Honorary degrees

If I chose to express my feelings towards honorary graduations through the medium of modern text-speak it would be ‘wtf’.

Wtf indeed.

Don’t get me wrong, the people honoured often have a lifetime of remarkable achievements under their belt. But that, I’m sorry to say, does not a degree make.

Not owning a copy of the OED I turned to the 21st century oracle for a definition:

“An academic degree is a position and title within a college or university that is usually awarded in recognition of the recipient having either satisfactorily completed a prescribed course of study or having conducted a scholarly endeavour deemed worthy of his or her admission to the degree.”

A degree is an award for a set number of years of academic study in a certain discipline, so why give on to an actor or philanthropist? There are other ways to mark their success. In the same vein, I didn’t expect after three years of study to be awarded an OBE or an Oscar!

It’s slightly better when an institution rewards local heroes (or even people within the University who have supported academic life in a non-academic role). Call me a cynic but the whole process often smacks of an easy way to add some celebrity dazzle to university press releases.

On a happier graduation note I really don’t think we celebrate degrees enough! I know so many people who miss graduation…how often to you get to dress up like that?! (Hell, it’s a big factor in doing a PhD, so I get to do it all over again) In that vein I was so very proud of my sister who graduated from Durham a couple of weeks ago. Both her and her boyfriend did amazingly well, although I think the hardest part is deciding what to do next…

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2 thoughts on “Honorary degrees

  1. I think its important to recognise peoples achievements, but I think you have a point with some of the honorary degrees that are awarded. On a slightly differnt note, at my sisters graduation recently (bearing in mind she did a biology degree, so all the awards were in biological sciences) they awarded an honorary degree to a guy who had a degree in politics and spent his life working int he coal industry. That didnt make a lot of sense, surely they should be celebrating advances in science?
    Also, the fact that it seems a bit like an old boys club, there really arent a lot of female academics sitting behind the stage, getting these awards, despite the fact there were many more women graduating with PhDs than men.

    • I agree it’s nice to recognise people’s achievements; at Durham every honorary graduate had some link to Durham or the north east and many to the university. One was awarded to a lady who had been involved in pastoral care at the University in an outstanding manner (http://www.dur.ac.uk/news/allnews/?itemno=12358), one could say she had contributed a lot to academic progress (in mentoring students through their time at uni) whilst not herself doing academic work, and so an honorary degree was probably a nice touch here. But UEA gave one to Patrick Stewart!

      The Times’ weekly science supplement ‘Eureka’ did a ‘top 100 in science list’ where they named the top 100 British people in science; scientists, policy makers, business leaders, TV presenters, writers, etc. They clearly realised it was going to cause a bit of an issue that they only had 12/100 as women and so state in their introduction “…all Britain’s living Nobel laurates in science and 9 out 10 Fellows of the Royal Society [are male]. It is thus, unsuprising, if regrettable, that our Eureka 100 list is dominated by men. Generally it takes decades to acquire a world-class reputation in science, and those who one today reflect an age in whcih women foten struggled to make their way in research. In canvassing opinion in the community for a list of up-and-coming talent, however, it became clear that a younger generation of scientists has a much more even gender balance….It would be too much to say that science has solved its sex problem, and there remains a much higher attrition rate for women than men as they climb the career ladder. But it would be astonishing if the Eureka 100 we compile a decade from now were not to include many more female names.”

      This is true, but also I do agree with you “old boys club” – like breeds like and if the system is run by men from a men’s point of view breaking the cycle becomes very hard…who provides the impetus for creating valid child-care breaks that don’t affect your publication record for example??

      Hope you had fun in Nottingham, speak soon

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