me, because there will be speculation, you give me advance notice to withdraw my name. Otherwise I`ll be lame duck, people will say maybe the University of Pennsylvania has something on him that Berkeley did not know. And that`s the only thing I thought I was entitled to. And they did not give me that advance notice, so I resigned.
LAMB:In the "Daily Pennsylvania," they said -- they wrote about you, "messiah of the university," saying that "the trustees, faculty and students have turned to Gregorian to restore stability and confidence. He has an impressive ability to bring people together."
LAMB:Where did you get this?
GREGORIAN: I got it by being a minority member when I grew up. I got it by being an educator, that you have to bring people to persuade them rather than dictate. I got it temperamentally, because I hate conflict, unnecessary conflict. Real conflict I don`t mind. Unnecessary conflict based on stupidity and so forth. So also, I got it because Iranian culture taught me one thing. There is a word adapt, which means comportment, know-how, politeness, etiquette. But above all else, I was brought up from childhood on, don`t allow people to lose face. Dignity of people is very important. If you defeat somebody, don`t gloat about it. Somehow if you have won, why go to the additional mile of insulting people. Give them a way out. Protect their dignity, that you want to resign, you want to retire to the family and so forth.
So, all those have been good at that. From childhood on. And that was part of it, that knowingly, I have not offended anyone, to the best of my knowledge.
LAMB:Along the way came three boys.
LAMB:What are their names?
GREGORIAN: One is Bahe.
LAMB:Bahe - b-a-h-e.
GREGORIAN: H-e. He`s a chief sportswriter at "St. Louis Post Dispatch." Last year he was named for Pulitzer Prize. He`s published two books, he finished the University of Pennsylvania, he finished school of journalism at the University of Missouri, graduate school of journalism.
LAMB:And which one is he in this picture?
GREGORIAN: On the left is Bahe, in the middle is Raffi (ph), who is with the State Department. He finished University of Pennsylvania too. He became -- went to Kings College, London, and finished Johns Hopkins here, and is now in the Bosnia-Kosovo desk.
LAMB:And the third one?
GREGORIAN: And the third one on the right, this one is Dare Gregorian (ph). He is covering the civil courts for "The New York Post." He`s also a journalist. He finished Boston University and Trinity School.
LAMB:Along the way came the New York Public Library.
LAMB:And Brown University.
GREGORIAN: Yes. New York Public Library has been one of the great episodes of my life, because I bet the chairman of search (ph) committee, William Deitel head of Rockefeller Brothers Fund, who took me to Andrew (ph) Heiskell, head of Time Warner, and then Richard Solomon (ph), and...
GREGORIAN: Tall fellow. Richard Solomon (ph) is the other one. And within 20 minutes, they got up and they said, you`re our man, we want you to head New York Public Library. And that was 1981. And I took it because I was that naive. I said if I succeed, they will say it`s a miracle. If I fail, it will be a great martyrdom. Either way I could not lose, because the cause was great.
LAMB:Tell us about the New York Public Library in size.
GREGORIAN: New York Public Library is four research libraries, and 83 branch libraries. It`s one of the largest libraries in the world and in this country. And it`s privately operated. So, public is in a British sense. It`s private. It`s funded by donors as well as governmental and other sources. Cities, state and federal sources. Eighty-three branch libraries, are primary obligations of the city and state.
LAMB:In 1981, was that the first year that you were there?
GREGORIAN: Yes. Yes.
LAMB:What kind of shape was it in?
GREGORIAN: Terrible shape. As a matter of fact, my first board meeting that I attended, on the agenda was how to sell collections, how to shut some of the branches down and how to charge admission fee. And we all pretended that never occurred.
LAMB:What was its budget then?
GREGORIAN: Its budget at that time was $40 million.
LAMB:What`s it today?
GREGORIAN: $200 plus.
LAMB:How much money did you have to raise?
