This citation was read at Winter Convocation in February of 2017 when the University of the South bestowed upon Paul Farmer the degree of Doctor of Civil Law, honoris causa.
Dr. Paul Farmer, Honorary Degree Citation
by Eric Hartman, Deb McGrath, Pradip Malde
A medical anthropologist and physician, Dr. Paul Farmer is a founding director of Partners In Health, an international organization that provides health care services and undertakes research and advocacy activities on behalf of those who are sick and living in poverty. Dr. Farmer is a pioneer in community-based treatment strategies for AIDS and tuberculosis.
Many in our community discovered Dr. Farmer as the subject of Tracy Kidder’s book, Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World. The Pulitzer Prize winning volume was required reading for an unprecedented four classes of Sewanee first-year students, the only book ever assigned to multiple classes. Dr. Farmer’s story inspired us, leading us to reflect on our own privilege and to consider the proposition that healthcare is a basic human right, a proposition appropriately considered in an academic setting.
Today, over a decade after our introduction to the life of Dr. Farmer, the University can testify to a deeper relationship with Haiti, to increasing our students’ exposure to the deep needs of the world, and to expanding the opportunities for students and faculty to work in developing countries. We have fallen in love with other members of the Farmer family. In fact, Sewanee might be one of the few places in which the winner of the Duke University Humanitarian Award, the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association, the American Medical Association’s Outstanding International Physician (Nathan Davis) Award, and the Heinz Humanitarian Award winner is also known affectionately as Peggy’s brother, another member of the Farmer family dedicated to healing.
Dr. Paul Farmer reminds us that global health depends on community efforts that cross geo-political borders. He has helped the world to understand connections between health, poverty, racism and war—forces that weaken our immune systems. His work aims to secure better health for the body and for the body politic, knowing that both are connected and require holistic treatment. He exemplifies the potential of a liberal arts education, in which the richness of intellectual skills and interdisciplinary knowledge, when blended with deep empathy, relentless passion, and a call for restorative justice, can lead a single individual to traverse mountains beyond mountains to deliver health care to a single individual in need and then to imagine and begin to deliver a better way of caring for each other.
Therefore, the University of the South is proud to bestow upon Paul Farmer the degree of Doctor of Civil Law, honoris causa.