A few words on honorary degrees

We are working on a few posts dedicated to educational reforms for space settlements, but in this post we want to discuss the topic of honorary degrees. These are academic degrees awarded by institutions such as universities, which differ from ordinary degrees in that the usual requirements for such a degree (usually a doctorate) are waived by the awarding institute.

Ordinary academic degrees are awarded to students who have earned those by virtue of their studies and scientific research. But honorary degrees are awarded to people to recognize their contributions to society, and (too) often these supposed contributions are dubious, for instance in case of awarding honorary degrees to royalty. This is an issue, because honorary and normal degrees have exactly the same status. A person who has received an honorary doctorate, is fully entitle to call himself “Dr. X”, even if he have no other academic degrees.

The awarding of honorary degrees undermines the meritocratic nature of scientific academia. PhD students put years of hard work to research in order to earn their degrees, whilst an honorary doctors have done nothing of this. Though many universities award honorary degrees, there a few which do not as matter of policy. This includes, among others, MIT and Stanford University.

Therefore we propose that awarding honorary degrees and the use of such degrees should be prohibited by federal law. Instead of awarding honorary degrees, universities of space settlements should follow the example of the University of California by awarding medals to honor notable persons. Such medal could be called “University of X Medal”, but the recipients of these medals do not receive any academic titles.