Labor secretary to speak at graduation

U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao will be Marquette's commencement speaker on May 21, the university announced Monday.

Chao has been Secretary of Labor since January 2001 and is the first Asian American woman appointed to the Cabinet in U.S. history, according to her biography on the Labor Department's Web site.

"She's the executive in charge of anything that directly impacts workers," said Cheryl Maranto, associate professor of management. Among the roles of the department Chao supervises are enforcing regulations from the department and collecting data on workers, which will be used as part of an assessment on the health of the economy, she Maranto said.

Her job is also that of an "advisory post," according to Timothy Keaveny, professor of management. Among the current issues she may advise on, he said, are undocumented workers and layoffs in the automobile industry.

Chao received her M.B.A. from Harvard and her undergraduate degree in economics from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. Prior to being secretary of labor, she was president and CEO of United Way of America, director of the Peace Corps, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank, among other roles.

"Commencement speakers are chosen for achievement and excellence in their fields, ability to inspire graduates, and demonstration of the Marquette mission and ethical leadership," said Director of University Communication Brigid O'Brien Miller in an e-mailed statement to the Tribune.

The Department of Labor referred the Tribune's calls to the university.

In choosing Chao, the university went through a process in which University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild and his staff consulted "a variety of students, faculty, alumni and staff during the process of selecting a commencement speaker," O'Brien Miller said.

After the consultations, "nominations for honorary degree recipients are considered by the Committee on University Honors, chaired by (associate professor of German) Dr. John Pustejovsky, and then approved by the Board of Trustees," O'Brien Miller said in the statement.

Rana Altenburg, vice president in the Office of Public Affairs, said Chao had been considered by the university to speak in the past, and the "timing worked for this year."

Three other individuals will receive honorary doctorates at the ceremony.

Cardinal Avery Dulles, a professor at Fordham University in New York who is an author and theologian as well as the past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society, will receive an honorary doctorate of religious studies degree.

Richard Burke, a 1956 graduate of the College of Business Administration, trustee emeritus and namesake for the Burke Scholars program, will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree. Eleonore A. Stump, a professor of philosophy at Saint Louis University, is the president of the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association. Stump has also served as president of the Society of Christian Philosophers and American Catholic Philosophical Association. She is a prolific author and will receive an honorary doctor of letters degree.