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.

9 thoughts on “A few words on honorary degrees”

  1. That is something I agree with. Award them medals but not honorary degrees.
    On other news, you seem to have thought about everything. Jurisprudence, education, land ownership and so on. Great posts my friend.

  2. I always thought honorary degrees were a bit silly. I read somewhere today that Ghent University wanted to award one to Leonard Cohen, who said he didn’t have time to write the acceptance speech.

    1. They are silly. A few years ago Leiden University gave an honorary degree to our Queen; not because she had done something particular, but to honour the relation between our royal family and the university (Leiden university was founded by the founder of the Dutch royal family, some 438 years ago).

  3. I think that the reason Universities do this is to “claim” the individuals as their alumni. If they have popular figures as alumni that could have a direct effect on class enrollment. They might also be able to call upon these status symbols to give motivational speeches.

    Whatever the case is, I believe that if the are awarded honorary degrees that it should have the title “honorary” next to the degree and not carry the same weight as a normal degree. It should basically only be a piece of paper to hang on a wall, and not an achievement for the individual to tack onto a resume. I mean if it’s the same as a normal degree, then what is the difference in me buying my degree online without even taking classes? There are actually schools that sell degrees online and give you credits based solely on your personal work experience. I haven’t found one that is accredited yet though. They should be if an “honorary” degree is.

    1. Fortunately, in most cases honorary doctorates come with a specification of the nature of the degree. However, the holder of such honorary doctorate is fully entitled to call him- herself Dr. X. Therefore replacing honorary degrees with medals, will remove any ambiguity in regard of the award.

      1. I do agree with your point to an extent. What I think you aren’t giving proper recognition for is the ability for someone to self educate. Albert Einstein himself once said, “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

        I agree that a doctorate degree is a prescribed set of courses and hours at a university, but who is to say that someone without that doctorate is less of an expert on a subject? I’ve known plenty of MD’s that seemed to not know their ass from a hole in the ground.

        1. I agree with Einstein, most stuff I know I have learned outside formal education.

          You are addressing a good point. The ability to educate oneself is an important one, and should be encouraged. I agree with you that being an expert on a subject does not necessarily require a doctorate. If a person has the expertise with the equivalence of a doctorate, and is therefore an “honorary” degree, then I would not have a problem with this awarding. Though we might ask in how far this is really an honorary degree, it has happened in the passed that people got doctorates for their research or expertise without previous formal education. However, most honorary doctorates are awarded for dubious reasons.

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