Distinguished University Professor presentations set for March 18


Three faculty members who have received one of the University of Michigan’s top honors will talk about their career work before a virtual and in-person audience March 18.

Distinguished University Professors Webb Keane, Peggy McCracken and Kamal Sarabandi will speak at 4 p.m. in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business’ Robertson Auditorium.


The public is welcome to attend. The event also will be livestreamed. Each lecture will include a brief question-and-answer session. A reception will follow.

Webb, McCracken and Sarabandi were named Distinguished Professors by the Board of Regents in 2022.

Regents established the professorships in 1947 to recognize senior faculty who have exceptional scholarly or creative achievements, national and international reputations for academic excellence and superior records of teaching, mentoring and service.

Each honoree names the professorship after a person of distinction in their field. Recipients give an inaugural lecture that highlights their professional and scholarly experience.

Those who wish to attend or watch the livestream of the lectures can register online.

Here’s a look at the professors and the topics of their presentations:

Webb Keane

A photo of Webb Keane
Webb Keane

“How We Interact with Animals, Robots, Gods, and AI”

Keane is the George Herbert Mead Distinguished University Professor of Anthropology. He is also a professor of anthropology in LSA.

Keane is a sociocultural anthropologist whose research and writing on semiotics, comparative religion, cultural systems and ethics has influenced many scholarly fields, including linguistic anthropology, history, religious studies, cultural studies, social theory, philosophy and social psychology. He investigates fundamental questions about religion, personhood, ethics and exchange, and how those interconnected domains relate to language.

In their recommendation letter to the Board of Regents, Michael Solomon, Rackham Graduate School dean and vice provost for academic affairs, and Laurie McCauley, provost and executive vice provost for academic affairs, said Keane’s 2016 book, “Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories,” was “widely hailed as a masterful achievement.”

His presentation will include thoughts from his forthcoming book, “Animals, Robots, Gods: Adventures in the Moral Imagination.” The book examines the moral problems that arise when humans interact with “near humans or quasi-humans.” From new technologies like artificial intelligence and self-driving vehicles to animals and “quasi-human spirits and superhuman gods,” Keane looks at these morally significant contact zones to question what truly makes us human.

Peggy McCracken

A photo of Peggy McCracken
Peggy McCracken

“Affect and Embodiment in Medieval France”

McCracken is the Anna Julia Cooper Distinguished University Professor of Medieval French Literature, the Mary Fair Croushore Professor, and professor of French, of women’s and gender studies, and of comparative literature in LSA. She is also the director of LSA’s Institute for the Humanities.

McCracken is an internationally recognized scholar of medieval French literature and culture. Solomon and McCauley said her 2017 book, “In the Skin of a Beast: Sovereignty and Animality in Medieval France,” was “field-defining.” It examines medieval Latin and French vernacular fictional writing to explore how literary texts use accounts of human-animal encounters to raise questions about mastery, submission and inferiority.

McCracken’s presentation will examine the medieval French translations of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” stories of people transformed into animals, plants and stones. These stories of intense emotion causing bodily change pose the question: When human corporeality is lost, what can remain of the human? McCracken will tackle this idea and “suggest that these stories situate humans in an ecology of beings and things held in relation to each other by affect.”

Kamal Sarabandi

A photo of Kamal Sarabandi
Kamal Sarabandi

“My Research Journey in Applied Electromagnetics”

Sarabandi is the Fawwaz T. Ulaby Distinguished University Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the Rufus S. Teesdale Professor of Engineering, and professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering.

Sarabandi is a leading researcher in the science of radar remote sensing and in the development of technologies that have enabled its use in many applications.

“Professor Sarabandi has led and shaped the field of radar remote sensing for the past 30 years,” Solomon and McCauley said. “His many pioneering contributions include models for the propagation and calibration of electromagnetic waves, innovative designs for miniaturized antennae designs, and the development of algorithms for mobile radars that allow the creation of highly detailed two- and three-dimension images of landscapes and other objects.”

Sarabandi’s presentation will provide a glimpse into his research activities in the field of electromagnetics throughout his career. Electromagnetic theory has had a profound influence on a wide range of disciplines including medicine, defense and environmental remote sensing. Recent electromagnetic research can be attributed to the escalating demand for information and data access, heightened security requirements and the imperative for global environment monitoring.


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