"Honoring Excellence at Indiana University: Professor Elinor Ostrom Delivers Nobel Lecture"

Professor Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Lecture Presentation
IU Auditorium, Indiana University Bloomington
February 16, 2010


It is a great pleasure to welcome you this afternoon as we celebrate and honor IU Professor Elinor Ostrom. Before we begin, I would like to take a moment to introduce a number of distinguished guests.

I am particularly pleased to introduce members of the IU Board of Trustees, and would you please hold your applause until all have been introduced: President of the Board of Trustees, Bill Cast, Phil Eskew, Abbey Stemler, our student trustee, and Sue Talbot. Would you join me in welcoming our trustees?

I am also pleased to introduce Provost and Executive Vice President Karen Hanson. I would also like to welcome senior university leaders, vice presidents, deans, and members of our outstanding faculty. Thank you all for coming this afternoon.


On Thursday, December 10th, 2009, Professor Ostrom was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons.” She is the first woman and the first political scientist to have received this honor. This award was established in 1968 and is officially known as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Dr. Ostrom received this award upon the recommendation of members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the King of Sweden formally presented it to her.

These are the facts.

What those facts cannot fully convey are the heights of distinction that Lin has achieved nor the honor that she has brought to Indiana University nor the great pride we share in her accomplishment.

This afternoon we gather to hear a revised version of the lecture she delivered when she accepted her award in Sweden. We also recognize the pinnacle of achievement she has reached. And we thank Lin and her husband and long-time collaborator Professor Emeritus Vincent Ostrom for the vibrant and creative intellectual community that they have fostered for over forty years at Indiana University.

IU’ Nobel Laureates

As we gather for this celebration, we should pay tribute to the university’s history of Nobel Laureates.

  • Hermann Muller received the 1946 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine;
  • James Watson received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1962;
  • Hans Jenson was named a 1963 Nobel Laureate in Physics;
  • Salvador Luria was a 1969 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology and Medicine;
  • Renato Dulbecco received the 1975 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine;
  • Ferid Murad was honored with a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1998;
  • and Riccardo Giacconi received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002.

Of these distinguished scholars, only Hermann Muller was an IU faculty member at the time he received the Nobel Prize for his path-breaking discoveries in the field of genetics.

On a day much like today, in early January of 1947, around 3,000 members of the university community and citizens of Bloomington gathered in this very Auditorium to recognize Dr. Muller’s achievement.

That evening, IU’s legendary 11th president Herman B Wells spoke about the nature of scholarly competition. He said, “There is competition among scholars, but it is of a special type. The struggle to win distinction is as intense as in any other field of human activity. But in scholarly competition success is not won at the expense of others. There is no attempt to take advantage of or push others back. Instead each success on the part of one inevitably brings new opportunities for creative achievement to all others working on related problems.”

He continued, “That is not all. Each new honor won by a member of our faculty brings increased prestige to all members of the faculty and student body. And so it is in every institution throughout the land.” 1

Professor Elinor Ostrom: Collaboration and Achievement

The spirit of collaboration for mutual benefit and progress that President Wells described just over six decades ago captures the powerful intellectual spirit that Lin Ostrom has generated during her over forty years at Indiana University. Although many of you may know Lin or may have read about her achievements, I would like to take a moment to offer a few of the many, many highlights of her long and illustrious career.

Lin received her Bachelors of Arts degree with Honors in Political Science from UCLA in 1954. The next year, she took a job in personnel management in Boston then returned to Los Angeles for a similar position. Ultimately, she completed a master’s in political science in 1962 and a doctorate degree in 1965, both at UCLA.

Academic Positions

Upon graduation, Lin came to Indiana University as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Government. We are most fortunate and grateful that she has since called IU her academic home. Over the course of a few years, she became a full professor, and the Department of Government became the Department of Political Science.

From 1980 to 1984, she served as chair of the department—the first woman to hold that position—and as acting chair from 1989 to 1990. Currently, Lin holds the title of Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences and she also serves as a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

The Workshop and Other Directorships

In 1973, Lin co-founded the Workshop on Political Theory and Policy Analysis with her husband, Vincent Ostrom. That workshop has served as a model for collaborative, interdisciplinary scholarship that brings scholars together from around the world to answer some of the world’s most vexing questions: questions related to water resources, peace-building, environmental pollution, democracy, and governance. It was just last summer, after serving for 36 years as co-director of the Workshop, that Lin became Senior Research Director.

In 2006, she became the founding director of the Center for the Study of Institutional Diversity, the Workshop’s sister center at Arizona State University in Tempe, a position she still holds. And from 1996 to 2006, Lin served as co-director of the Center for the Study of Institutions, Population, and Environmental Change at IU.

