Political Honorary Degrees v the Pie-Eater’s Club
A recent piece in the Scotsman was scathingly critical of the practice of awarding honorary degrees
Since 2007, three of Scotland’s ancient universities have bestowed an astounding 599 honorifics. The University of Edinburgh leads the way with 259, followed by Glasgow on 196 and St Andrews on 144. Cumulatively, these rarified seats of learning have issued honorary degrees and doctorates at a rate of more than one a week.
It is important to note that this roll call includes a host of estimable figures from a wide field of disciplines who have diligently contributed to the public good.
Universities are entitled to give thanks to their benefactors, but why must it take such a sycophantic form that makes a mockery of ordinary undergraduates? Now is as good a time as any to consider an alternative gesture given Scotland’s universities boast the worst student drop-out rates in the UK. While parchments are dished out to those who have excelled in televised talent contests or simply have deep pockets, eight per cent of those who enrolled on a degree course in 2016 will leave before the start of their second year.
Scotland’s universities continue to be held in international regard, but they would do well to remember the prestige of degrees depends on how they are earned: through hard work, not privilege or status. Otherwise, they will eventually be reduced to the status of lifetime membership of the Desperate Dan Pie-Eater’s Club.
Obviously, it’s not only Scottish universities dishing out honorary degrees. But I thought if we are looking at those with privilege and status who have been conferred an honorary it was time to have a collection of politicians.
An earlier NTWICAHG noted the conferment of degrees on Julia Gillard, John Kerry and George H W Bush. Former President Bush acquired another one more recently, this time from the cleverly named National Intelligence University.
Keeping it in the family, President Bush’s daughter-in-law and first lady of the 43rd President, Laura Bush bagged an honorary from Wayland Baptist University.
Meanwhile, the current US President is due to collect an honorary from Rutgers University this summer.
Someone who has a whole room full of honoraries is former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Muhamad who has recently collected his 46th degree (24 of which have been from universities in Malaysia and the other 22 from institutions in other countries), this time to recognise his work in peace and Islamic studies.
Elsewhere in Asia, at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan’s President Mamnoon Hussain conferred an honorary PhD in Political Science on the President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. It’s a mighty big certificate.
Qatar University meanwhile chose to reward Turkey’s President Erdogan with what is reported to be the first ever honorary degree it has awarded. An interesting choice to say the least.
At Azerbaijan’s Academy of Public Administration, Macedonia’s President Ivanov picked up his seventh honorary degree while back in Scotland the former First Minister Alex Salmond was recognised with an award from the University of Glasgow.
Elsewhere in Scotland, Aberdeen held a ceremony in March to confer the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws on His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, President of the Republic of Ghana.
One interesting dimension of the Aberdeen ceremony to note is that, should you ever find yourself in the academic procession at this ancient seat of learning, you might want to bring your own neckwear as this advice from the Registry points out:
All members of the University taking part in the Procession should wear dark clothes and (if entitled to do so) academic dress, with the gentlemen wearing white bow ties. Please note that the Registry’s stock of white bow ties is very limited and the loan of one cannot, therefore, be guaranteed.
Finally, in a remarkable turn of events, we have a politician refusing an honorary degree. India’s Prime Minister Modi declined an award from Banaras Hindu University:
“Please don’t feel bad that I have said no. This is such a big institution, to just come here is a matter of great pride for me. And what the people of Banaras have given me, no University can. So I am indebted to Banaras,” Modi said expressing gratitude.
Now that’s what I don’t call an honorary degree.