Distinguished Alumni Award


James A. Leach

2015 Friend Award

Jim Leach has enjoyed a long and treasured friendship with the University of Iowa, most notably through his three decades of service in the U.S. Congress and now as a faculty member in the UI College of Law.

During Leach's tenure from 1977 until 2007 in the House of Representatives, he tirelessly championed academic research. The science and humanities programs that he supported resulted in the provision of over half a billion dollars of peer-reviewed competitive grants to the University of Iowa. At a personal level, he has given his public and private papers to the UI Libraries and, with his wife, Deba, donated over 300 artworks to the UI Museum of Art.

"Ties of loyalty give compass and meaning to life. All of us need things to love that can be shared. This university is one."

Upon leaving Congress, Leach further proved his commitment to higher education through teaching roles at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs. He then served four years with distinction as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities before returning home to accept a three-year dual appointment as the University of Iowa chair of public affairs and visiting professor of law. Believing that those who have served in public office have a responsibility to share their experience across the spectrum of generations, Leach gives lectures in colleges and community settings around the state on subjects ranging from foreign policy and international finance to contemporary politics, with subjects generally framed in a sweeping historical context.

No summary of Leach's contributions would be complete without recognizing the impact he's had as a spokesman for civility in public discourse. Leach once wrote, "Citizenship is hard. It takes a willingness to listen, watch, read, and think in ways that allow the imagination to put one person in the shoes of another." Derek Willard, 75PhD, the former UI special assistant to the president for governmental relations and associate vice president for research, says that Leach's enduring qualities include "an indefatigable respect for all people, an insatiable delight in the hunt for new ideas, a non-negotiable demand for integrity in the conduct of inquiry, and an intrepid belief in the transformative power of education."

To Leach—whose commitment to higher education, the arts, and humanities has received public recognition in the form of 13 honorary degrees, decorations from two foreign governments, and many prestigious awards—the University of Iowa reflects not only an environment of academic excellence, but also one of warm friends and colleagues.

"We live in a fractured world where events in one part can affect gravely peoples and places far distant," he says. "In this circumstance where so many things happen beyond our control, it is important to have roots—family, faith, friends, community. Ties of loyalty give compass and meaning to life. All of us need things to love that can be shared. This university is one."

Thanks to the longtime loyalty and steadfast support of Jim Leach, the University of Iowa is indeed a stronger, richer place.

Leach is a member of the UI Foundation's Presidents Club.


Awards & Honors
  • Wayne Morse Integrity in Politics Award
  • Sidney R. Yates Award for Distinguished Public Service to the Humanities, National Humanities Alliance
  • Adlai Stevenson Award, United Nations Association
  • Norman Borlaug Public Service Award
  • Woodrow Wilson Medal, Princeton University

About Distinguished Alumni Awards

Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.


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Museums around the world have exhibited the work of the famed painter, sculptor, and printmaker. Now, his art is also featured on the campus where he began to find his voice.

The UI student-founded nonprofit has launched endeavors like the 10,000 Hours Show, Mission Creek Festival, and Quire.