Memberships and Service to the Discipline

Lin is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Political and Social Science. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and of the American Philosophical Society. She has served as president of the American and the Midwest Political Science Associations, the International Association for the Study of Common Property, and the Public Choice Society.

She has served on advisory boards for some of the most prestigious institutions in the world including the Max-Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, the MacArthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Stockholm Resilience Center.

Of course, Lin also serves on a great many other advisory boards, serves on the editorial boards of nearly two dozen leading journals, and has received countless awards honoring her scholarship and her service. Let me offer just a few additional highlights.

Honors and Awards: Distinguished Professorships

At last count, she has received at least eight honorary doctorate degrees from universities around the world, including the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, McGill University in Montreal, and the University of Zurich. She was the first woman to receive the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science from the Johan Skytte Foundation at Uppsala University in Sweden. She was the first woman to receive the James Madison Award from the American Political Science Association, and she was the first woman to receive the William H. Riker Prize in Political Science from the University of Rochester.

As a scholar, Lin has been prolific, publishing—as author and editor—at least thirty books on organizational theory, political science, and public administration, and a select list of her presentations and published articles and chapters runs over thirty pages long.

In addition to all of this, Lin Ostrom is a person who combines brilliance with collegiality; and exuberance with modesty. She epitomizes what it means to be a scholar and a true colleague who shares her success with others as generously as she shares her ideas.

For this reason, and so many others, it gives me great pleasure to announce that, upon the recommendation of the faculty and with the approval of the Trustees of Indiana University, Lin Ostrom will now hold the rank of Distinguished Professor of Indiana University.

Bestowing the University Medal

Before Lin delivers her remarks, we have one further honor to bestow. Both Lin and Vincent Ostrom have been vital members of the Indiana University community since they arrived here over four decades ago. For nearly every award, publication, and service that Lin has contributed to this university and to her discipline, we could find a parallel in Vincent’s career.

After holding positions in political science as Assistant Professor at the University of Wyoming, Assistant then Associate Professor at the University of Oregon, and Associate Professor at UCLA, Vincent accepted a full professorship at Indiana University.

He was a fellow with the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, with the Center for Interdisciplinary Research at Bielefeld University in Germany, and a Hooker Distinguished Visiting Scholar at McMaster University in Ontario.

He has been honored a number of times by the American Political Science Association, first being named the Daniel Elazar Distinguished Scholar, then receiving the Martha Derthick Best Book Award for The Political Theory of a Compound Republic, and in 2005 receiving the John Gaus Distinguished Lecturer Award, honoring a lifetime of exemplary scholarship in both political science and public administration.

In 2003, both Vincent and Elinor were jointly honored by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation with Lifetime Achievement Awards in honor of their individual and collective contributions to the Workshop. Tonight, it is my distinct privilege, on behalf of Indiana University, to add another joint honor to Lin and Vincent Ostrom’s long list of accolades.

It gives me great pleasure to announce the award to Lin and Vincent Ostrom of the University Medal. Created in 1982, University Medal is the highest award the university has to give. It is awarded at the recommendation of the president and with the approval of the Trustees, and has been given only 10 times in the university’s history.

In each case, the recipient has transformed the face of the university through extraordinary and historic contributions. The form of this award, authorized by the Trustees, is an 18-karat gold medal bearing the Indiana University seal. Accompanying the medal is an official University Parchment that commemorates this occasion.

Lin and Vincent, would you please join me at the podium? By virtue of the authority vested in me by the trustees of Indiana University, in gratitude for your extraordinary service to the university over many decades, I am privileged and honored to name Elinor and Vincent Ostrom the latest recipients of the Indiana University Medal. Please join me in congratulating them. Now it is now my great privilege to introduce 2009 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences, IU Distinguished Professor, and Arthur F. Bentley Professor of Political Science, Professor Elinor Ostrom.

[Professor Ostrom delivers her remarks.]


Before we conclude, I would like to introduce IU Professors Jimmy Walker and Michael McGinnis, who are the new co-directors of the Workshop. We all know that it takes two men to do the same job that Lin has been doing over the years. Would you all join me again in thanking Distinguished Professor Elinor Ostrom and her husband Professor Emeritus Vincent Ostrom?

Thank you very much.

Source Notes

  1. Wells, Herman B. “Notes for Remarks at Convocation Honoring Dr. Hermann J. Muller, Noble Prize-Winner.” Indiana University Auditorium. Bloomington, Indiana. 23 Jan. 1947. Indiana University Archives. http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/metsnav/archives/navigate.do?oid=VAA2642-00410