Letters to the Editor, Opinions

Letter: Don’t rescind honorary degrees

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

To the Editor:

Self-described “non-donating” alum Nicholas Morley ’13 raised engaging questions about the nature of honorary degrees in a May 18 Herald op-ed entitled “Rescind Junot Díaz’s Honorary Doctorate,” but as a donating alum, I would humbly suggest that the University steer clear of revoking such distinctions. Junot Díaz is certainly not alone among controversial honorees. Surely, if we are to reconsider his honorary doctorate, we might also wish to take a look at the honorary degrees of former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner (1961), imprisoned for mail fraud, and Pennsylvania State football coach Joe Paterno ’50 (1975), allegedly implicated in covering up a pedophilia scandal. And then the alums who turned their backs at graduation on former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (1969) and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown (1977) will want their bites at the apple, as well as more recent graduates still seething over awards to Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi (2017) and Jordanian autocrat Hussein bin Talal (1999). I suppose the Prohibitionists will then have a claim against liquor baron Sidney Frank ’42 (2005), and the anti-communists will once again raise the case of Owen Lattimore (1975) … and soon we will be left only with Theodor Geisel, Dr. Seuss, (1987), if we can overlook his support for the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. I fear it is much easier to start cutting off heads than to stop, which is why the French Revolution ended with Robespierre on the guillotine.

Rather than revisiting history, Brown might prove prudent to leave its past symbolic decisions, both wise and unwise, alone. History has a way of handling these matters quite effectively on its own, as the names of the overwhelming majority of honorees from past generations are not even remotely familiar to most current undergraduates.

Jacob Appel ’96, MA ’96