Queen’s debates response to torn or burnt degrees

Following degree destroying video in April, Senate weighs potential for rescinding degrees

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In April of this year, alumnus Scott Vrooman tore up his Queen’s Commerce degree on camera, and brought the pieces back to Principal Daniel Woolf’s office in protest for the Board of Trustees decision not to divest from the fossil fuel industry. 

Months later, during the most recent meeting of Queen’s Senate on Nov. 1, a report from the Senate Committee on Academic Procedures discussed the official administrative response to students tearing — or even burning — their degrees.   

“SCAP was asked to explore a possible policy to rescind a degree at the request of a student,” the report read. The intention of the action and the accountability for the action undertaken were discussed. It was felt that, in the absence of a policy for such instances, the University “could not infer a reaction without risk”. 

The report noted that the matter was discussed at length. At this time, members of SCAP were uncomfortable with the idea that a symbolic action could be interpreted as a request to rescind a degree. 

Though the report didn’t list a specific instance as the catalyst to explore a possible policy, Vrooman’s public tearing of his degree fit with the instances they were discussing and the timeline of the request. 

Vrooman, who followed his Bachelor of Commerce degree from Queen’s with a Master’s degree from Dalhousie, is a former economist who “quit to write jokes” as a comedian and writer for Vice, Funny or Die, This Hour has 22 Minutes and Conan. 

In November of 2015 however, Vrooman broke from satire in a video he posted, tearing up his master’s degree in displeasure at Dalhousie’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels. 

He followed this up in April of 2016 with a similar video in which he tore his Bachelor degree on Queen’s campus and went to personally hand it back to Principal Daniel Woolf in a sealed envelope. 

At the time, Principal Woolf was unable to see him, but Vrooman wrote in the video he was open to discussing the matter further, if Woolf unblocked him on Twitter.

In an interview with The Journal, Vrooman said that since his direct action in April, no one from Queen’s administration had contacted him regarding the incident. However, after using the School of Business alumni network to harvest emails and send out a divestment petition, his account was cancelled. 

He was clear that his intention was not to rescind his academic qualifications. 

“I ripped it up and handed it back to the School of Business. I didn't do any official paperwork to try to rescind the degree. I didn't really see a point. The idea was to bring attention to an injustice, and ripping up the degree did that,” he said. 

When asked about a potential policy to strip alumni of their degree for similar actions, Vrooman was puzzled. 

“The only motivation I can think of for a policy like that would be as a deterrent to protest, which doesn't strike me as a very enlightened move for a school that sees itself a place of open, intellectual debate,” he said. 

In an emailed statement, Secretary of the University and Corporate Council, Lon Knox told The Journal that “the Committee agreed that the University should not institute such a policy to allow for degrees to be rescinded at an alumnus’ request.” 

“With the exception of honorary degrees, students earn their degree. Unless due to a matter of academic misconduct or an administrative error, it was felt that the record should not be rewritten.”

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