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ERIC Number: EJ847378
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Jun-12
Pages: 1
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 0
ISSN: ISSN-0009-5982
It's an Honor to Receive This Doctorate
Bartlett, Thomas
Chronicle of Higher Education, v55 n39 pA1 Jun 2009
When President Obama gave his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame last month, he lightened the mood with a joke about honorary degrees. "So far I'm only one for two as president," Mr. Obama said. "Father Hesburgh is 150 for 150." He was referring to the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, former Notre Dame president, who just turned 92. And that number, 150, is correct. No one has racked up more honorary degrees than Father Hesburgh. He was president of Notre Dame for 35 years, longer than anyone else. He has held 16 presidential appointments, marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and helped save starving Cambodians. Father Hesburgh can't remember all the institutions where he's received honorary degrees, and he certainly can't remember all the commencement addresses he's given. Sometimes honorary degrees are bestowed upon people whose accomplishments are slightly less stellar. Mike Tyson, Kermit the Frog, and Bruce Willis have all been given honorary degrees. Mike Tyson was a great boxer, Kermit is a hero to millions of kids, and Bruce Willis has been in some action movies-- but they're not exactly Father Hesburgh. That's part of the problem with honorary doctorates, says John Bear, who has written at length about them in his well-known distance-education guides. He first became annoyed with honorary degrees when, soon after earning his own, real Ph.D. from Michigan State University, he learned that Southern Methodist University had given one to Bob Hope. The definitive book on the practice was written by Stephen Edward Epler, the founder of Portland State University. Mr. Epler takes a dim view of honorary degrees, concluding that colleges should abandon them: "The wisest and most practical solution of the honorary degree problem," he writes, "is to give no honorary degrees and, if necessary, to develop new honorifics." A few institutions already abide by that advice, including Cornell University and the University of Virginia. Says Alexander Gilliam, Virginia's history officer "It keeps us out of an awful lot of trouble."
Chronicle of Higher Education. 1255 23rd Street NW Suite 700, Washington, DC 20037. Tel: 800-728-2803; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Adult Education; Higher Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A