Archive for May 19th, 2013

At the end of every spring semester, along with final exams and class evaluations, is commencement. The purpose of commencement, as I see it, is to commend students on their accomplishments and send them into the world to do good things. As such, I get frustrated by the aspects of commencement that do not support these goals. Among the most ridiculous of these is the awarding of honorary degrees. At my school’s most recent commencement, the president stated that one of the purposes of honorary degrees is to show students what it is possible to accomplish, but they often seem more like an attempt by colleges and universities to align themselves with people who have done great things, as if this alignment will help with fundraising.

I have always thought that honorary degrees were somewhat ridiculous, but they seem even more ridiculous when given by a small liberal arts school. Why, I have wondered, does a school with no Ph.D. programs have the ability to give honorary doctorates in seemingly any area. And how do the recipients of these degrees feel about them? For those who already have Ph.D.s I assume they feel unnecessary, while for those without Ph.D.s it seems more likely to be a reminder of what they haven’t accomplished. Worst of all, when granting these degrees the president says that they are awarded with all of the associated rights, privileges, and responsibilities. Of course, an honorary degree provides one with no rights, privileges, or responsibilities. They are essentially academic masturbation, and nobody wants to see somebody masturbating at commencement!

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