Martin receives honorary degree

Tradition criticized as publicity ploy

The Right Honourable Paul Martin was one of 10 graduates to receive an honourary degree from Queen’s during last month’s convocation ceremonies. Canada’s 21st Prime Minister received a Doctor of Laws and gave a speech at the MBA convocation on May 28.
The Right Honourable Paul Martin was one of 10 graduates to receive an honourary degree from Queen’s during last month’s convocation ceremonies. Canada’s 21st Prime Minister received a Doctor of Laws and gave a speech at the MBA convocation on May 28.

Many academics worry the tradition of awarding honorary degrees has become warped in recent years.

But according to administration, Queen’s has safe guards to maintain the tradition’s credibility.

The university handed out ten honorary doctorates during last month’s convocation ceremonies. The Right Honourable Paul Martin was among the recipients.

The tradition sparks debate over the purpose and currency of the doctorates.

In an article titled Bogus Degree Alert, Dr. Ric Walston, President of the Columbia Evangelical seminary, said he’s concerned that honorary degrees are often misconstrued as legitimate qualifications for jobs.

Walston claimed an honorary degree is different from an earned degree in theory. But it isn’t always recognized as different.

He said there have been cases where honorary degrees have been used to get professor jobs.

“It makes a mockery out of real education and teaching,” Walston told the Journal via e-mail.

Several academic institutions, including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institution of Technology and the University of Virginia abstain from the practice.

Founder of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, began the Institution’s policy against honorary degrees in 1819.

University of Virginia chairman, William Barton Rogers, reaffirmed the policy in 1845 to reassure their Master of Arts degree was not awarded as an honorary degree.

“The legislators of the University ... disdaining such literary almsgiving, have firmly barred the door against the demands of spurious merit and noisy popularity,” Rogers said in a report to the Virginia Legislature’s Committee of Schools and Colleges.

In a Guardian article titled “I’m a celebrity, get me an honorary degree!”, Stuart Jeffries describes the tradition as a publicity ploy.

“So the media ... is to blame for this benighted trend,” Jefferies wrote after quoting a St. Andrews University official saying the current cult of celebrity made the names of musicians and actors the only honorary degree recipients that got any notability.

Jefferies said the state of the tradition is worrisome considering figures like Kermit the Frog are receiving honorary degrees.

The Muppet was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Amphibious Studies from the University of Long Island’s Southampton College.

“Why bother going to college, studying hard and getting into debt for the sake of some letters after your name? All you need to do is get famous and they’ll throw doctorates at you,” the article’s tagline says.

Honorary doctorates awarded by Queen’s are in law, science and divinity, depending on the individual’s contribution to society.

Martin received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the convocation for MBA students on May 28.

University Secretary Georgina Moore said Queen’s language regarding honorary degrees is deliberately clear.

“The honorary degree is recognizing the outstanding contribution of a person in many ways,” she said. “It’s got nothing to do particularly with an academic qualification.”

A Queen’s Honorary Doctorate does not come with a PhD designation.

An honorary doctorate of Laws is labelled LL.D. A honourary doctorate of Science is DSc and Honourary Doctorate of Divinity is DD.

Moore said a Queen’s honorary degree wouldn’t be mistaken for an earned one.

“Anybody who knows anything about academic credentials can with no problem make the distinction between the honorary degree and the earned degree.”

Moore said the point of honorary degrees isn’t to award a well established individual with another qualification.

“It’s a long standing tradition of academic institutions to confer these honours on outstanding people,” she said. “We’re looking or people whose values are consistent with the values the University aspires to.

“It reflects well on the University.”

Recipients become part of Queen’s alumni community and remain in contact with the university, Moore said.

“They are invited into the Queen’s alumni family,” she said. “We would embrace them as we would any graduate of the Queen’s community.”

There’s a slight distinction between an alumnus with an earned degree and an alumnus with an honorary degree.

“It would probably say LLD which would be the signal that this is honorary degree not an earned degree,” Moore said.

Nominations for honorary degrees are reviewed by the Senate Committee on Honorary Degrees and can be put forward by various people both internal and external to the university.

Moore is the sectretary of the senate comittee.

“It’s a very broad spectrum of the community,” she said.

The Senate Committee is composed of representatives from each of the Queen’s faculties and schools, the alumni association, the AMS and SGPS president, the rector and the chancellor. The principle acts as the senate’s chair.

The committee uses guidelines set out by the university to review the pool of nominees and choose approximately 12 honorary doctorate candidates for the spring and fall ceremonies. This year the spring ceremony included ten recipients and the fall ceremony will include four.

Moore said Queen’s honours individuals whose values are aligned with those of the university.

The former Prime Minister said he was honoured because the degree was from Queen’s.

“Queen’s is one of the great universities, not only one of the great Canadian universities but one of the North American great universities,” he said.

Martin addressed students graduating with MBA (full-time), MBA (accelerated) and MM degrees from the school of business.

AMS President Safiah Chowdhury was present at the MBA convocation because MBA students fall under the AMS.

She said Martin’s presence at the ceremony was a welcomed by graduates.

“When it came to giving inspiration or providing a range of opportunities or ideas, I think his speech was really effective to that graduating class,” said Chowdhury, who will sit on the senate committee for next year’s selections.

“He kind of spoke about the importance of having people with a business background be involved in public service.”

—with files from Rachel Kuper and Clare Clancy

Some Queen’s honorary alumni

Eleanor Roosevelt (1948)
David Suzuki (1987)

Donald Sutherland (1995)

Robertson Davies (1962)
Northrop Frye (1962)
Margaret Atwood (1974)
Joy Kogawa (2003)

Alexander G. Bell (1909)
Galen Weston (2008)

Oscar Peterson (1976)

Edward Burtynsky (2007)

Sir John A. MacDonald (1863)
Sir Wilfred Laurier (1898)
Lyon Mackenzie King (1919)
Franklin D. Roosevelt (1938)
Lester B. Peason (1965)
Pierre Trudeau (1968)
Tommy Douglas (1972)
Prince Charles (1991)
Michael Ignatieff (2001)

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