L.A.-based artist Charles Ray to receive CLAS Alumni Fellow award, give talks this month. Unpainted sculpture by Charles Ray, 1997, fiberglass and paint, 60x78x171 inches. Photograph by Josh White and courtesy of the Matthew Marks Gallery. Charles Ray (75BFA) was walking through the UI physics and astronomy department one day when he came across an inspiring scene. Ray, an art student whose curiosity extended far beyond the studio, hoped to hitch a ride out to the observatory for some evening stargazing. Instead, he found a group of students constructing a satellite bound for a space mission. "It just blew my mind," recalls Ray. Just as mind-blowing were the sculptures Ray was creating across the river, years before he would establish himself as one of the world's most important artists. For one physics-defying piece, he fashioned a 2,000-pound slab of concrete atop a slender tree trunk. For another, he dropped a massive wrecking ball onto a crumpled steel plate, as if Sputnik had just crashed outside the old Art Building. Charles Ray "It was such a formative experience for me," the Los Angeles-based sculptor says of his time in Iowa City. "It did something to my soul and my brain. Even though I was young, the university and my mentors gave me a great deal of independence. My curiosity was endless." A professor emeritus at the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture, Ray returns to campus this month to speak and receive the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' Alumni Fellow award. Rather than just waxing nostalgic about his time at Iowa, Ray has organized a three-day lecture series April 16-18 with two fellow art scholars. Iowa native Graham Harman, a philosophy professor at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, will open the series by discussing his theory of aesthetics known as object-oriented ontology. On the second day, Ray will speak about the nature of sculptural objects. And Richard Neer, an art historian at the University of Chicago, will bookend the series by lecturing on the question of provenance, or art's origin. Ray will also give a separate public lecture April 17 in Art Building West titled "My Soul is an Object." Recognized as one of the leading artists of his generation, Ray is known for his strange and enigmatic sculptures so loaded with nods to the past that they've been called "catnip for art historians." His 2014 Horse and Rider, for example, is a 10-ton solid stainless steel work in the tradition of a war memorial, but depicts the artist slouch-shouldered atop a weary nag. Ray is also famous for his wry re-imaginings of familiar objects, like the 47-foot-long replica of a red toy fire truck that he parked in front of New York's Whitney Museum of American Art for a 1993 biennial exhibition. Ray and his studio team often spend years working on a given piece, which can fetch as much as seven figures at auction. His sculptures can be found at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among other major U.S. museums. Ray is currently preparing for a retrospective show in Paris next year?one of several upcoming international exhibitions. Isabel Barbuzza, UI associate professor of sculpture, describes Ray's work as beautiful and witty, while using scale in unexpected ways. Ray's 8-foot-tall Boy with Frog?commissioned for a prominent spot in Venice, Italy, then removed after some controversy (a version now stands outside the Getty Museum in Los Angeles)?is among Barbuzza's favorites. "His sculptures have a presence you can only see when you're in front of the work," she says. "They're very moving, and to me it's interesting what happens with scale?the viewer relates to the piece in a very profound way." Steve McGuire (83MA, 90PhD), director of the School of Art and Art History, says few others have contributed more to contemporary art than Ray. "This is a big deal for us to be able to celebrate his career," McGuire says of presenting Ray with the alumni fellow award. "I think it's pretty meaningful to him, and of course it's really meaningful for our school." A Chicago native, Ray arrived at Iowa as a gifted artist but hardly a model student. Ray's dyslexia made schoolwork a chore, and his parents had sent him to military school with the hopes of straightening out his academics. It was at the UI, however, where he finally found his language in the studio and, in turn, his footing in the classroom. "Through the syntax of sculpture, I could express myself intellectually for the first time," Ray says. "That gave me a kind of confidence." Ray studied under UI art school pillars like Wallace Tomasini, Julius Schmidt, and Hans Breder. But it was his bond with Roland Brenner?a South African professor and former pupil of sculptor Anthony Caro?that proved to be the most influential. Ray still remembers his first sculpture in Brenner's class, a steel configuration with long stems and discs at the end. Its bouquet-like resemblance didn't sit well with Brenner. "That showed me you made something, but didn't want to discover something," Ray recalls Brenner telling him. "Don't ever do that in my class again." The two would become lifelong friends. Iowa City is a different place today than the 1970s, particularly the transformation of the arts campus after the flood of 2008, Ray says. Still, his visits back to campus over the years always remind him of those crisp and clear Iowa nights at the observatory and gazing out the studio window while exploring the frontiers of sculpture. "It feels like you can see right through the galaxy when you look up," Ray says. Handheld bird by Charles Ray, 2006, painted steel, 2x4x3 inches The UI is home to six pieces by Ray, all found in the Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building and displayed through the university's Art on Campus program. Among them is Handheld bird, a tiny but ornate piece depicting a creature in an embryonic state. Lunchtime Lecture Series What: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences fellow Charles Ray and two guest art scholars?Graham Harman and Richard Neer?will deliver a series of public lectures this month at the UI. When, where: 12:20 p.m. April 16?18 at Art Building West, room 240, 141 N. Riverside Drive, Iowa City More information: events.uiowa.edu/26915 My Soul is an Object: Artist Talk with Charles Ray What: A public lecture by renowned sculptor and UI alumnus Charles Ray When, where: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 17, at Art Building West, room 240, 141 N. Riverside Drive, Iowa City More about Ray: charlesraysculpture.com/ Support the UI School of Art and Art History

The Graduates of the Last Decade ("GOLD") Leadership Group advocates for the interests of recent graduates of the University of Iowa (alumni who earned a UI degree within the past 10 years).

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