4 reasons colleges and universities should stop awarding honorary degrees
each spring, thousands of students put on those caps and gowns before marching out to the pomp and circumstance processional at their graduation ceremony. for a lot of them, the ceremony is the last stop on a road filled with emotional breakdowns, self-discovery and resilience. but for others, the journey wasn’t that deep for them. why? because they never started (or completed) it to begin with. these are the select few (usually celebrities) who universities deem worthy enough to bypass the traditional requirements for graduation. so in lieu of enduring the “process”, they get an honorary degree based off the work they’ve done in their chosen career path. and although a lot of colleges and universities participate in this practice, there’s still much controversy and debate as to whether or not these types of degrees are necessary. i personally think they aren’t, even though i like the sentiment of acknowledging people who are doing great things and propelling the culture forward. i’m just not convinced that an honorary degree is the best way to do that, and here’s why:
4). there are other ways to show honor.
i get it. the world is full of remarkable people who are doing amazing things. they’re pushing boundaries, they’re forcing us to face difficult conversations head on, and they’re asserting their talents in a way that provokes real change in our world. that’s really dope of them – and unequivocally, that’s something to be honored. but why do we have to give them a degree to show them that honor? i feel as though there’s so many other ways we can do that; like dedicating a new building in their honor, renaming an existing building (auditorium, classroom, etc.) after them, awarding them with a medallion of honor or simply inviting them to speak at the commencement ceremony (without giving them a diploma). there’s literally a mountain of things universities could do in lieu of an honorary degree – but they don’t. why? because of my next point…
3). these degrees are more about publicity than they are authenticity.
unpopular opinion: whether they admit it or not, universities live and die by the mantra “finances first, students second”, which is ironic because without the students, there can be no finances. yet and still, this mantra is one of the driving forces behind why universities give out honorary degrees – the money. you see, after a celebrity (or person of influence) accepts a degree, that college or university can now claim them as a “graduate” of their institution in all of their marketing materials and channels. it’s merely a way of driving more interest to their school, increasing its appeal and/or perceived prestige in the eyes of a prospective student because a certain celebrity obtained a degree from there. simply put, they’re giving out a degree for free to someone of influence in an attempt to persuade you to pay for yours. how ironic.
2). they’re revocable.
there’s a wide variety of celebrities who have been awarded with honorary degrees and all of their stories are different. some of them were awarded an honorary bachelor’s and doctorate at the same time. some of them were awarded degrees from the institutions they dropped out of. but regardless of who they are and where they were awarded degrees, they’re all revocable. now, i was under the impression that honorary degrees are awarded based on what the person has accomplished at that time and that’s it. so, you can imagine my surprise when i started hearing about institutions across the globe taking back their honorary degrees from bill cosby. let’s forget the fact that he was reportedly awarded more than 100 honorary degrees throughout his career (that’s a separate issue in itself). but ya’ll really out here calling “backsies” on a degree you already awarded? that’s crazy. it shows how disposable we really are to these universities. when you’re on the up and up it’s like “hey, we believe in what you’re doing. your life’s mantra aligns with our school mission so we want to honor you with a degree.” but then, if you have a fall from grace and end up in hot water it’s like “hey, we know what we said before, but now we kinda feel like you’re bad for our brand. so, we’re gonna need those degrees back.” that’s a bunch of crap. if you’re going to give the degree, give it without conditions and restraint. otherwise, don’t do it at all.
1). they devalue the “earned” degree.
students go through so much in pursuit of their degree. from stressing out about final examinations to pulling all-nighters in order to make the word count for a research paper, it gets real during the journey. i mean, just think about it. you make friends. you lose friends. you get homesick. you join organizations. you miss meals. you network. you penny pinch. you work multiple jobs. you find good mentors. you struggle to maintain relationships with family and friends back home – and you’re doing all of this while trying to make the dean’s list. it’s not a game nor is it for the faint. that’s why so many people drop out before making it to graduation – because it ain’t always sweet. it’s bad enough the job market is trash and we have to put up with colloquialisms like “the bachelor’s is the new high school diploma.” but to turn around and “give away” a whole diploma (yes, a whole diploma) when so much of our lives is spent towards earning one, it just seems...blatantly disrespectful. many may say that honorary degrees don’t hold the same weight as an earned degree, but it still makes it seem like the four, five, and sometimes six years it took for us to get our degrees wasn’t even worth it in the grand scheme of things – like we went into debt for nothing. but that's just my two cents on the matter.