In the workplace and elsewhere, giving someone a title can eliminate the need to reward them financially.
In too many cases, it seems that universities across the nation apply that philosophy when they award honorary degrees to celebrities who agree to deliver a commencement address.
Now that state universities in Kansas will be allowed to award honorary degrees, we hope they will reserve that honor for recipients who are truly deserving and not cheapen the designation by using it to attract celebrity speakers or reward financial support for the university.
The policy adopted last year by the Kansas Board of Regents tries to preserve the dignity and distinction that should accompany an honorary degree. It says honorary degrees should be considered “an exceptional honor” that is conferred to candidates “deeply grounded in a career of scholarship, research, creative activity, service to humanity or other profession consistent with the academic endeavors of the University awarding the degrees.”
Honorary degrees, it says, should not be considered an annual occurrence and they specifically “shall not be awarded for philanthropic activity or service” to the state or the university.
With those caveats in mind, officials at Kansas University are starting the process of considering potential honorary degree recipients. In some cases the recipients might be asked to give a speech that could replace the chancellor’s traditional address or be in addition to it. Who addresses the graduates at commencement will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Some years, KU may elect not to award any honorary degrees.
That’s as it should be. It’s fine for KU and other state universities to have the option of awarding honorary degrees, but it’s an honor that should be granted sparingly to only the most deserving recipients. Having a recipient address the graduating class could be a nice addition to KU’s commencement, but it’s unlikely to ever eclipse the true main event for KU graduates: the walk through the Campanile and down the hill to Memorial Stadium.