What the Flip are Honorary Degrees?

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"Well, yeah, but mine's honorary"

“Well, yeah, but mine’s honorary

What do Maurice Sendak, the Dalai Lama, Tim Berners-Lee, Georgia O’Keefe, and PrezBo have in common? Well, aside from being some of Bwog’s favorite people ever for completely varied reasons, they also share something in common: honorary degrees from Columbia.

According to the website, this is the “highest honor that the University can bestow on an individual … to ensure recognition for achievements across all of the various areas of study and fields of academia.” An honorary degree is basically the same piece of paper any student receives upon completion of his or her studies at Columbia—that is, without the “studies.” Also, without the tuition.

The majority of the degrees awarded in this fashion are LL.D.’s, or Doctor of Laws degrees. These seem mostly to go to politicians and philosophers like Madeleine Albright and Haile Selassie, but also to athletes like Muhammad Ali and Joe DiMaggio, for some reason. Other common ones include Litt.D.’s and Sc.D.’s—but our favorite is the S.T.D. that was awarded to Desmond Tutu; a Doctorate in Sacred Theology, that is.

Honorary Degrees are only one of the two types awards handed out at commencement, the other being the University Medal of Excellence, which is awarded “to an alumnus or alumna under 45 years of age whose record in scholarship, public service, and/or professional life is outstanding.” Recipients of this one include George Stephanopoulos and Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

There are a few rules behind these honors. The first is that it may never be awarded in absentia, that is, the honoree must be present. The second is that no full-time regular officer of the University may receive an award. Both of these appear to be malleable since some awards are given posthumously, like Arthur Ashe’s,  and Lee Bollinger received his award about a month before he became PrezBo in 2002.

Of course, there are publicity considerations inherent in the selection of who gets these awards; but it still is pretty cool to think that, when we graduate, we’ll have the same piece of paper as some of our heroes.

Nominations for this year’s honorees are open at this website. Get cool people on our campus!

When all this is over via Shutterstock

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1 Comment

  1. Honorary degrees can also be awarded  

    if you refuse to take the swim test and complete every other requirement to graduate (google/wiki Dr Mortimer J. Adler).

    Of course, you have to get a PhD and become famous enough for Columbia to realize how stupid their decision to withhold the degree was in the first place...

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