GREGORIAN: At that time, we raised $400 million to restore all the library. We restored everything.
LAMB:How did you do?
LAMB:You say in the book you don`t mind raising money.
GREGORIAN: I don`t mind raising money -- for a cause, not for me. Begging. At the same time, never appealing to the vanity of people, but appealing to their civic duty. I told the New York Public Library does not need class. It gives class. Libraries are the …. of our civilization, libraries and museums. Buildings don`t give you immortality. Cemeteries don`t give you immortality. The only thing that gives you immortality is the book and the library and the museum.
LAMB:I mean, in New York City, it`s a private institution. Does it get government money at all?
GREGORIAN: Well, several million from National Endowment for Humanities, from federal money and so forth. There`s no such thing as private institution anymore in America, nor public institution. Public institutions now go after private money, and private institutions go after public money.
LAMB:How big was your board?
GREGORIAN: The board was almost 20-plus, then we made it 40 before we would go for a campaign.
LAMB:A name you see a lot in society is Brooke Astor .
LAMB:How old is she today?
GREGORIAN: Almost 102. 101. She always shaves one year. I don`t know why. She`s 101 years old. Wonderful woman.
LAMB:What`s her story, though? I mean, she got into this big time with lots of money.
GREGORIAN Her husband died.
GREGORIAN: Vincent Astor (ph). I think it was in the early 1950s and said you`re going to have fun with my foundation. And she had a small foundation and a personal fortune.
GREGORIAN: Maybe she spent $200 million. That`s the foundation, she had $200 million. But with one condition -- that every cause that she donates she had to be, see, witness, be with them, assess before she gave. And second, that the money had to go to New York only, because Vincent Astor (ph) made his money in New York, therefore it belongs to New York. And she`s been remarkable person. She`s been one of my great friends and one of my great backers. And we have had a tremendous time together.
LAMB:There`s a quote that you have in the book. First of all, I`ll read it and ask where you where you got it. But you know what I`m going to read, probably. This is from Brooke Astor "Be an optimist. Be curious. Read every night. Don`t meet the same people all the time. Sooner or later they become lazy, boring, and repeat themselves. Don`t be a cynic. Don`t envy or be jealous. These sentiments are corrosive and they diminish you. Spend some time in solitude to reflect. Meet different people, young people, travel, and if you are rich, adhere to the gospel of, quote, `the joy of giving.`"
LAMB:Now, where did you get that?
GREGORIAN: From Mrs. Astor herself.
LAMB:What did she say?
GREGORIAN: One evening I said - we`ve become very good friends, so I said, tell me about the secrets of your longevity. And those are the words that she uttered.
LAMB:How do you remember that, though?
GREGORIAN: I put it down when I went home, and two, three speeches I gave, I told it in her presence, in public, several of them. She also said -- I unfortunately repeat some of these things nowadays, but the most important thing that struck me as original was don`t meet the same personal. We`ve become very lazy. We have short hand. Remember that thing? And then it takes the age out.
Second, every night, read for an hour, just to replenish your mind. And be very curious. All the parties that she gave, are not the same people. She likes to be with men, with young and younger people. One evening, as a matter of fact, we went to a party -- I won`t mention the names of the people because they`re still alive -- oh, my God, said, that one is bent, look at that one, is so old, let`s get out of here. And they are 70, 65. And she was 90. So, until age 90, she used to dance. But I went to dance with her. So we were very close. And several times I visited her, I made her repeat some of these things just to be sure that I got it right. So, not to meet the same people, but also not to be envious. And she`ll tell today also she never had a facelift. That`s her latest, that. If you have a facelift, you`re vain. It means, I`ve never had a facelift, she says, because that`s also a sign of vanity.
LAMB:What year did you go to Brown?
GREGORIAN: Brown I went 1988.
