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Revoked, Rescinded, Withdrawn: Bye Bye Honorary Degrees

Universities love giving out honorary degrees. When it's time to ask for the awards back - as in the case of Bill Cosby - things can get a bit tricky.
This article is more than 5 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

More honorary degree revocations

In earlier posts I’ve covered both the award of honorary degrees and the revocation of the same.

Revocation is rather unusual but does seem to be on the rise as unfortunate histories come to the surface.

Examples of this phenomenon include:

  • The withdrawal of Robert Mugabe’s honorary degree by the University of Edinburgh in 2007. This was followed a short while later by a similar act by University of Massachusetts Amherst.
  • Jimmy Saville had his honorary degree from Bedfordshire University withdrawn in 2012 after his death.
  • Former judge Constance Briscoe was stripped of her honorary degree by the University of Wolverhampton.

However, the most gripping case at the moment is that of Bill Cosby who, according to Wikipedia, is believed to hold dozens of honoraries, but seems to be losing them one by one.

Fordham University has withdrawn its award. Marquette and Brown Universities then followed suit closely followed by LeHigh.

Another one?

And a few more are reported here to have joined in in the last few weeks. The very latest list of those who have revoked, rescinded and withdrawn together with those still agonising about it can be found in this Inside Higher Ed article.

So, perhaps up to 10 so far and t’s possible there are more to come. As a commentator in the Chronicle notes though the revocations tend to be largely symbolic gestures.

Several candidates for revocation have been a bit more fortunate:

  • Fred Goodwin, despite many calls for the withdrawal of the honorary degree he received from St Andrews University, still retains the title. Unlike his knighthood.
  • Cardinal Keith O’Brien was fortunate that his honorary degree from St Andrew’s was not revoked despite a call from at least one member of staff.
  • More recently, Lord Sewel, who made the headlines for all the wrong reasons, faced calls for his honorary, from Aberdeen University, to be revoked.

Of course, you could argue that universities should just be bit more careful about who they dish out honoraries to in the first place. But then who could possibly have predicted any of these individuals would turn out this way?

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