GREGORIAN: I got tired of fund-raising. And also became -- I was afraid of hubris, that I could do everything. You come to believe. Forty volumes of articles written about Andrew (ph) Heiskell and my tenure and Mrs. Astor’s at the library. Every day "The New York Times" covered it, every day, what happened at the library. And I paid great tribute to Gelb (ph), Arthur Gelb (ph) and others.
LAMB:Who was the metropolitan area editor.
GREGORIAN: Yes, that supported it. So suddenly they said, you can do it, you can do it. But I got very tired asking for money and becoming a social butterfly. I wanted to go back to university. And I did.
LAMB:Were you given the presidency out of the box, right away?
GREGORIAN: No. I had two choices, three choices. One was the MacArthur Foundation. Second one was the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and third one was Brown. I took Brown because it was private, it was small, also because of Dick Solomon (ph), who was the chairman of board of New York Public Library who was chancellor of Brown University at the time.
LAMB:How big is Brown?
GREGORIAN: Seven thousand five hundred students, 580 faculty, and the medical school, a couple of hundred others. .
LAMB:There`s more in the book on Brown, but we are running out of time. So I want to ask you went you left there and why you went to Carnegie Corporation?
GREGORIAN: As a rule -- which is a very good question -- as a rule I have always decided I would stay minimum five, maximum 10, but no more than that. That`s another advice of Brooke`s, you become stale. You let the routine govern you. When I give the same speech twice, I get very bored. Today, as a matter of fact, at the Library of Congress, I said, this speech I give today, I said I`ve done it once in the New York Public Library, I`m bored with it, because I have to be looking forward.
So that was one of the reasons. I like to replant myself. As a matter of fact, I have Gabriel Garcia Marquez in "Love in the Time of Cholera," says, people are not born once and for all when their mothers give birth to them, but throughout their life, they give rebirth to themselves. And my life has been one of those. Every now and then I give -- renew myself, give rebirth to myself, in order to keep my attention and my curiosity, and my excitement of life.
LAMB:You don`t tell us in the book how you gave the $500 million of Walter Annenberg (ph) away.
GREGORIAN: That`s another volume, in the future.
LAMB:Is it all gone?
GREGORIAN: It`s all gone, committed.
LAMB:Why did he ask you to give it away?
GREGORIAN: Because he trusted my judgment. I was his friend. I never solicited him, ever, for any cause. So, when he was criticized by the "Wall Street Journal" and some others, what has he done for public sector, because everything he has done for the private sector, he decided to do something for public sector, public education. So he called David Kearns (ph), who was the former head of Xerox, good friend of his, and then a few others, and then I was his friend since 1972 from Penn, and he called me and he said, I want you to hit the ground running. So there was no time to study and so forth, because he wanted to go into the most complex things, the most difficult things, urban education. Not to go to a fellowship, scholarship, which were easy. But he wanted me to go to Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, all the major problem areas, and come up with building bipartisan coalitions, which I did, on his behalf.
And every reformer, whether on the left or the right, where that all solutions have been tested. So, at the time I said if we come up with 50 percent of a success story I will be very happy, because it took lots of time to do this.
But one thing we did succeed. He put education as number one item on the nation`s agenda. To have a Republican, a conservative Republican to give the largest gift to the public sector, was an amazing act at the time. And to do it from the White House, a Democratic president also, because you said in this, there`s no Democrats, no Republicans. American public education cannot be held hostage. We have to help it.
So, because of friendship, and he also sent me, when I became president of Brown, he sent me $2 million, because he had seen a picture of mine in "Newsweek" - I mean, "BusinessWeek." He said, that`s the best picture I have seen. Therefore, to celebrate our friendship, enclosed this $2 million, with which I established two charities in his honor. One for retirees. You have to be a retired person in order to have that charity.
LAMB:If folks want the details, they`re going to have to read "The Road to Home." This is what the cover of the book looks like. And our guest has been Vartan Gregorian. Thank you very much for joining us.
GREGORIAN: Thank you very much, Brian.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2004. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.